Ezra Jack Keats

Lindsay Richardson's Author Study

About Ezra Jack Keats

Ezra Jack Keats is best known for introducing multiculturalism into mainstream American children's literature, and was one of the first children's book authors to use an urban setting for his stories. Born in East New York, Brooklyn, he was artistic from an early age and found joy in making pictures out of any scraps of wood, cloth, and paper that he could find. Throughout schooling, he received multiple awards for his excellence in art. Ezra explains that he "didn't even ask to get into children's books." The editorial director of Crowell Publishing, Elizabeth Riley, asked him to work on children's books for her company, which was followed by many other illustration opportunities. In 1960, Ezra published his first attempt at writing a children's book. In subsequent books, Ezra used marbled paper, acrylics and watercolor, pen and ink, and photographs to create unique collage illustrations, and often incorporated a highly dramatic, narrative structure in his writing. Today, Ezra is known for developing the use of collage as a form of illustration. Before his death from a heart attack in 1983, he had illustrated over 85 books, and written and illustrated 22 children's classics.

Problem Solving Lesson Plan

For this author study, I have created a five-day lesson plan for 1st-3rd grade using five of Ezra Jack Keat's picture books. These books include A Letter to Amy, The Trip, Pet Show, Goggles, and Jennie's Hat. Each day of the lesson specifically focuses on one of these picture books. Following the story, the teacher will hold a class discussion that focuses on a problem that the main character faces and the related solution that the character chooses. Students will also be able to create their own solutions to various problems that they face personally. Through this lesson, students will develop their critical thinking skills, learn how to compare and contrast books, complete story maps, and compose their own problem solving story.

Day One: A Letter to Amy

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In this book, Peter writes a birthday party invitation to only one girl: his friend Amy. On his way to the mailbox, his letter gets blown away in a thunderstorm. In his attempt to chase the letter, he knocks Amy to the ground and she runs away in tears. In the end, the letter makes it to Amy and she arrives at the party just in time for cake. This story presents Peter's problem: that he wants to invite Amy to his party but she is the only girl, and his solution: he writes her a letter.

Begin this problem solving lesson with a picture-walk of the book, followed by a read aloud. Be sure to stop throughout the book and ask "what," "how," and "why" questions to ensure student understanding. Once the book has been read, introduce the concepts of problem and solution and ask students to describe the problem and solution found in A Letter to Amy. Use this information to create a story map organizer that describes the characters, the problem, and the solution. Complete this first day of the lesson by having students brainstorm other ways that Peter could have solved his problem and compare those alternate solutions with the choice that Peter made.

Day Two: The Trip

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This book begins in the bedroom of a young boy, Louie, whose family has just moved. Louie is lonely and misses his friends, so he creates a shoebox diorama of the city and a paper plane to fly back to his old neighborhood. The book takes the reader through Louie's fearful diorama full of shadow-filled streets and scary creatures. However, Louie soon realizes that the scary creatures are just his old friends dressed in Halloween costumes. This realization allows real life to seem more welcoming and he becomes excited to join the other children for Halloween trick or treating. This story presents Louie's problem: that he has moved and misses his friends, and his solution: creating his old neighborhood to visit his friends with his imagination.

Begin today's lesson by reviewing the A Letter to Amy story map organizer. Following the review, do a picture-walk and read aloud of The Trip, while asking critical thinking questions along the way. After presenting the story, have the students create another story map organizer describing the problem and solution of The Trip. Encourage students to brainstorm possible alternate solutions to Louie's problem and share these solutions with the class. This conversation can be used to lead into discussing how there is often more than one way to solve a problem.Conclude by asking the students to compare and contrast the problems and solutions in The Trip to those in A Letter to Amy.

Day Three: Pet Show

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This book is centered around a young boy named Archie who wants to enter his cat in the neighborhood pet show. However, in preparation for the pet show, Archie loses his cat and begins searching for him everywhere. After having no luck, Archie uses his creativity and presents the most surprisingly "pet" in the competition: a jar full of germs. In the end, Archie wins an award in the pet show and happily finds his cat. This story presents Archie's problem: that he has lost his cat for the pet show, and his solution: he gets creative and brings a germ to the pet show.

Today's lesson begins with a review of the story map organizers that the class created for A Letter to Amy and The Trip, and discussion of the problems and solutions in these stories. Begin Pet Show with a picture-walk. Ask students how the illustrations in this book are different than the previous two books. After having students predict the problem that will be explained in the book, read the book aloud and create a story map organizer based on the book's characters, problem, and solution. Encourage students to discuss different ways to solve Archie's problem. Conclude today's lesson by having the students draw a picture of what kind of pet they would bring to the pet show.

Day Four: Goggles

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This book is about a young boy named Peter and his friend Archie who find an old pair of motorcycle goggles when playing in the neighborhood. They soon get confronted by the neighborhood bullies, who cause the goggles to fall to the ground. Peter's trusty dog, Willie, snatches the goggles and runs away. The bullies chase Peter and Archie until the two boys are able to meet up with Willie, who delivers the goggles, safe and sound. The boys successfully send the bullies off track, and the story concludes with Peter and Archie happily continuing to play with the goggles. This story presents Peter and Archie's problem: that they are being picked on by older bullies, and their solution: they trick the bullies and get away with the goggles.

Begin today's lesson by reviewing the story map organizers that the class created for A Letter to Amy, The Trip, and Pet Show. Discuss the problems and solutions in these stories. After having a picture-walk discussion, read Goggles aloud to the students. Determine the problem and solution in the story, and display the information from this discussion on a story map organizer. Have the students discuss what they could do if a bully picked on them, and conclude the lesson by having them each briefly write about a time that they were picked on and how they solved the problem. Invite students to share their stories with the class.

Day Five: Jennie's Hat

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In this book, Jennie can hardly wait for the arrival of her new hat from her favorite aunt. However, when the hat arrives, Jennie is very disappointed in how plain it is. She sets out to create the perfect hat, but gets discouraged when she cannot make herself a fancy hat. Just as she is about to give up, she gets a special surprise from unexpected friends. As she is leaving church in her plain hat, Jennie is followed by many birds. These birds fluttered down carrying beautiful flowers to decorate her hat. Jennie is overwhelmed with happiness and cannot believe how amazing her plain hat has become. This story presents Jennie's problem: that she has received a very plain hat, and her solution: her bird friends turn the plain hat into something beautiful and unique.

Begin this last book study lesson by reviewing the story map organizers for the past four books: A Letter to Amy, The Trip, Pet Show, and Goggles. Remind students of the problems and solutions in each of these books. Begin Jennie's Hat with a picture-walk, followed by a read aloud. After discussing the problem and solution in the book, create the final story map organizer displaying the book's characters, problem, and solution. Using the story map organizers, conclude the book studies by having a discussion of the similarities and differences between all five of the Ezra Jack Keats books.

Lesson Conclusion

After completing the problem solving studies on each of the five Ezra Jack Keats books, wrap-up the lesson by having the students create their own short story. Instruct the students to think of a story line that contains a problem and a solution, either using their own characters or those in Ezra Jack Keats' books. Have each student create a story map organizer to plan the details of the problem and solution in their story. Then, ask students to write their stories on paper and add illustrations depicting the problem and solution. If students need additional support to get started, give examples of problems and solutions for them to choose among. Once students finish, have them share their stories with their classmates, then add the books to the class library.

Other Ezra Jack Keats Books

And many more...