Ezra Jack Keats Award Marks 35th Anniversary in 2021

Posted 2/23/2021

ContactTracy van Straaten, 35th Anniversary Publicity Director, tracy@tvsmediagroup.com and Robyn L. Stein, 35th Anniversary Campaign Director, robyn@rlsteingroup.com

Ezra Jack Keats Award Marks 35th Anniversary in 2021

Spring 2021 Celebration to Honor the Legacy
of Ezra Jack Keats Includes:

● 35th EJK Award Winners Announcement and Ceremony
● Silent Auction of Original Children’s Book Illustrations
● New Documentary Film about Ezra Jack Keats’ Impact on the Evolution of Diversity in American Children’s Literature

February 23, 2021, Brooklyn, NY: The Ezra Jack Keats Award (EJK Award), co-sponsored by the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation (EJK Foundation) and the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection at the University of Southern Mississippi, is celebrating its 35th anniversary in 2021, with the theme of “Advancing Diversity in Children’s Literature.” Since its inception, 91 exceptional early career authors and illustrators have received EJK Awards and Honors for portraying the multicultural nature of our world, including renowned bookmakers Meg Medina, Christian Robinson, Bryan Collier, and Sophie Blackall. 

“The EJK Foundation is proud that the EJK Award continues to be a mark of future success and inspiration for early career writers, illustrators and young readers. When Ezra Jack Keats wrote and illustrated his award-winning picture book The Snowy Day in 1962, he had no idea the impact his books, his characters, and his thinking would have on the field of children’s literature and on the lives of children well into the 21st century,” said Deborah Pope, Executive Director of the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation since 2002. “In celebrating this milestone anniversary, we are excited to spread awareness of Ezra’s message to build a future in which children see themselves in a world of equity and acceptance through the literature they grow up reading.” 

Ezra Jack Keats (1916-1983) was a pioneer in American children’s literature. After The Snowy Day was awarded the Caldecott Medal, the most prestigious children’s book award for illustration in the United States, Keats followed it up with some 30 books, most of which he both wrote and illustrated. He based the lives of his multiracial characters on his childhood but added loving parents, friends and pets. He wanted no child to be an outsider. “If we could see each other exactly as the other is,” he wrote, “this would be a different world.” He is considered one of the greatest American children’s book illustrators/authors of the last century.

First published in 1962, the now-classic The Snowy Day broke the color barrier in mainstream children’s publishing by being embraced across social and ethnic lines. The vivid and ageless illustrations and text, beloved by several generations of readers, have earned a place in the pantheon of great American children’s literature.

In January 2020, New York Public Library revealed that The Snowy Day was the most circulated book in its 125 year history, and in 2017 the U.S. Postal Service issued The Snowy Day Forever Stamp.

Timeline of 35th Anniversary Activities:

  • 2021 Ezra Jack Keats Awards Announcement (March 9, 2021) for illustration and writing, plus Honor Books in both categories
  • Virtual Events with EJK Winning Authors and Artists Hosted By Books of Wonder Bookstore in New York City (April 3 & April 18, 2021)
    • “EJK Award Alumni Event” Pat Cummings (moderator), Winners Oge Mora, Meg Medina, Sydney Smith, and Honoree Mike Curato Reflect on What the Award Has Meant to Them (April 3, 2021)
    • Two Panel Discussions with 2021 EJK Award/Honor Winning Authors & Artists (April 18, 2021)
  • Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival hosted by the University of Southern Mississippi. Activities include (April 12-16, 2021)
    • Ezra Jack Keats Lecture: Newbery Award winner Meg Medina (2012 EJK Award winner)
    • Ezra Jack Keats Award 35th Anniversary Celebration/Virtual Ceremony
    • 35th EJK Silent Auction Co-Hosted by the R. Michelson Galleries, with special guest commentary by, Pat Cummings, Chieri Uegaki, Paul O. Zelinsky
  • Premiere of New Documentary Film about Ezra Jack Keats’ impact on the evolution of diversity in American children’s literature and the contribution of the EJK Award. Produced by The Office performing arts + film and directed by Damani Baker. (May 24, 2021)

In June 2020, the EJK Foundation kicked off a yearlong celebration to reach educators, librarians, homeschoolers, parents, and children by producing a series of EJK Award-themed virtual and in-person activities, webinars, guides, and themed book lists. Downloadable toolkits, graphics and background information are available on the 35th anniversary pages of the EJK Foundation website, including guides to conduct Read Alouds, Mock EJK Lesson Plans, and EJK Award Book Discussion Guides.

About the Ezra Jack Keats Award

Co-produced by the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation and the de Grummond Collection Children’s Literature Collection at The University of Southern Mississippi, the Ezra Jack Keats Award (for illustration, writing, and honors in both categories) was established to recognize and encourage emerging talent in the field of children’s books. A distinguished selection committee of children’s literature and early childhood education specialists, librarians, authors and illustrators reviews the entries, seeking engaging books that portray the universal qualities of childhood, a strong and supportive family, and the multicultural nature of our world.

About the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation

The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, which protects and promotes the work of Ezra Jack Keats, whose book The Snowy Day broke the color barrier in children’s publishing. has actively fostered children’s creativity and love of reading since 1985. The Foundation awards 70 EJK Mini-Grants annually to public schools and libraries, for arts and literacy programs across 50 states; administers the EJK Bookmaking Competition, for grades 3-12, in the nation’s largest school system for 34 years running; and with the EJK Award, has encouraged 88 exceptional early career authors and illustrators to create children’s books that reflect our diverse culture. In celebration of the 35th Anniversary of the EJK Award in 2021, the Foundation created a year-long public awareness and educational campaign.

About the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection

The de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection is one of North America’s leading research centers in the field of children’s literature. Founded in 1966 by Dr. Lena Y. de Grummond, the Collection holds the original manuscripts and illustrations of more than 1,300 authors and illustrators, as well as 180,000+ published books dating from 1530 to the present. The collection contains the works of many notable authors and illustrators including Randolph Caldecott, John Newbery, Kate Greenaway, H.A. and Margret Rey, Ezra Jack Keats, and the papers of popular young adult author, John Green. Researchers from across the United States and around the world visit the collection on a regular basis to study its extensive holdings.

Anniversary Leadership

Two 35th Anniversary Committees include esteemed executives and senior leaders in the fields of publishing, university and public libraries, and advocacy organizations. They are committed to the goals of the EJK Award and the critical need for the creation and development of children’s literature that represents the world in which we live. A special thank you to Penguin Random House for their “Snowy Day” sponsorship.

The 35th Anniversary Executive Committee includes Rodney Bennett, President of the University of Southern Mississippi, the chief executives of Brooklyn Public Library, the New York Public Library, and Queens Public Library, as well as publishing executives from Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, Harper Collins, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Macmillan, Scholastic, Hachette Book Group, Holiday House, Charlesbridge and Candlewick Press, and the heads of We Need Diverse Books, The Studio Museum of Harlem and the Children’s Book Council.

The 35th Anniversary Advisory Committee is comprised of more than 60 authors and illustrators who have received EJK Awards or Honors, have been jurors on the EJK Award Selection Committee or have nurtured the EJK Award, including Oge Mora, Don Tate, Misty Copeland, and Melissa Sweet.