Study Guide

Peter's Mother in The Snowy Day

By Ezra Jack Keats

Peter's Mother

Anyone who's willing to handle wet socks is a hero in our book. So Peter's mother is a star.

Like the Big Boys, Peter's mother is only seen briefly (29), but her presence is equally important. A large woman in a brightly patterned dress, Peter's mother provides a sense of stability and security as she helps him remove his wet clothes and listens as he talks about his adventures. Interestingly enough, Keats was criticized by some for the way Peter's mother was depicted.

In her 1965 article, "The All-White World of Children's Books," Nancy Larrick wrote, "The book gives a sympathetic picture of just one child—a small N**** boy. The N**** mother, however, is a huge figure in a gaudy yellow plaid dress, albeit without a red bandana."

Keats took great offense at Larrick's comment, saying he was "sickened" by it in a (letter to the editor he wrote a few weeks later. And another author at the time, Ellen Tarry, also objected to Larrick's characterization. In her letter to the editor, Tarry wrote:

I thought [Larrick's] reference to the plump N**** mother in The Snowy Day was snide and unwarranted. I am a stout N**** mother and my daughter has enjoyed a big lap to sit in and ample bosom on which to lean in times of trouble. I saw Ezra Jack Keats' [illustration of Peter's mother] before the book was published and commented on the fact that she was a solid security symbol. I loved her colorful house dress, too.

So, just as Peter's appearance as the first African American child featured as the protagonist in a mainstream children's book made waves, so, too, did Keats's illustration of Peter's mother.