2020 Ezra Jack Keats Award Winners

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2020 Writer Award

Sydney Smith

Smith said, “Winning the Ezra Jack Keats Award is incredibly meaningful. Keats wrote about children and their experiences with empathy and inclusivity. The risk of writing for children is to be an adult telling children what it’s like to be a child. Keats has inspired many, including myself, to simply be a human sharing the wonders of the human experience.”

Smith describes his goal to portray childhood resilience, “With Small in the City, everyone, children and adults, know the feeling of being insignificant in a huge city surrounded by the chaos, the hustle, and intense feelings. We don’t give a lot of credit to children for their capacity to navigate emotions—their spectrum is wider than we acknowledge.”

Small in the City

Neal Porter Books, an imprint of Holiday House Publishing, Inc.

Being small in the big city can be scary, unless you know someone who understands and is always there with helpful advice. In the first book that he has both written and illustrated, Sydney Smith describes a big world as seen through young eyes . When you’re small in the big city, people don’t see you, loud sounds are frightening, and knowing what to do is sometimes difficult. But this little kid knows the ropes and is happy to help.

2020 Illustrator Award

Ashleigh Corrin

Corrin said, “As a first-time illustrator for children’s books, I doubted myself. Winning this award serves as affirmation and encouragement. What an honor! I have always looked to Ezra Jack Keats for artistic inspiration because he celebrated ideas and feelings through the eyes of a black child.

Corrin explains how simple it is for all children to see themselves in Layla, “Sometimes authors and illustrators don’t use black characters as the protagonists of their stories because they feel identifying with a black child will be too difficult for a ‘mainstream’ audience. I think Keats, and many authors and illustrators since, have proven this isn’t true. That’s what I hope Layla’s Happiness continues to prove.”

Layla's Happiness

Enchanted Lion Books

Seven-year-old Layla keeps a happiness book. Spirited and observant, Layla has been given room to grow, making her understanding of happiness thoughtful, intimate and yet, universal. What she discovers and shares is that happiness can be found in simple things, things like her dad talking about growing-up in South Carolina; her mom reading poetry; her best friend Juan, the community garden, and so much more. This is a story of flourishing with gusto, within family and community.

2020 Honor Books

  • Writer Honor

    Matthew Farina
    Lawrence in the Fall
    Illustrated by Doug Salati
    Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

    Everyone but Lawrence has a special collection to bring for show and tell. Lawrence is upset. Papa’s idea to search for something in the forest isn’t comforting, especially when Lawrence gets a little lost. But then a wonderful thing happens and Lawrence’s problems are solved in a way that brings everyone together.

  • Writer Honor

    Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie
    Layla's Happiness
    Illustrated by Ashleigh Corri
    Enchanted Lion Books

    Does happiness just happen or is it created? That question propels young and adult readers through Layla’s delightful catalogue of what makes her happy. Without obvious answers Tallie guides the reader to an understanding that happiness is created and that Layla’s skill at making her own, is not hard to follow.

  • Illustrator Honor

    Kate Read
    One Fox: A Counting Book Thriller
    Written by Kate Read
    Peachtree Publishing Company

    One famished fox with two sky eyes is prowling, three plump hens are scampering! Rich, colorful illustrations plunge the reader into an exciting story set in a moonlit farmyard. With something surprising to count on each page, learning numbers from one to ten has never been so thrilling.

  • Illustrator Honor

    Doug Salati
    Lawrence in the Fall
    Written by Matthew Farina
    Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

    Lawrence feels left behind when he alone is without something for show and tell. His dejection is brilliantly illustrated when he’s separated from his Papa, for a moment, as they search the forest for the special thing he can bring to class. In finding what he needs we see that much more joy for the work it took to discover.

  • Illustrator Honor

    Zeke Peña
    My Papi Has a Motorcycle
    Written by Isabel Quintero
    Kokila an imprint of Penguin Young Readers

    Zooming around her neighborhood with Papi on his motorcycle, Daisy Ramona sees people and places she’s always known and loved. She also sees a community that’s changing around her. But as Daisy and her Papi reach the homestretch, she knows that the love from her papi and her family will never change.