About Ezra — FAQ

1. How many books did Ezra Jack Keats write?

Ezra wrote and illustrated 22 books, and illustrated many more. For a complete list of his children’s books, go to Books & Characters.

2. How did Ezra get ideas for his books?

Most of the ideas for Ezra’s books came from his own childhood in the East New York section of Brooklyn. When he was a little boy, he once considered running away from home. That is part of the story he put into Peter’s Chair. The neighborhood where he grew up had quite a few gangs of older boys. That was an important part of his book Goggles!

3. What was Ezra’s favorite book?

Ezra did not have a favorite book, of his own or of anyone else’s. Ezra just loved books, and he loved making them.

4. Was Ezra married? Did he have children of his own?

Although Ezra did have serious, long-term relationships with wonderful women, he never married or had children. In a way, Ezra’s success in writing books for children came from the fact that he never completely grew up himself. Whenever he wanted to, he could look at the world just the way a child might. This made his books just right for kids and for grown-ups.

5. Why did Ezra create Peter as an African-American child?

Ezra grew up and lived in New York City, where he saw children of different races and nationalities every day. And as the child of struggling immigrant parents, Ezra knew what it meant to feel like an outsider. When he was a young man, he happened to see a series of photos in a magazine of a little boy who was black about to get an injection. Ezra kept these pictures for many years without knowing why they were so important to him. When he decided to write and illustrate his own picture book, it struck him that all the children’s books he had ever seen were filled with white children. That was when he realized why he had kept those pictures. This little boy was going to be the hero of Ezra’s book, and, in a way, to represent Ezra in the world of his own childhood.

6. How did Ezra make his pictures?

Ezra trained as a fine artist before he began illustrating books for a living. He worked in oils, watercolor, gouache, and pen and ink. When he began to illustrate, he also experimented with collage. As you look through his books, you will see all of these mediums.

7. When was Ezra born?

Ezra was born on March 11, 1916. He was the youngest child of Benjamin and Augusta “Gussie” Katz.

8. Where did Ezra grow up?

Ezra grew up in the East New York section of Brooklyn, New York. He went to Junior High School 149 and Thomas Jefferson High School.

9. Did Ezra have any brothers or sisters?

He had an older brother named William (called Willie or Kelly) and an older sister, Mae. The whole family was talented in art. Willie was a successful photographer, Mae was a gifted sculptor and Ezra’s mother was an untrained but talented painter.

10. How did Ezra’s parents feel about Ezra’s artistic talent?

Ezra’s parents were concerned about his becoming an artist. They were worried that he would never be able to earn a living. While they were afraid of encouraging him to study art, they couldn’t help being very proud of his talent. Despite their worries, they each made small contributions to keeping his belief in himself strong.

11. Was Ezra African-American himself?

No. Ezra was an American-born child of Polish-Jewish parents.

12. How did Ezra start to illustrate and write children’s books?

Before entering the Army during World War II, Ezra worked as a comic book illustrator. After the war he did illustrations in magazines and on book jackets. One of these books was on display in a store on Fifth Avenue in New York City, where Elizabeth Riley, editorial director of Crowell Publishing, spotted it. She asked Ezra to illustrate children’s books for her company. His first was Jubilant for Sure, by Elizabeth Hubbard Lansing, published in 1954. After years of illustrating for other people, Ezra wrote and illustrated a book on his own—The Snowy Day, published in 1962 by Viking, was awarded a Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished children’s picture book of 1963.

13. When did Ezra become an artist?

Ezra was always an artist. He started drawing and painting when he was a young boy.

14. Did Ezra have any pets?

Ezra wanted a pet ever since he was a young boy, as his characters Peter and Archie did. Later in life, he had a Weimaraner dog named Jake and a wonderful cat named Samantha. You can see a photo of Ezra with Samantha at the bottom of  this page.

15. When and how did Ezra die?

Almost everyone in Ezra’s family had suffered with heart disease. Ezra’s heart gave out on the morning of May 6, 1983. He died holding the hand of his best friend Martin Pope.

16. Will there ever be another book written and illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats?

There will not be another book actually written and illustrated by Ezra, but there may be books written about the characters he created: Peter, Archie, Louie, Amy, the whole gang. We will be sure to announce any new publications.

17. Why are Ezra’s books so important?

There are four main reasons for the importance of Ezra’s books. First and foremost, his books are fun to look at and read over and over again. Second, his books help kids think about and deal with problems and feelings they experience as they grow up. Third, the artwork in Ezra’s books gives parents and teachers a chance to expose their kids to illustrations of the highest quality. And last but not least, Ezra’s books are populated by children whose families are far from wealthy and who are of different ethnicities. The experiences these children have are shared by many children, so they can see themselves in the pages of his stories.

18. Who answers the letters children write to Ezra?

Ezra decided that after he died, the royalties from his books should go to the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, which he had established. He wanted his Foundation to support arts and literacy programs in public schools and libraries, and to take care of this books. He also wanted the Foundation to answer letters from children who have continued to write to him over the years, which he had so enjoyed doing during his lifetime. This is, without a doubt, one of the favorite parts of our mission.

19. Does Ezra show up in any of his books?

Yes! Ezra drew himself into a number of scenes in his books. In Louie’s Search, Ezra based his drawings of Barney on himself, and at the end of the book, the man driving the truck carrying Louie and his newly married mother, Peg, and Barney looks just like Ezra. In Pet Show!, the judge with the mustache is probably Ezra. In The Trip, there is an actual photograph of Ezra in an apartment window toward the end of the book. Ezra shows up a few more times in a book or two, but we’ll let you look for those pictures yourself.

20. Where can I find out more about all the books by Ezra Jack Keats?

Go to Books & Characters to find descriptions of the books he wrote and illustrated and a selection of his illustrated books. You will also find a list of children’s titles he illustrated that were written by others.

21. Where can I learn more about Ezra and about ways to use his books at home or in the classroom?

At For Educators, there are quite a few resources for parents and educators interested in using the Keats books at home or to support a classroom curriculum.