Long before he found his way onto a stamp, however, Peter was a boy who was featured in a series of snapshots in a 1940 issue of Life magazine. Keats, then in his mid-twenties, was so struck by the sweet face of the unnamed, African-American child that he cut out the photo essay and held onto it. The magazine clipping stayed with him during jobs as a background illustrator for Captain Marvel comics and, later, designing camouflage patterns while in the Army.
Keats moved from Paris to his native New York in 1949, where he established a career as a commercial illustrator for the likes of Reader’s Digest and the New York Times Book Review. And then, almost two decades after he’d first seen the photographs in Life, he dug up the clipping when he was invited to write and illustrate his own children’s book. He set about building a world around that little boy, and used collage for the very first time.