2017 Ezra Jack Keats Book Award

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Ceremony Highlights

Executive Director Deborah Pope reports:

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From left: Ellen Ruffin (USM), Stacey McAnulty, Jeri Watts and Micha Archer (Book Award honoree and winners) and Deborah Pope

At the end of every Children’s Book Festival at the University of Southern Mississippi, authors and illustrators, teachers and librarians, staff and faculty hug, shake hands and declare that year’s festival the best one they’ve ever attended. This happens every year. And every year it’s true.

This year was a bit more special, as we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Children’s Book Festival. It remains a tribute to Lena de Grummond, who started everything in 1967, writing to children’s book authors and illustrators and asking them to send her anything, even stuff they thought should be thrown away, for an archive she was growing from scratch. Today, the de Grummond is one of the preeminent collections of children’s books in the country, home to the Keats Archives and host of the Ezra Jack Keats Book Award at the festival.

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Deborah and Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

There were a few particularly gratifying aspects to the 2017 award ceremony. Prolific author Phyllis Reynolds Naylor graciously handed awards to each winner with a few words of encouragement. New Illustrator Micha Archer is a former EJK Honor Book winner for her book Lola’s Fandango. And Stacey McAnulty’s New Writer Honor Book, Excellent Ed, was illustrated by last year’s New Illustrator Honor Book winner Julia Sarcone Roach. It seems we’ve reached a critical mass of successful EJK Book Award winners, and their careers are beginning to criss-cross the field.

Deborah Pope and Kwame Alexander
Deborah and Kwame Alexander

More high points: Kwame Alexander describing how saying “Yes!” opened the door to every positive turn in his life. Bryan Collier speaking about how Ezra and The Snowy Day planted seeds of hope and vision in him when he was a little boy. Kate DiCamillo showing how the pain of growing up with an absent father led her to open her heart to others and to experience, and write about, life. Pat Mora discussing the great need for more books about children of all hues; and Andrea Davis Pinkney mourning our culture’s great injustices and celebrating our moments of enlightenment and compassion.

As the festival-goers left, they promised to see one another next year, as they do every year. And the promises are kept, by almost everyone.