Children's Book Review: Whistle for Willie by Ezra Jack Keats
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This week I want to share a book from one of my all-time favorite authors, Ezra Jack Keats. EJK was a pioneer in children’s stories, breaking barriers with his acclaimed book “The Snowy Day” in which he chose to have his lead character a person of color, in 1962. EJK felt that all children should see themselves depicted in the books they love. Along with breaking with norms in character representation, he also was one of the first authors to have urban settings for his stories.
While I do love “The Snowy Day” encourage you to add it to your library at home, I am going to talk about “Whistle for Willie” today! It is one of many books with Peter as the main character.
In “Whistle for Willie”, we follow Peter as he independently tries to figure out how to whistle. He sees other people whistling in the neighborhood, getting the attention of their dogs, and decides he would like to get his beloved Willie’s attention by whistling for him.
What I love about this story is its pure approachability. It follows a young child trying to do something new that just about every child attempts! There is nothing extraordinary about it, he is just simply trying to do something he couldn’t previously do, something every child experiences. The everyday-ness of this story is what I find so endearing. No child has to do or have anything special in order to relate to this story. In this way, children have the ability to connect with the main character by simply being children! Explore and repeat to learn a new skill, that’s all that is required to be like this main character!
I also love Ezra Jack Keats’s illustrations. They are bright and cheerful, without being overpowering. There is just the right amount of negative space balanced with the beautiful colors and patterns that set the tone for this uplifting story. The illustrations convey the story well, making is a wonderful book to enjoy independently, recalling the story read together through the expressive images. I especially like how EJK conveyed this through the part of the story in which Peter has been spinning and stops to see the world tilt and spin around him, depicted in images of Peter himself tilting back and forth, with traffic lights askew.
This is a wonderful story, giving a relatable story to all children and representation to children of color. I hope you consider adding this to your at-home library and look into more of Ezra Jack Keats’s many books! You can find “Whistle for Willie” here, here, and here.
Does your family already have this story? What are your thoughts on this book? Post your thoughts in the comments below!