October 21, 2017  

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Ezra Jack Keats Book Award Winners Announced

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The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, in partnership with the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection at The University of Southern Mississippi, has announced the winners of the 30th annual Ezra Jack Keats Book Award. Each year, a new writer and new illustrator are celebrated.

The 2016 award ceremony will be held April 7 during the Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival at the USM Hattiesburg campus. The winners receive a gold medallion as well as an honorarium of $1,000.

“We are proud to present the Ezra Jack Keats Book Award to the best new talents in children’s illustrated literature each year. These are writers and illustrators whose books reflect the spirit of Keats, and at the same time, are refreshingly original,” said Deborah Pope, Executive Director of the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation. “This year is Ezra’s 100th birthday, so we are especially delighted to celebrate him by honoring those whose books, like his, are wonderful to read and look at and reflect our multicultural world.”

Lois Lowry, a former recipient of the Festival’s Southern Miss Medallion and a two-time winner of the Newbery Award for Number the Stars and The Giver, will present this year’s Ezra Jack Keats Book Awards. Michael Cart, columnist/reviewer for Booklist and a leading expert on young adult literature, will deliver the Keats Lecture.

“The Keats Archives at the de Grummond Children’s Collection is a happy reminder of the joy that Ezra’s books have brought to readers and the impact they have had on children’s book makers,” said Ellen Ruffin, curator of the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection. “Once again, we see that influence in the work of this year’s EJK Book Award winners. We are confident that they’ll join the long list of illustrious past winners whose books continue to delight and make a difference.”

The 2016 Ezra Jack Keats Book Award winner for new writer is Don Tate for Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton, published by Peachtree Publishers.

In the South before the Civil War, it was illegal to teach slaves to read, but George Moses Horton loved words too much to be stopped. He taught himself to read as a child and grew up to be a published poet, while still a slave.

Writing about slavery for young readers is challenging but important, and Don Tate succeeds brilliantly, in an engaging, age-appropriate and true narrative.

“Three years ago, I won an Ezra Jack Keats honor award, one of the proudest moments of my career. I never imagined being considered again… this time [for] the top award. There has always been a special place in my heart for Ezra Jack Keats,” Tate said.

“When he chose to picture brown children in his books, he chose to acknowledge me. I wasn’t invisible to him. As a creator of color in a field that sorely lacks diversity, it can be easy to sometimes feel unseen. This award serves as a reminder to me that I am not invisible and that my work matters.”

The 2016 Ezra Jack Keats Book Award winner for new illustrator is Phoebe Wahl for Sonya’s Chickens, published by Tundra Books.

Sonya’s dad presents her with three baby chicks to care for, and she does her job well, providing food, shelter and lots of love as they grow into hens. Then one night, Sonya discovers that one of her hens is missing! But as her father explains, the fox stole the hen because he loved his kits and needed to feed them. The circle of life is gently and exquisitely depicted in Wahl’s rich and colorful watercolor and collage illustrations of a multicultural family’s life on a farm.

“Keats’ work stands out as some of the most impactful of my childhood. I can directly trace the roots of my obsession with pattern, color and my use of collage to my affinity with the lacy baby blanket in Peter’s Chair,” Wahl said. “Keats inspired me to create stories that are quiet and gentle, yet honor the rich inner lives of children and all of the complexity that allows. I am humbled to be associated with Keats’ legacy in being presented with this award, and I am so grateful to the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation and the children’s literature community for this show of support and encouragement.”

The 2016 Ezra Jack Keats Book Award honor winners are:

2016 New Writer Honor
• Julia Sarcone-Roach for The Bear Ate Your Sandwich (illustrated by Julia Sarcone-Roach. Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers)
• Megan Dowd Lambert for A Crow of His Own (illustrated by David Hyde Costello. Published by Charlesbridge)

2016 New Illustrator Honor
• Ryan T. Higgins for Mother Bruce (written by Ryan T. Higgins. Published by Disney • Hyperion)
• Rowboat Watkins for Rude Cakes (written by Rowboat Watkins. Published by Chronicle Books)

To be eligible for the 2016 Ezra Jack Keats Book Award, the author and/or illustrator will have no more than three children’s picture books published prior to the year under consideration.

The selection committee is comprised of nationally recognized early childhood education specialists, librarians, illustrators and experts in children’s literature: Carolyn Brodie, Chair; Rita Auerbach, Jason Chin, K.T. Horning, Angela Johnson, Claudette McLinn, Sean Qualls, Caroline Ward, and Paul O. Zelinsky. Ex-Officio members are: Deborah Pope, Executive Director, Ezra Jack Keats Foundation; and Ellen Ruffin, Curator, de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection.

About the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation
Founded by the late Caldecott award-winning children’s book author and illustrator Ezra Jack Keats, the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation fosters children’s love of reading and creative expression by supporting arts and literacy programs in public schools and libraries; cultivating new writers and illustrators of exceptional picture books that reflect the experience of childhood in our diverse culture; and protecting and promoting the work of Keats, whose book The Snowy Day broke the color barrier in mainstream children’s publishing. Keats. Imagination. Diversity.
For more about the Foundation, visit www.ezra-jack-keats.org.

About the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection
The de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection at The University of Southern Mississippi is one of North America’s leading research centers in the field of children’s literature. The Collection holds the original manuscripts and illustrations of more than 1,300 authors and illustrators, as well as 180,000+ mostly American and British published books dating back to 1530. Since 1985, the de Grummond Collection has been the home of the Ezra Jack Keats Archive, which includes manuscripts, typescripts, sketches, dummies, illustrations and proofs for Ezra Jack Keats’ books.

For more about the de Grummond Collection, visit www.lib.usm.edu/degrummond.