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2019 Ezra Jack Keats Award Winners Announced

Ezra Jack Keats Foundation and de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection at The University of Southern Mississippi to Present Awards at Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival on April 4, 2019

NEW YORK—February 20, 2019—The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, in partnership with the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection at The University of Southern Mississippi, announced today the winners of the 2019 Ezra Jack Keats Award. Each year an outstanding writer and illustrator are recognized early in their careers for having created an extraordinary children’s book that reflects the diverse nature of our culture. The 2019 award ceremony will be held on April 4th, during the Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival at The University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg.

The winning writer and illustrator will each receive $3,000 and a bronze medallion.

Deborah Pope, Executive Director of the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, said, “It is a joy and a privilege each year to recognize and support new writers and illustrators who create beautiful and entertaining books that reflect the childhood experiences of our diverse population. The Ezra Jack Keats Award brings greater attention to artists who, like Ezra, seek to inspire all children to achieve their full potential.”

“This year’s EJK Award winners celebrate human connection and kindness through thoughtful books that remind us of the sheer joy and the lasting impact of Ezra’s work. We look forward to their continued, illustrious careers, writing and illustrating delightful children’s books that make a difference,” said Ellen Ruffin, Curator of the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection and the Keats Archive.

Sophie Blackall, who won the 2003 EJK Award for Illustrator for her children’s book Ruby’s Wish as well as two Caldecott Medals, in 2016 for Finding Winnie, and the most recent this year for Hello Lighthouse, will present the 2019 Ezra Jack Keats Award. Bweela Steptoe, a renowned designer of unique Wearable Art, will deliver the Keats Lecture.

The 2019 Ezra Jack Keats Award winner for Writer is:

John Sullivan, for Kitten and the Night Watchman
Illustrated by Taeeun Yoo
Published by Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books

What does a night watchman do all night? For children whose parents work at night, and for children who wonder what goes on at night when they’re asleep, this is a perfect book. The story gently weaves the work a night watchman does with the poetry of a sleeping construction site, the warmth of a new kitten and pleasure of going home at sunrise to a loving family.

Sullivan said, “Winning the EJK Award means a lot to me. It means my book has played a small part in bringing people together. Done well, a children’s book shows that people have the same hopes and fears, and that how we behave, not surface differences, is most important.”

When asked what inspired the idea for his book, Sullivan added, “My first year as a night watchman, many years ago, I found a stray kitten on a worksite, fell in love with her, named her Beebe and we spent the next 17 years together. My book tells our story while showing children the value of compassion for animals.”

The 2019 Ezra Jack Keats Award winner for Illustrator is:

Oge Mora, for Thank you, Omu!
Written by Oge Mora
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

In the busy city who would think that Omu’s fragrant and tasty stew could bring people together as if they lived in a small town? This playful story, and the bright, Keatsian illustrations, show us that kind human connections can form intimate support groups amidst any kind of city bustle.

Mora said, “I have always looked up to Ezra Jack Keats and I am incredibly honored to be a small part of his storied legacy. Keats understood that diversity isn’t an ideal, diversity is our world. For my grandmother, cooking was about bringing people together. My books are my way of honoring that love and sharing it with the world.”

Like Keats, Mora illustrated her book using collage, and remarked, “I approach collage with no rules. A sky can be yellow. A map can be a pot holder. A floral pattern a savory stew. Spontaneity is what makes collages exciting to make and look over. I use collaged text throughout the book to seamlessly blend my writing and art together.”

The 2019 Ezra Jack Keats Award Honor winners are:

Writer Honor

  • Juana Martinez-Neal, for Alma and How She Got Her Name  (illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal, published by Candlewick)
  • Matt James, for The Funeral  (illustrated by Matt James, published by Groundwood Books)
  • Keith Calabrese, for Lena’s Shoes are Nervous  (illustrated by Juana Medina, published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers)

Illustrator Honor

  • Jessica Love, for Julián is a Mermaid  (written by Jessica Love, published by Candlewick)
  • Jane McGuinness, for Prickly Hedgehogs! (written by Jane McGuinness, published by Candlewick)

The Ezra Jack Keats Book Award Criteria

To be eligible for the 2019 Ezra Jack Keats Award, the author and/or illustrator had no more than three children’s picture books published prior to the year under consideration.

The selection committee is composed of nationally recognized early childhood education specialists, librarians, illustrators and experts in children’s literature: Junko Yokota, Chair; K.T. Horning, Claudette McLinn, Chris Raschka, Don Tate, Lettycia Terrones, Caroline Ward, Melissa Sweet 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.

For a complete list of past award winners, visit www.ezra-jack-keats.org/ezra-jack-keats-award-winners. For information about submissions, visit www.degrummond.org/ezra-jack-keats-book-award-guidelin.

About the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation

Founded by Ezra Jack Keats, one of America’s greatest children’s book authors and illustrators, 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 through the EJK Bookmaking Competition and Mini-Grant program; cultivates new writers and illustrators of exceptional picture books that reflect the experience of childhood in our diverse culture through the Ezra Jack Keats Award; and protects and promotes the work of Keats, whose book The Snowy Day broke the color barrier in children’s publishing.

The Snowy Day was adapted by Amazon as a holiday special, which earned two Daytime Emmys®, including Outstanding Preschool Children’s Animated Program; and was used as the subject of a set of Forever stamps issued by and still available from the United States Postal Service. To learn more about the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, visit www.ezra-jack-keats.org.
Keats. Imagination. Diversity.

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 1,400 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, visit www.degrummond.org


Sheree Wichard



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