As a kid, a neighbor of ours adopted my sister and me as “great nieces.” She worked at the local library and would bring us at least one brown paper grocery bag filled with picture books every so often. I do no remember any Ezra Jack Keats books being in there, but I am sure there was one or two. Same with library time at school; I am sure teachers read them to us. Therefore, whenever I find a Keats book, it is for the first time. And recently I found Whistle for Willie by Ezra Jack Keats.
Keats has a formula that is sweet, simple and says a lot. They are classic stories. They are just stories about a kid or events that we all pretty much go through. Or at least we can relate to them. They are nice. There might not be “in your face” messages, but you can take whatever you want from them. In Whistle for Willie we have a young boy playing on a summer day, trying to whistle. It teaches kids to keep trying, do not give up and have fun. And that is it. A good story that you can read again and again.
Today seeing a child of color is more common. But when the book was first published, this was unheard of. Toss in a Jewish author and you really have a scandal I am sure. It is, therefore, a great conversation starter for a classroom setting: How far have we come in diverseness, can we go father and so forth. But in the end, Whistle for Willie is just a good book that we still have the pleasure of reading.