Windows and Mirrors: The Legacy of ‘The Snowy Day’

Picture books should both teach children about other worlds and reflect a child's unique experiences and culture.

A famous librarian dictum (yes, there are famous librarian dictums!) is that picture books should be both windows and mirrors for children.

Windows: into other worlds, knowledge, meaning.

What is better than being able to look out through a clear glass and see all kinds of different and unexpected sights, whether it is the fantastical lands of Narnia or the very real landscape of our own country’s history? Children should be introduced to this great and wonderful world of ours, and be surprised and delighted and even horrified. Windows bring the new, the different, the world outside of what we know.

But mirrors are also important: reflecting unique experiences, cultures and lives.

It’s profoundly satisfying to know that there are other people who are like you – that you are not alone or “other.” When you don’t see yourself reflected in culture, you begin to wonder if something is wrong with you. Looking into a mirror brings the recognition that you are here, and that is good.

Before The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats was published in 1962, there were a lot of windows for African-American children… but no real mirrors.

It was the first real picture book that featured an African-American main character having a normal childhood experience of playing in the snow. It was an instant hit and, nearly 55 years later, it is still given a place of honor in the hearts (and shelves) of many children’s librarians.

A new, gorgeously written and illustrated children’s book about Ezra Jack Keats, A Poem for Peter by Andrea Davis Pinkney, details Keats’s life and his creation of The Snowy Day – all told directly to Peter the character himself, “brown-sugar boy in a blanket of white.”

cover of a poem for peter, for article on books that are windows and mirrors

Share this lovely book with your child after reading The Snowy Day to discover more about Keats and his classic picture books.

Some of my favorite picture books that act as “mirrors” for many children (and “windows” for others) to check out include:

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

Finding the courage to jump from the high dive is as universal as playing in the snow.

When We Were Alone by David Robertson

A child learns from her grandmother how Native American children were treated many years ago.

Rain! by Linda Ashman

In true Ezra Jack Keats fashion, this book shows a child enjoying a wetter form of precipitation.

Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match by Monica Brown

The catalog description says it best: “Marisol McDonald, a biracial, nonconformist, soccer-playing pirate-princess with brown skin and red hair, celebrates her uniqueness.”

This Is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids From Around the World by Matt Lamothe

This is both “window” AND “mirror” in that it follows kids from a variety of countries. Comparing and contrasting what children in Japan versus children in Uganda eat, wear, and do in school is fascinating!

Build A Reader: Try This at Home!

Did you know you can get a free finger puppet bookmark and calendar at any of the 24 locations of the Tulsa City-County Library? Learn more at

Categories: Books and Literacy