There was a great article in the New York Times the day before Inauguration Day talking about the influence of books and reading on Barack Obama.
But no mention was made of the books he read as a child. And it got me to thinking.
Take a listen here to Obama and The Snowy Day. (Pssst, this is not a fingerplay!) And thanks to Anita Silvey for the history lesson in Keats’s Neighborhood.
PS: Some folks have asked for the “visual” version as well as the above “audio” version. So here it is:
Did President Obama read The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats when he was a child?
I know I did. And I read it to both my boys. The oldest just voted for the first time this fall–for Obama—who just happens to be black.
The little boy in The Snowy Day just happens to be black too. And just happens to have the distinction of being the first black child ever shown in a full-color children’s picture book.
Obama and I share birth years, 1961, the same year The Snowy Day was published. I don’t think those dates are a coincidence.
I grew up in Atlanta, raised by parents who simply stated throughout my childhood that “the color of a person’s skin doesn’t matter.” We had no long discussions about racism or bigotry or even civil rights that I remember. Just that statement, a fact presented to a child like “It’s raining outside.”
I remember someone reading me The Snowy Day. I remember reading it later to myself. I do not remember noticing anything special about the little boy. I just knew he was having fun in the snow, something we rarely had in Atlanta and never in those vast quantities.
Now fast forward forty-something years. Exactly a year before the election, I happen to read the history of The Snowy Day. And I cried. In the late 60’s and the 70’s, Keats received such harsh criticism concerning The Snowy Day that he quit writing and illustrating children’s books. (He did return to it at the urging of New York City librarian, a librarian who just happened to be black). A person who had grown up facing both poverty and anti-Semitism, Keats simply loved children, loved books, and wanted books to be for everyone—in pictures as well as in words.
One of the New York Times’ book editors wrote the day before the inauguration about the power and importance of books, language, and ideas in the development of Obama’s “voice.” I am not a reporter, and I do not have the means of finding out if, as a child, Obama ever read (or had read to him) The Snowy Day. But I firmly believe that, if he did, that children’s book shaped him deeply too, down to the core, when he could see himself in that little boy in the snow.
What if Obama didn’t read it? It really doesn’t matter. For, I read it, and my children read it, and millions of children over the past forty-eight years have read about Peter and his snowy day.
And I cried again last week. Every time I saw a picture of an inauguration event, I cried thinking about how many millions voted in this past election for a man, who like Peter in The Snowy Day, just happens to be black.
Babette Davis Reeves, MA, is Children and Youth Librarian at Southern Peaks Public Library in Alamosa, Colorado.
I can be reached at 719-587-3065, 719-589-6592 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: Keat’s Neighborhood, An Ezra Jack Keats Treasury, 2002
From the Introduction by Anita Silvey
pp. 8, 10