NEW YORK—In honor of the late children’s author-illustrator Ezra Jack Keats’ centenary, a statue of two of his most iconic characters has been declared a Literary Landmark.
The New York Parks Department presented a plaque on June 10 officially designating the bronze statue of the popular Keats characters Peter and his dog, Willie, in Prospect Park’s Imagination Playground, a Literary Landmark. The event included an award to the statue’s sculptor, Otto Neals, and storytelling for students in attendance from two nearby schools, P.S. 321 and P.S. 9.
“We’re delighted to recognize Ezra Jack Keats and his contributions to children's literature by designating this statue of Peter and Willie an honorary Literary Landmark. The statue of these beloved Keats characters has become a favorite place for the children of New York City to gather for reading and storytelling,” said Sally Gardner Reed, Executive Director of United for Libraries, an advocacy organization that dedicates historic literary sites.
The character of Peter made his first appearance in Keats’ 1962 classic, “The Snowy Day,” which broke the color barrier in mainstream children’s literature when its young, African American protagonist, in his iconic red snowsuit, was instantly embraced by the public. “The Snowy Day” was awarded the Caldecott Medal in 1963 and designated a “book that shaped America” by the Library of Congress in 2012.
"This was a very special day,” said Deborah Pope, Executive Director of the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation. The statue of Peter and Willie has brought joy to visitors to the Imagination Playground for years, and hopefully even inspired some to read. This, after all, was one of Ezra Jack Keats' greatest wishes—for all children of every race and ethnicity to experience the joy of reading."
The event was part of the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation’s “Ezra Jack Keats’ 100th Birthday Blowout Weekend,” which took place from June 9 – 11 in Brooklyn, New York. Other events in honor of the late children’s author included an Ezra Jack Keats Book Giveaway (part of Brooklyn Public Library’s Summer Reading Kickoff) and the Ezra Jack Keats Family Concert (part of the Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival).
“Ezra was born in Brooklyn,” Pope said. “So what could be more fitting than to celebrate his 100th birthday here. I want to thank our partners, Brooklyn Public Library, the Prospect Park Alliance and BRIC for helping us plan this three-day blowout birthday party. You only turn 100 once!”
Ezra Jack Keats’ centenary was featured in the First Year Anniversary issue of OutlooK-12 Magazine. Click Here to view our anniversary issue.