How We Began

The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation was incorporated in 1964, with Ezra as President and Martin Pope as Secretary, as a vehicle for Ezra’s personal contributions. When Ezra died in 1983, his will directed that the Foundation use the royalties from his books to support programs helpful to humanity.

His instructions regarding the exact nature of his Foundation were not specific, however. A much more detailed plan had to be developed so the Foundation could function as both a charitable organization and the legal representative for Ezra’s books. Martin Pope, now President, and his wife, Lillie, felt strongly that the Foundation should encourage and support children’s talents through art and literacy programs in public schools and libraries. Having grown up with Ezra, Martin knew that he would have wanted to offer the kind of help and encouragement that kept him going as a child.

Together Martin and Lillie worked with Ezra’s publishers to maintain the high quality of production of his books. Further, they designed and implemented programs to support educators in their efforts to foster literacy and love of learning. These  programs extended not only to schools, libraries and universities, but also to museums, theatres, music schools and other organizations.

A Timeline of Highlights

Some of the programs, past and present, of which we are very proud:


• The EJK Foundation teamed up with UNICEF and the United States Board on Books for Young People (USBBY) to create the International Award for Excellence in Children’s Book Illustration. The award was given every two years, and in 1992 the ceremony, in The Hague, Netherlands, was filmed as part of a worldwide broadcast in celebration of UNICEF. Due to a subsequent reorganization of UNICEF, however, the award was discontinued in 1994. Winners include Barbara Reid (1987, Canada), Feeroozeh Golmohammadi (1989, Iran) and Arone Meeks (1992, Australia).

• The Keatsmobile in Jerusalem, a traveling children’s library funded by the EJK Foundation, brought books to Arab and Israeli children until hostilities made it too dangerous.  The Foundation currently supports the New Israel Foundation in their efforts to protect the civil rights of the disenfranchised population of Israel.

• The EJK Foundation developed and supported for 10 years International Book Week at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. The program drew educators from across the country to hear guests speakers such as Roald Dahl, Leo Lionni, Eric Carle and Ashley Bryan.


• Hannah Nuba, founder of the Early Childhood Resource and Information Center (ECRIC) of the New York Public Library, proposed the Ezra Jack Keats  Book Award to Lillie Pope. They designed the program to reward emerging childrenʼs book authors as an ongoing collaboration between the Foundation and the  Library. The New Writer Award was first given in 1986, and the New Illustrator Award added in 2001.

• The Keats Archive was established at the de Grummond Childrenʼs Literature Collection, at the University of Southern Mississippi (USM), in Hattiesburg. The Archive is dedicated to preserving Keatsʼs original artwork, private papers and memorabilia, and has provided original material for a number of Keats exhibitions. The Foundation also supports scholarly awards through USM.


• The EJK Foundation partnered with the New York City Department of Education to launch the Ezra Jack Keats Bookmaking Competition, a city-wide initiative that encourages self-expression through writing and illustrating picture books. For 20 years the Competition was open to students from grades 2 through 8, but with a generous five-year grant from the Pierre and Marie-Gaetana Matisse Foundation, it was expanded to grade 12. The Foundation plans to promote this successful program as a model for the school systems of other cities.

• The EJK Foundation went national with its pioneering Minigrant program. Geared to support teachers and librarians in public schools and libraries, Minigrants underwrite projects that demonstrate creativity, cooperation and celebration of diversity. The funding also allows educators to step outside the standard curriculum with special activities for their students.


• The EJK Foundation commissioned a bronze statue of Peter and his dog, Willie, to be placed in what would become the Imagination Playground of Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. The statue, created by sculptor and artist Otto Neals, pictured at left, serves as the location of a summer storytelling series also supported by the EJK Foundation. Tupper Thomas of the Prospect Park Alliance made the project a reality.


• The Bedtime Story series, a monthly story hour funded by the EJK Foundation, began at the Brooklyn Public Library Central Branch.


• The Keats Family Concert, complete with music and storytellers, debuted at the Celebrate Brooklyn! summer event series in Prospect Park, and continues to be a popular attraction.


• The EJK Foundation launched a national literacy campaign, establishing the EJK Press and sending copies of its first publication, Teach Anyone to Read: A No-Nonsense Guide, by Lillie Pope, to libraries, colleges and universities in every state. The influential, updated volume is geared to every type of reading teacher from education specialist to ESL volunteer. In 2011 EJK Press brought out an e-book edition.


• “The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats,” a major retrospective, opened at The Jewish Museum in New York City, with support from the EJK Foundation and original material from the Keats Archives at the de Grummond Collection. Related programs included workshops for educators, art workshops for children and family activities. Throughout 2012-2013, the exhibition travels around the country, showing at: the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts (June 26–October 14, 2012); the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco (November 15, 2012–February 24, 2013); the Akron Art Museum in Ohio (March 16–June 30, 2013); and the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia (July 19–October 20, 2013).


• The 50th anniversary year of the publication of The Snowy Day was commemorated by Viking printing a special edition of the book, the Brooklyn Public Library hosting “A Snowy Day in May,” extensive media coverage and celebrations across the country.

• The Brooklyn Public Library has partnered with the EJK Foundation and the New York City Department of Education in the annual EJK Bookmaking Competition. The winning books were on display throughout May at the BPL Central Branch.

• The EJK Book Award moved to the University of Southern Mississippi, home of the Keats Archive at de Grummond Collection. The award ceremony took place at USM during its annual Children’s Book Festival in April.

•The first spring funding cycle for Minigrants took place, with the winners announced in May.


See Programs for a complete list and description of current Foundation programs.

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