If you walk into any one of New York City’s public libraries, you’ll find that one thing has remained unchanged over the past 50 years: the enduring popularity of Ezra Jack Keats. Keats was more than just a brilliant illustrator—he was an artist deeply committed to creating works for young readers that captured the diversity of the world around them. Half a century later, the children and families in our libraries still see themselves and their friends reflected in the pages of The Snowy Day and Whistle for Willie, the classic picture books that were the very first to focus on the adventures of a young African-American boy, Peter.
In Whistle for Willie, Peter spends the day trying to whistle for the very first time. Like all children, he also spends his day in imaginative play—Peter draws on the sidewalk with chalk; hides from his dog, Willie; and dresses up as his father—but he never stops trying to whistle. Young children, in particular, respond to Peter’s efforts, and by the end of the book, when Peter is able to whistle and call Willie to him, these readers share his delight and tremendous sense of discovery.
The New York Public Library is honored to have continued Keats’s wonderful legacy by hosting, in the past, activities like the Ezra Jack Keats Bookmaking Competition and Ezra Jack Keats Book Awards—and in the present, Ezra Jack Keats grants for children’s programming, reminding young and old alike of the magic of his stories and illustrations.”