Press Release: Ezra Jack Keats Centennial

Keats Centennial Celebration!

Posted 1/19/2016

Sheree Wichard

100th Birthday of Author and Illustrator Ezra Jack Keats Inspires Year-long, Country-wide Celebration

Festivities Start with Free Online Ezra Jack Keats Birthday Kit for Teachers and Librarians That Offers Fresh Take on Keats Curriculum

New York—January 19, 2016—This year marks the 100th birthday of the late children’s book author-illustrator Ezra Jack Keats, whose 1962 classic, The Snowy Day, broke the color barrier in mainstream children’s publishing and remains the standard for diversity in picture books to this day. In honor of Keats’ centennial, the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation has planned a year-long birthday celebration, including special events, performances and activities at schools, libraries and cultural institutions around the country.

Among the various organizations that are partnering with the Foundation to celebrate Keats’ 100th are: Penguin Random House, the University of Southern Mississippi, the Brooklyn Public Library, the Children’s Theater of Minneapolis, the New York City Department of Education, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco.

Keats actual birthday is March 11, 1916, but the celebration has already begun with a Keats Birthday Kit that can downloaded from the Foundation’s website (go to Keats Birthday Kit). The kit consists of illustrated, printable PDFs that are suitable for hanging up or handing out. Whether used as a unit or in sections, the kit offers a fresh take on the Keats curriculum—and turns it into a birthday party!

Illustration from Louie’s Search, by Ezra Jack Keats

“It is our pleasure in Ezra’s centenary year to kick off the festivities with a Birthday Kit, available to educators as well as parents,” says Deborah Pope, Executive Director of the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation. “Teachers and librarians have used Ezra’s books to advance the curriculum, and more importantly, to spread the joy of reading for over 50 years. This is one of the ways we’d like to thank them for appreciating the importance of his work.”

The Birthday Kit is available at no cost and will remain on the site throughout 2016. Here are some of the resources included:

  • Read a book…stay for a party! Creative activities with simple instructions highlight selected Keats titles. Children can make a model rocket and take a fantasy space trip (inspired by Regards to the Man in the Moon); star in a musical about animal families (inspired by Over in the Meadow); or write a happy birthday letter to Ezra—and get a letter in return (inspired by A Letter to Amy)! Each activity expresses a variation of “Happy 100th, Ezra!”
  • Vintage photographs capture the year 1916. The class will get a glimpse of what America looked like when Ezra was born, learn about historic “firsts” like Thomas Edison’s electric car and realize that some of the sights they see every day may actually be 100 years old!
  • Fun facts reveal the author’s secrets. For example: Ezra included self-portraits in a number of his books, inviting readers to “find Ezra” in their pages. And, book titles were so important to Ezra that he often waited until he had finished a book to choose one. That’s how The Funny Day, with a dog named Henry, eventually acquired the perfect name—Whistle for Willie.
  • Did you know…? Highlights from the author’s life reveal that Ezra was a guest on “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” four times, and had a skating rink in Japan named after him in honor of his book Skates.
  • Pin the tail on Willie. Just for fun!

Statue of Peter and Willie To Be Declared a Literary Landmark

Keats grew up in Brooklyn, New York, so the borough’s beautiful Prospect Park seemed a fitting spot for a bronze sculpture of two of his beloved characters, Peter and his dog, Willie. Children have gathered there, in the Imagination Playground, for a storytelling hour sponsored by the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation every summer weekend since the statue’s dedication in 1997. In honor of Keats’ 100th birthday, the statue will be declared a literary landmark.

The landmark dedication marks the start of a weekend of Keats-related celebrations in Brooklyn, including a special Family Concert in Prospect Park on June 11th featuring award-winning children’s musical artist Dan Zanes. There will be a fiesta of activities, Keats read-alouds, edibles and surprises.

A month-by-month schedule of activities, events and dates related to the Keats centennial celebration will be posted on the Foundation website and will expand throughout the year as plans unfold.

28th Annual Mini-Grant Proposals with a Keats Birthday Twist

The 28th Annual Ezra Jack Keats Mini-Grant Program celebrates Keats with a call for proposals that reflect the work and vision of the program’s namesake.

“For 30 years, we’ve had the pleasure to fund programs focused on the widest variety of subjects proposed by educators across the country,” says Pope. “This year, to honor Keats’ 100th, we’re excited to invite teachers and librarians to join in his birthday party with Mini-Grant proposals that celebrate some aspect of his books, his vision of childhood or his portrayal of our diverse world.”

Approximately 60 grants of up to $500 each will be awarded to qualifying teachers and librarians at public schools and libraries across the country. The deadline for submissions is March 31, 2016, and decisions will be emailed to all applicants in early May, allowing educators to plan for the next academic year.

To learn more about Mini-Grants, including this year’s criteria, visit Ezra Jack Keats Mini-Grants.

About Ezra Jack Keats and the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation

In all, Ezra Jack Keats had illustrated over 85 books for children, and written and illustrated 22 children’s classics before he died in 1983 at the age of 67. His Caldecott-award-winning book, The Snowy Day has been translated into many languages and was named one of the “Books that Shaped America” by the Library of Congress.

Of Keats’ numerous awards and exhibitions, the most recent were his induction into the New York State Writers Hall of Fame this past June and a major retrospective, “The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats,” which traveled to six major museums from 2011 to 2014.

Keats established the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation with his best friend, Martin Pope, in 1964. Upon Keats’ death, Martin and his wife, the late Lillie Pope, continued the work of the Foundation by extending to future generations of children the kind of help and encouragement that kept Keats going when he was growing up.

Now in its fourth decade and under the leadership of Deborah Pope, the Foundation implements and supports programs that bring Ezra’s multicultural creative spirit into 21st-century children’s lives with arts and literacy programs, the Ezra Jack Keats Book Award, presented annually to new writers and illustrators of exceptional picture books, and the Ezra Jack Keats Mini-Grant Program, which provides grants each year to qualifying teachers and librarians across the country. To learn more about the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, visit  Keats. Imagination. Diversity.

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