First Book President and CEO Kyle Zimmer recently sat down with award-winning author Andrea Davis Pinkney for a conversation about her latest book, A Poem for Peter — a book she describes as her “love letter” to Ezra Jack Keats, creator of the iconic children’s classic, The Snowy Day. In researching his life, Pinkney became aware that Keats, as the son of Polish Jewish immigrants who fled Nazi oppression, was in a unique position to bring empathy from one culture to another.
Pinkney describes Keats’ attempts to find work after serving in World War II as formative: “He would literally see signs that said, ‘Jews Need Not Apply.’ He understood what it was like to be discriminated against. So, he poured all of that into the creation of all of his books, especially The Snowy Day,” which in 1962 became the first children’s book to feature an African-American character on the cover. The Snowy Day went on to win the Caldecott Medal in 1963.
A Poem for Peter speaks to the heart of First Book’s Stories for All Project™: to build understanding through stories in order to help children see and celebrate their similarities and differences. Educators tell us how fundamental a book can be in building common ground, and the self-esteem formed when kids see themselves in what they read.