The Snowy Day in the Civil Rights Era: Peter’s Political Innocence and Unpublished Letters from Langston Hughes, Ellen Tarry, Grace Nail Johnson, and Charlemae Hill Rollins
- Children's Literature Association Quarterly
- Johns Hopkins University Press
- Volume 39, Number 3, Fall 2014
- pp. 359-384
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Immediately following the publication of The Snowy Day (1962), Ezra Jack Keats received letters from prominent leaders and writers Langston Hughes, Ellen Tarry, Grace Nail Johnson, and Charlemae Hill Rollins. These letters reveal new early responses to a picture book known for the controversy surrounding its depiction of Peter and his mother. In order to understand these figures’ attraction to what they describe as the boy’s supposed charm and natural innocence, this essay positions The Snowy Day within contesting Civil Rights politics. Doing so allows us not only to understand how the performance of childhood innocence influenced Civil Rights but also to reevaluate the early reception of this book. This article addresses issues concerning the politics of Black childhood, the role of interracial collaboration, and the position of these authors within the broader world of children’s literature by arguing that Keats’s attempt to depict a natural and innocent child actively participates in Civil Rights politics.