As a child, I adored the Ezra Jack Keats book, Jennie’s Hat. I loved the details of the flowered hats of the ladies going to church, and was absolutely delighted with the masterpiece the birds created for Jennie.
As a 1st grade and kindergarten teacher, I always waited patiently for the first snowy day of the school year to read The Snowy Day with my students. Every year, the students are enamored with the sweet story, making many connections to the character of Peter and sharing their own pastimes for cold, snowy days.
For the past few years in kindergarten, we’ve conducted an author study about the Australian writer, Mem Fox, at the beginning of the year. Through her books, such as Koala Lou, Where is the Green Sheep, and Harriet, You’ll Drive Me Wild, students recognize patterns in the words, notice the connection between the pictures and the words, and share their favorite parts.
This year, we shifted our author study to December and focused on the works of Ezra Jack Keats. As we read aloud many of his books, including Peter’s Chair, Goggles, Pet Show, and Hi, Cat!, my students noticed big ideas about Keats’ writing. We collected these ideas in an anchor chart.
The students were particularly interested in the “Peter” books (Whistle for Willie, The Snowy Day, Peter’s Chair, Hi, Cat!, Goggles) and managed formulate a timeline of these books based upon the events detailed in the story. For example, they explained that The Snow Day must be the first book, since Peter does not have a baby sister yet. They decided that Whistle for Willie came next because Peter “looked a little bit bigger and older.”
During this study, the students wrote stories about things that happened to them. Some took ideas straight from Mr. Keats, choosing to write about playing in the snow or having a snowball fight. Others thought about special moments with family members: going to a ballet recital with mom, watching the Packers game with dad, or building a castle with a younger brother.
To illustrate these stories, we took inspiration from Mr. Keats’ artistic style. We talked about how Ezra Jack Keats used the process of collage in many of his books to create his illustrations. With this in mind, the children selected one moment from their narratives to collage, carefully choosing a background color, deciding on the shapes of their people, and including important details and objects.
Have you conducted author studies in your primary classrooms? Who are some of your favorite authors to study?