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Brightly’s Book Club for Kids:
A Poem for Peter

by Devon A. Corneal

Artwork: Copyright © 2016 by Johnson and Fancher, Inc.

This month’s Book Club for Kids selection is a picture book biography of author and illustrator Ezra Jack Keats, and we hope you’ll love it as much as we do. The book is written as a single poem that gives readers a wonderful opportunity to learn about a boundary-breaking author and one of his most famous stories, The Snowy Day. If you’re interested in diversity, urban living, history, or the art of storytelling, you’re sure to enjoy this month’s pick!


This Month’s Selection

Best for: Kids ages 6 – 10.

What It’s About: The book tells the story of Ezra Jack Keats and the creation of his iconic The Snowy Day, the first major American picture book to feature a black child as its protagonist. Keats’s story is remarkable not only for the obstacles he overcame on his path to becoming an author — including poverty, family struggles, the Great Depression, and persecution as a Jewish man during World War II — but also for his recognition in the 1930s and ‘40s of the need for diversity in children’s books. In A Poem for Peter, readers learn how Keats applied his incredible artistic talents, developed first as a child experimenting with half-used tubes of leftover oil paints and later as a graphic designer for the military, to explore the inner life and experiences of children of all backgrounds, leaving a lasting legacy of beauty and inclusion for all of us to share.

Major Themes: The importance of diversity, following your passions, fighting adversity, and perseverance.

Why We Picked It: A Poem for Peter is a beautifully illustrated book that introduces children to biography through Keats’s inspiring and incredible life story, showing how one person can implement change and open the door to a whole new way of looking at the world. Author Andrea Davis Pinkney uses what she calls “collage poetry,” echoing the collage illustrations Keats used in The Snow Day, to narrate the story, making it both a fabulous read-aloud book for young kids and a wonderful introduction to poetry for tweens. Little ones will appreciate its bold illustrations and energetic language, and older children will appreciate the historical context of the story as well as its themes of tolerance, inclusion, and determination. Pinkney’s words, Fancher and Johnson’s illustrations, and Keats’s personal experiences serve as a reminder that our lives are never set in stone and that there is always hope to pursue our dreams.


Get Set for a Poem for Peter-Inspired Book Club

You’ll need a copy of the book, your chosen decorations and snacks, the printable discussion questions, and supplies for the A Poem for Peter-inspired crafts and activities.

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  • Sip on Hot Chocolate: What’s better on a snowy day than a cup of hot cocoa? Try one of these fun recipes to keep everyone toasty. If the weather is unseasonably warm, this recipe for frozen hot chocolate is equally delicious and a lot cooler.
  • Explore Cultural Eats: Does your family have a special family recipe? Something handed down from generation to generation? Or does your family have meals that include recipes from different cultures? Choose one of those recipes and make it for book club. Celebrate what makes you unique!

The Book Club Discussion

A Poem for Peter is not just about how Ezra Jack Keats came to write the story of a little boy on a snowy day, it’s also about pursuing dreams in the face of adversity and making sure the diversity of our real-life experiences is reflected in the books we read. When you talk about Ezra Jack Keats’s life and Peter’s story, talk with each other not just about the narratives themselves, but also about the historical context of both. What made Keats’s work so important and where do we see his legacy today?

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A Poem for Peter Discussion Questions

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  1. This is a book about a young man who dreams of being an artist, but encounters a lot of obstacles on his way to achieving that dream. What was Ezra’s dream, and who helped him pursue it? What stood in his way?
  1. Ezra showed artistic talent from an early age and found a way to turn his talent into a career. What are your talents? How do you think you could use them when you grow up?
  1. Ezra’s parents both contributed to his success. How did they do that? How have your parents helped you achieve something you wanted to achieve?
  1. What was the Great Depression and how did it affect Ezra? Do you have any living relatives who remember the Great Depression? (If so, interview them and find out what they remember!)
  1. Why did Ezra change his name?
  1. Where do you live? In a city, the suburbs, or the country? Can you think of picture books that are set in those different places?
  1. Why do you think it’s important that Ezra wrote a picture book with an African-American boy in it? When you look at picture books today, do you see characters of all different backgrounds?
  1. What does diversity mean to you?
  1. This book is written as a poem. How did you feel about that format? Did it make it easier or harder for you to understand the story? Why do you think the author chose to write in verse?
  1. How do you think the narrator felt about Ezra Jack Keats and A Snowy Day? How come?

Have More Fun with A Poem for Peter

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  • Get Creative with Collages: Keats’s collages bring The Snowy Day to life, so learn about this fun art form and then try it out for yourself. You can use any materials you like — paint, paper, yarn, fabric, photographs, pages from a magazine, objects from nature like leaves or tree bark, markers, rice, or anything else you can glue on a piece of paper. The only limits are your imagination.
  • Build Your Own City Neighborhood: Keats brought city life to children’s books, and Peter is a city boy. Draw and decorate your own city block and imagine yourself in Peter’s or Keats’s shoes on a snowy morning.
  • Visit Your Public Library: Ezra discovered a whole new world at the Brooklyn Public Library. If you live nearby, go visit it and see why Ezra found it so fascinating. If you aren’t in the New York area, visit your own public library and ask a librarian to help you find books about one of your dreams or passions.
  • Find Ezra’s Inspiration: The character of Peter was inspired by pictures in Life magazine’s May 13, 1940 issue. Look at the original pictures here, and then explore the rest of the magazine. Look at the advertisements and see what was in the news that week. Does anything surprise you? Did you see how much the magazine cost?

What to Read Next

Interested in the lives of children’s book authors? Want to see more diversity in children’s books? Try these other books for young readers:

Looking for more titles? The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation has also compiled a wonderful list of books reflecting the multicultural American experience.

 

Let us know what you thought of A Poem for Peter and share your own ideas for Brightly’s Book Club for Kids in the comments below!