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  • Writer's pictureDawn Smith

2021 Ezra Jack Keats Award Winners and Honorees Announced

Ezra Jack Keats Foundation Celebrates 35th Anniversary

of Annual Book Award

The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation (EJK Foundation), in partnership with the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection at The University of Southern Mississippi (USM), today announced the winners of the 2021 Ezra Jack Keats Award (EJK Award), as well as

five honorees. Celebrating its 35th anniversary in 2021, with the theme of “Advancing Diversity in Children’s Literature,” the annual EJK Award honors exceptional early career authors and illustrators for portraying the multicultural nature of our world in the spirit of Ezra Jack Keats. This year, the virtual award ceremony will be held on April 13, 2021 during the Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival at USM in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

The 2021 Ezra Jack Keats Award winner for Writer is:

Tricia Elam Walker for Nana Akua Goes to School

Illustrated by April Harrison

Published by Schwartz & Wade, an imprint of Penguin Random House

The 2021 Ezra Jack Keats Award winner for Illustrator is:

Heidi Woodward Sheffield for Brick by Brick

Written by Heidi Woodward Sheffield

Published by Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House

The 2021 Ezra Jack Keats Award Honor winners are:

Writer Honors

Raymond Antrobus for Can Bears Ski?

(illustrated by Polly Dunbar, published by Candlewick Press)

Jarrett and Jerome Pumphrey for The Old Truck

(illustrated by Jarrett and Jerome Pumphrey, published by Norton Young Readers, an imprint of W.W. Norton & Company)

Illustrator Honors

Steve Small for I'm Sticking with You

(written by Smriti Prasadam-Halls, published by Henry Holt and Company, an imprint of Macmillan)

Victoria Tentler-Krylov for Cyclops of Central Park

(written by Madelyn Rosenberg, published by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Random House)

“When this award was launched 35 years ago our goal was to encourage talented bookmakers and publishers to produce outstanding books that reflect children from the widest spectrum of ethnic backgrounds. We wanted to help create the library of the future in which children could see themselves and learn to identify with others. Looking back over the artists and books recognized over three and half decades, including our 35th Anniversary winners and honorees, it is thrilling beyond words to see we’ve succeeded.” said Deborah Pope, Executive Director of the EJK Foundation.

According to Ellen Ruffin, curator of The de Grummond Children's Literature Collection at The University of Southern Mississippi, “The work of the de Grummond has always been to promote the understanding that children’s books are an important and influential part of our national heritage. As co-producers of the EJK Award and the 35th Anniversary we’re proud to support the classics of the future, books that uplift the many different children in schools and libraries across the country.”

On winning the award, Tricia Elam Walker said, “My mother, a children’s librarian, desperately sought books that reflected the experiences of black people and was bereft at the dearth. She wanted them for all children because she believed the world would be a better place if our value was understood. When The Snowy Day appeared, we celebrated the warm velvety brown of Peter and the quiet ordinariness of the story itself. It didn’t shout it’s arrival; it preferred a measured tone so readers gently learned the lessons of diversity and acceptance embedded in those pages. I thought of my mother first when I learned I won the EJK award. Thank you EJK Award Committee. This means that my mission to illuminate and celebrate difference is appreciated and that perhaps more children of all colors will embrace it."

On winning the award, Heidi Woodward Sheffield said, “I am so incredibly honored to receive the Ezra Jack Keats Award for Illustrator of Brick by Brick. To me, the most powerful thing about Keats was his belief that all children need and deserve to see themselves represented in books, especially at this moment in time. I believe the healing power of books to spread hope, encouragement and empowerment is more important than ever for the children and people of our world.”

The EJK Award is celebrating its 35th year anniversary in 2021. Since its inception, 95

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. For more information about

the 35th Anniversary Celebration, which includes author events, a Silent Auction, and a new

documentary film about the evolution of diversity in American children's literature and the

impact of Ezra Jack Keats, see the press release.

About the Ezra Jack Keats Award

Co-produced by the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation and the de Grummond 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 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 95 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. The EJK Foundation is proud to protect and promote the work of Ezra Jack Keats.

About Ezra Jack Keats and The Snowy Day

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 24 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 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 Stamp.

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