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  • Writer's pictureDawn Smith

Ezra Jack Keats Award Marks 35th Anniversary in 2021

Updated: Nov 17, 2020

EJK Foundation Kicks Off Yearlong Celebration with Variety of Online Resources for Kids and Adults to Honor the Legacy of Ezra Jack Keats Throughout the 2020-21 School Year

Gold circle with the net 35 years, Ezra Jack Keats Award. Silhouette of boy in red with red footprints.

The Ezra Jack Keats Award (EJK Award,) sponsored by the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation (EJK Foundation) is celebrating its 35th anniversary in 2021. Since its inception, 88 exceptional early career authors and illustrators have received Awards and Honors for portraying the multicultural nature of our world, including renowned bookmakers Meg Medina, Christian Robinson, Bryan Collier, and Sophie Blackall.

Starting in June 2020, the EJK Foundation kicks 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, 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 Awards and EJK Award Book Discussion Guides.

“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 offer a variety of materials and activities 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.”

Four Book Discussion Guides and an additional 10 themed book lists of EJK Award books that fit into a total of 14 categories, such as Strong Girls, Community, Immigration, the First Day of School, Justice, Pets, Seasons and Nature, Identity and Self Esteem. The guides feature prompts that highlight the diverse characters’ neighborhoods, cities, and rural settings in the EJK Award books that allow children to see themselves in the books they read. The Book Discussion Guides were developed by 35th anniversary Leadership Committee member Dr. Ramona Caponegro and Dr. Jacqueline LaRose, professors at Eastern Michigan University, along with more than 15 participants from Estabrook Learning Community and Holmes Elementary School in Ypsilanti, MI, who provided discussion questions and creative activities.

The Mock EJK Award program (available for both virtual and in-person settings) is a group activity that can be adapted for adults or groups of children–from kindergarten through high school age–to host a book award process and ceremony, based on the real EJK Awards. Mock participants read, discuss, and evaluate a selection of eligible books to make a group decision about which books most successfully meet the criteria your group has created–and then host an award celebration. Additionally, the EJK Foundation will host a Mock EJK Award Webinar on July 22, 2020 (for more information and to register, click here). The Mock EJK Award program was developed in collaboration with teachers from Friends School of Baltimore and by librarians and teachers in Stamford, CT. 

In addition to the online toolkits, to commemorate EJK Award winners and honorees, the EJK Foundation website features Fun Facts about their lives, including their six word memoirs, peeks into how they procrastinate, their favorite distractions and whether they are neat or messy.

A sampling:

· Meg Medina: Procrastination: When I am stuck, I stand in front of the pantry and eat potato chips out of the bag. 

· Zeke Peña: Six Word Memoir: A desert dog found a pencil

· Ame Dyckman: Distraction: I deal with distractions by ignor–WAIT! WHAT’S THAT?! 

· Micha Archer: Neat or Messy: I am SO messy because I work in collage so my floor is covered in confetti I have snipped. 

· Rowboat Watkins: Six Word Memoir: What I meant to say was

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. 

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, Scholastic, and Candlewick Press, and the heads of We Need Diverse Books and the Children’s Book Council. 

“We stand solidly and proudly with the EJK family and the rest of the children’s book publishing industry to nurture and create books that reflect the kind of world we want our children to call home,” said Ken Wright, President and Publisher, Viking Children’s Books and Philomel Books, imprints at Penguin Young Readers, the publisher of 19 of Ezra Jack Keats’s classic books (including “The Snowy Day”,) as well as 17 EJK Award Winner and Honoree books.

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.

Advisory Committee member Meg Medina, author of numerous award-winning books for children and young adults including Merci Suárez Changes Gears and Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, stated, “The group gathered is a testament to the impact the award has had on writers’ and illustrators’ lives as creators of inclusive children’s literature for more than a generation.” 

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 over 90 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 is initiating a year-long public awareness and educational campaign in June, 2020. To learn more visit

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 and Ezra Jack Keats. Researchers from across the United States and around the world visit the collection on a regular basis to study its extensive holdings. To learn more visit

View the announcement in Publisher's Weekly.

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