Explore the story and background of The Snowy Day


Peter wakes up to the first snow of winter—the first winter where his parents have promised to let him play in the snow by himself. Overjoyed at the infinite possibilities of his snowy adventures, he starts to bound outside when Mama and Daddy remind him that he has to eat breakfast and put on his snowsuit. They lovingly tease him as they draw out his bundling as long as they can before letting him go—but not without a gentle warning to be careful.

As Peter enters the snowy world alone for the first time, he innocently wishes that the snow would last forever. Three older boys start a snowball fight, but they become frustrated at Peter’s inability to keep up—they tease Peter and leave him behind. Peter meets Amy, and they play in the snow until the older boys return. One of them, Tim, stops the teasing when he sees the hurt it causes Peter and Amy. Tim plays with them until their fathers call them home. Peter quietly tucks a snowball into his pocket to bring home and keep forever.

At home, Mama helps Peter get ready for bed while Daddy leaves to work his night shift. Right before bed, Peter goes to get his snowball out of his jacket pocket, only to discover that it has melted. He dreams that his new friends and their snowy day all melt as well, until he awakens to another layer of snow and the promise of another day with his friends. Snow and childhood won’t last forever, but Peter, Amy, and Tim will enjoy both for as long as they can—together.


When Peter finally gets out of the house and first steps out into his snowy wonderland, he sings an aria titled “Whisper Walk.” Completely captive to the wonder around him, Peter wants it to last forever. Listen for his melody toward the end of this aria, when he sings, “Please be forever.” That melody, joyfully called the “forever theme” in rehearsals, returns in many iterations throughout the opera, commenting on the permanence, or impermanence, of the character’s hopes and wishes.


In 1940, Life magazine published a strip of four photos of a little Black boy in Georgia, waiting for a blood test to be administered by a nurse. Ezra Jack Keats, a children’s book illustrator, cut out those photos and hung them on his studio wall as his inspiration. In 1962, those Life magazine photos from 22 years earlier inspired Keats's second book.

Keats wrote and illustrated The Snowy Day, the story of a little boy named Peter who is finally allowed to venture into the snow alone. The book won the 1963 Caldecott Medal, and it broke a persistent color barrier: Peter was the first Black boy to be the main character of a mainstream children’s book.

In 2016, acclaimed children’s author Andrea Davis Pinkney wrote A Poem for Peter, an homage to Keats and his legacy of Peter, the little boy who simply played in the snow. She was the perfect artist to become the librettist of an opera based on The Snowy Day, which would begin to evolve only a few months later.

Star soprano Julia Bullock brought the idea of basing an opera on The Snowy Day to Patrick Summers, HGO’s Artistic and Music Director. He, too, knew the book from his childhood, and the opera started to take form. In the summer of 2017, Patrick was teaching conducting at the Aspen Music Festival, when a conducting student brought out a score from one of the festival’s composition students—within 30 seconds, Patrick knew that this unidentified composer would be the perfect fit for The Snowy Day.

Joel Thompson was that composer, and his unique and colorful musical voice has breathed new life into the story of Peter, beautifully adapted into poetic narrative by Pinkney. Eighty years after those pictures were published, the universal themes of Keats’s simple story jump off the page and into the theater for HGO’s 71st world premiere.


The Snowy Day has a fan in former first lady Michelle Obama, who told The New York Times it was one of her favorite books growing up. It is also the most checked-out title in the history of the New York Public Library.

Courtesy of Houston Grand Opera.