Study Guide

The Snowy Day Analysis

By Ezra Jack Keats

  • Tone

    Gentle, Quiet, and Full of Wonder

    Shhh. When snow falls and covers the ground, it's a quiet phenomenon, and that's exactly the tone Keats sets in The Snowy Day. From the whooshing alliteration of the words "one," "winter," "woke," and "window" in the first sentence (11), to the simple last line about Peter and his friend going "out together into the deep, deep snow" (35), Keats keeps his words as gentle and quiet as the freshly fallen blanket of white.

    As for the wonder, it's in every illustration.

    Peter is always looking around—out his window (10), up at the tall snowbanks (12), down at his funny tracks (15)—examining and marveling at the world. When he smacks the tree with his stick to see what happens, we are as surprised as he is when the snow falls—plop!—on top of his head.

    The illustrations themselves are at times spacious, as in the picture of Peter walking away in the snow (21), and at other times filled from margin to margin with colors and patterns, as in the picture of Peter as he first awakens (10-11). Either way, the juxtaposition of bright colors with all that white snow creates vibrant images that invite contemplation.

    And through it all, of course, Keats's simple word choice keeps the narration—whether read silently or aloud—gently paced and calm. With a tone that is gentle, quiet, and full of wonder, The Snowy Day is, indeed, very much like a snowy day.

  • Genre

    Children's Literature, Picture Book

    This one is pretty straightforward. Even though The Snowy Day makes for an enjoyable read regardless of how old you are, it's clearly a picture book (as evidenced by the pictures on every. single. page.), and it's clearly children's literature. How do we know?

    The main character is a young boy, and the storyline is simple and linear. The vocabulary is limited, the sentence structure is simple, and the topic—playing in the snow—is particularly accessible for young readers.

    Then of course, there's the biggest giveaway of all: the fact that you're always going to find this one in the children's section.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    It's perfect, that's what.

    The Snowy Day encapsulates one boy's adventures as he explores his neighborhood the morning after a big snowfall. He observes the snow, tromps through it, slides in it, builds with it, and even knocks a big pile down onto his head. When he comes home his clothes are soaked through from playing in it, just as every child's should be after a good, snowy day.

  • What's Up With the Ending?

    It might seem insignificant. After all, it's just Peter going out into the snow for another day of adventures, this time with a friend. But that last sentence tells us several things. By including a friend this time, Keats is letting us know that Peter isn't just a solitary creature. He's old enough to make and maintain relationships and have unsupervised play dates.

    And by specifying that this friend is a "friend from across the hall" (35), Keats is letting us in on a key fact of the setting. We've already established that Peter lives in a city, and now we know that he lives in an apartment building.

    Finally, by ending with the phrase "they went out together into the deep, deep snow" (35), Keats wraps up the book with an image of friendship and peace which solidifies the overall tone of the book: gentle, quiet, and full of wonder.

  • Setting

    The snow that brightens nearly every page of the book is a dead giveaway that this story takes place in the winter. And the presence of big buildings (10-11, 12-13, 14-15, 24), traffic lights (cover, 15), and at least one apartment complex (35) lets us know that we're in an urban setting.

    And this particular setting is significant. Why? Because The Snowy Day was "one of the first picture books for young children to portray a realistic, multicultural urban setting" (source).

    It turns out all of those cut-paper collages of brightly colored buildings and snowbanks piled high next to streetlights are a lot more than just pretty pictures. They help to create a setting that was in many ways as groundbreaking as the book's main character.

  • Tough-o-Meter

    This sweet little story? Yeah, this isn't exactly a taxing literary excursion. It's a children's picture book, after all. 

    Nothing more to see here, folks.

  • Writing Style

    Minimal, Clean, and Unadorned

    Mark Twain would love this book. Why? Because there's not a single adverb.

    Okay. Actually, there are two: s-l-o-w-l-y, and very. Well…three. "Just" is used, too, as in the stick that was "just right for smacking a snow-covered tree" (19). But that's it. We swear. And that's something.

    Keats's writing style is minimal and clean. His sentences are simple, and they say only what they need to say to convey Peter's actions and feelings. While the topic he's writing about is one of great magic and wonder—a snow day!—he keeps the language precise and unassuming. There are no attempts to catch the reader up in Peter's excitement or to make us feel anything beyond whatever natural reactions we may have to the story.

