Long before multicultural characters and themes were fashionable, Ezra Jack Keats crossed social boundaries by being the first American picture-book maker to give the black child a central place in children’s literature.
In the books that Keats wrote and illustrated, he used his special artistic techniques to portray his subjects in a unique manner. One of these was his blending of gouache with collage. Gouache is an opaque watercolor mixed with a gum that produces an oil-like glaze.
The characters in Keats’ books come from the community around him. Many of his stories illustrate family life, the simple pleasures and more complex problems, that a child often encounters in his daily routine. To create his books, Keats drew upon his own childhood experiences, from having to flee from bullies to taking a ribbing from his pals for liking girls. But these are also the experiences of almost all children growing up in neighborhoods and communities in many parts of the world. This commonality explains the continuing popularity of Keats’ books and characters.
By the time of Keats’ death following a heart attack in 1983, Keats had illustrated over eighty-five books for children, and written and illustrated twenty-four children’s classics.
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