Did you know an author study of Ezra Jack Keats’ life and his literary work can build critical thinking skills?
By researching authors, students compare and contrast, analyze information, generate questions and more! It is a great activity for promoting higher level critical thinking.
And who better to start with than Ezra Jack Keats?
Ezra Jack Keats is one of the most popular authors and illustrators for Elementary age readers and an author study is the perfect way for students to learn about him!
In this post, we are briefly going to talk about what an author study actually is and why/how to plan one. Then we will talk specifically about Ezra Jack Keats, his life, my favorite read alouds and recommended book activities.
Best Places to find information:
In my Ezra Jack Keats Bundle, I offer Biography and Information Posters.
But, there are also a ton of great resources for kids (and adults) on the Ezra Jack Keats website: https://www.ezra-jack-keats.org/
The Basics of an Author Study
WHAT is an author study?
An author study is simply setting aside time to research an author and explore and compare several of their books.
Students tend to fall in love with an author’s characters and the plot. When a student finds their favorite book, they will usually tell you it is because it is action packed, highly engaging, and/or they just love the characters.
7 Reasons WHY you should do an author study
- Study the author’s “craft” (themes, characters, writing style)
- Expose students to new types of books (genres, book series, etc.)
- Make connections between the author’s life and work
- Make personal connections between the author and characters to themselves
- Share a common experience as a class or small group and build background knowledge to refer back to
- Re-ignite a love for reading (get a student hooked on a new set of books/series)
- Makes planning easier because you are planning similar activities every day in one cohesive plan
HOW to plan an author study
An author study can be done whole group, in small groups, in book clubs or literature circles. The set up is really up to you.
I like to do my author studies for whole group instruction so that I can expose ALL of my students to that particular author.
However, when in a time crunch, I have used book clubs to engage some of my higher students and introduce them to authors I thought would challenge them.
As far as time frame goes, you can study one author for one week/month. OR, you can study one author a day for a week.
Author Spotlight: Ezra Jack Keats
I always love to start an author study by showing my students real photographs of the author. I feel like this helps students make an instant connection to them (put a face to a name). It never fails, I always have at least one comment like “wait, he’s a real person?”. Yes, authors are real people, too.
According to his website, Ezra Jack Keats “was a pioneer in American children’s literature. He based the lives of his multiracial characters on his childhood but added loving parents, friends and pets.He wanted no child to be an outsider. “If we could see each other exactly as the other is,” he wrote, “this would be a different world.”
Also featured on his website, there is an extensive list of literary honors and awards that Keats has won throughout his writing career.
Some of his awards include the Caldecott Medal Honor, Library of Congress Book of the Year and Children's Choice Awards.
By the end of his career, Ezra Jack Keats wrote 22 picture books and illustrated more than 85 children’s books. One defining feature of Keats’ illustrations is his use of collages and layering of patterned paper.
Author Study Activities that have an IMPACT
The best activities for author studies involve learning about the author and his/her books. Learning about the author’s history and impact on the literary community.
And also activities that allow students to compare and contrast the books to each other and make connections to their own life.
My favorite author study activities include:
- Research/Fact Recording
- Story Structure (retell, problem/solution)
- Character Analysis
- Informational and Creative Writing
- Cut and Paste Timelines (for books and the author’s life)
What is really great about conducting different author studies is that each one is uniquely different. Yes, they follow the same outline, but each author presents something different!
Recommended Ezra Jack Keats Books
The Snowy Day
The Snowy Day is the first book that Keats wrote and illustrated himself. In 1963 The Snowy Day won the Caldecott, introduced the character of Peter in his red snowsuit, and helped bring greater diversity into mainstream children’s book publishing by being embraced across social and ethnic boundaries. Beloved by generation after generation, The Snowy Day, with its vivid, contemporary illustrations and text, has become one of the most beloved and iconic American children’s books.
The Snowy Day is also a GREAT opportunity to go cross-curricular while teaching students about Snowflake Science (snowflake facts and life cycles).
Peter’s new baby sister Susie is getting all the attention! First his father paints Peter’s old cradle pink, then his crib. Then his parents want to paint Peter’s chair! “Let’s run away, Willie,” he says to his dog.
But when they do, Peter discovers his parents love him just as much as ever. This is a gentle story about reassuring an older sibling when a new baby arrives.
Peter learns a very important lesson in this book about sharing with others and the importance of recycling objects such as furniture.
Students will love connecting their own experiences to Peter and his family.
Whistle for Willie
In this charming sequel to The Snowy Day, an older and wiser Peter wants to learn to whistle. Wouldn’t it be the perfect way to call his dog Willie?
Peter tries so hard to whistle that his cheeks hurt, but he doesn’t give up. With a very light hand and his legendary illustrations, Keats creates a world in which effort yields results.
This book is very relatable for students because they have all experienced something that was hard for them at first. It's a great lesson on perseverance.
Ezra Jack Keats Mentor Texts for Writing
Make sure you integrate what you have learned about Ezra Jack Keats’ author’s craft into your writing lessons!
We know that every writer has their own style, even our young writers. By exposure to different syntactic patterns, students are able to develop the style of writing they are most comfortable with.
Keats’ signature author’s craft is to challenge his characters with real problems that are recognizable to young readers. In all of Keats’ books, the characters learn an important lesson.
So, during your writing time, challenge students to think of a problem they have had and write about a character who has the same problem. Students should write in detail about how they solved their problem and the important lesson that they learned from it.