    In this way, by keeping the text unadorned with too many adjectives, adverbs, or literary devices Keats allows the reader to enjoy Peter's adventures in the snow as a peaceful observer, a technique that reminds us of the quiet that a blanket of snow can throw over the earth.

  • The Snowball

    Is there anything sadder than a melted snowball? Well, yes. Probably. But Peter's melted snowball is pretty darned sad.

    At the end of his day, just before he comes inside, Peter packs several handfuls of snow together into a snowball (28). Then he takes the snowball and puts it in his pocket…for tomorrow. Now we know, and you know, dear Shmoopers, what's going to happen to that snowball. But Peter doesn't. And many young readers may not give it a second thought, either. And that is why this snowball is an excellent symbol of two things: both the wonderment of youth, and its fleeting nature.

    Peter, our young protagonist, has spent the entire day marveling at the miracle that is snow. Everything is so fresh and new for him that we get the feeling this might be his first experience with it—or at least his first solo experience, which means his first chance to really examine the snow and figure it out on his own terms. So when he stashes that snowball in his pocket for future use before heading inside, we, knowing a bit more about the melting point of snow, can both appreciate his innocence in this area and anticipate his disappointment.

    For many readers, this moment likely brings back a memory or two of their own experiences as a young child, particularly of a time when, because of their youth, they believed something would or could happen in a particular way only to be disappointed by reality. And when Peter later learns this lesson about snow himself (32), readers are reminded not just of the wonderment of youth, but of how quickly that wonderment can be crushed. Or in this case, melted.

  • Peter's Dream

    Dream a little dream…of the sun? Hm. That doesn't seem quite right in a book about snow, but you can bet Keats had a reason for including it.

    Dreams are often symbolic, and Peter's dream is no exception. While dreams—as anyone who's had one knows—can sometimes come from out of left field, Peter's makes perfect sense. After a wonderful day of adventures in the snow, Peter suffers a disappointment just before heading to bed. The snowball that he had tucked away for tomorrow has melted, making him extremely sad (33).

    It only makes sense, then, that as he drifts off to sleep, Peter could be concerned about losing the rest of the snow as well. And when he dreams, that exactly what he dreams about: the sun coming out and melting all the snow away (34).

    Peter's dream can be seen as a symbol of Peter's fear about losing his beloved snow, but it can also be seen as symbolic of Peter's—or the reader's—fear of losing youth. Snow is beautiful to people of all ages, but it's particularly magical for children. So a world in which the magic of a snowy day is erased overnight by a hot sun is a world which has lost a bit of its magic. And a world in which Peter, who's already had to grow up a bit due to his melted snowball, would have a bit more growing up to do in dealing with this, much larger, disappointment.

  • Snow

    Remember the page with the snow?

    Ha. We're joking. We know, as do you, that just about every page of The Snowy Day is blanketed with snow. That's apt, seeing as how this is a book about a snowy day, but you know what else just about every page in this book contains? Expressions of childlike wonderment. In fact, the only pages on which Peter is not marveling at something new or having a new experience are pages without snow (32-34).

    The rest of the time he's either captivated by its possibilities (10, 12, 15), experimenting with its properties (16-20), or playing and reveling in it (24-28, 33). So it's pretty clear that the snow is a symbol for the magic and wonderment of youth. And that makes Peter's dream, in which all the snow is melted by the sun, all the more visceral. After all, who wouldn't have a little anxiety over the possibility of losing so much magic and fun (a.k.a. snow) so quickly?

  • Narrator Point of View

    Third Person (Limited Omniscient)

    There is no "I" in snow, and the person telling the story is clearly a narrator who isn't involved in the action, so right there, we know we're dealing with a Third Person point of view. But is it objective, omniscient, or limited omniscient? Let's dig a little deeper with our snow shovels.

    To be objective, we'd need to be hearing from someone who offers us no insight whatsoever into what characters are thinking or feeling. We know that's not the case when we hear a few of Peter's internal thoughts. He thinks it would be fun to join the snowball fight, but he knows he's not old enough yet (23). And later, when his snowball melts, we learn that Peter "felt very sad" (32). Those two instances let us know that we're dealing with an omniscient narrator, but since those are the only two instances, and since they're limited to just one character, we can arrive at Limited Omniscient.

    Hm. If only someone could have let us know how that snowball felt…