Attention Children's Authors and Publishers: Meet the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation

Many foundations are named after individuals who were trailblazers in their respective fields. Thanks to the work of these visionaries, we now take for granted things that appear to be perfectly obvious and normal.

Take the field of children's literature. Scan the children's section of any bookstore and you'll see titles that reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of our society. But it wasn't always that way. 

In 1963, Ezra Jack Keats wrote and illustrated a children's book, A Snowy Day, featuring an African-American boy named Peter exploring his neighborhood after the first snowfall of the season. It was the first time an African-American protagonist was featured in a full-color picture book. "None of the manuscripts I’d been illustrating featured any black kids—except for token blacks in the background. My book would have him there simply because he should have been there all along," Keats wrote in an unpublished autobiography.

Ezra Jack Keats was born on March 11, 1916, and his legacy is introducing multiculturalism into mainstream American children's literature. As the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation's site notes, he "believed that all children should be able to see themselves in books they love."  

And so the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, which was incorporated in 1964, aims to bring bring the multicultural, creative spirit of Keats into children’s lives by providing grants for schools and aspiring writers. To the former, it offers what it calls Mini-Grants, awards of up to $500 given to public schools and public libraries for "projects that foster creative expression, working together and interaction with a diverse community."

To the latter, the foundation offers the Ezra Jack Keats New Writer and New Illustrator Book Awards (known collectively as the Ezra Jack Keats Book Award). At $1,000 each, the awards are geared toward authors and illustrators starting out in the field of children's books who share Ezra Jack Keats' commitment to children and diversity. Here are some things to know:

  • The award is open to a "new" writer or illustrator, defined as a person who has had no more than three books published.
  • A selection committee of early childhood education specialists, librarians, illustrators, and experts in children's literature will review the entries.
  • Publishers (not the authors) submit books to each member of the committee.
  • Deadline for submissions is December 15, 2015. Winners are announced in April 2016.

Submissions for both the writer and illustrator awards should:

  • Highlight the universal qualities of childhood and the strength of the family.
  • Reflect the multicultural nature of our world.
  • Have an original text and original story (no folk tales or retelling of folk tales).
  • Unify illustrations and text.
  • Avoid stereotypes.
  • Respect of the child's intelligence, sensitivity, curiosity, and love of learning.
  • Display freshness and originality of language and literary expression.

View the full guidelines and submission procedures here.