The 30th Annual Ezra Jack Keats Book Award winners were announced today, with top honors going to Don Tate for writing and Phoebe Wahl for illustration. Both winners have long-standing relationships with the SCBWI; Wahl won a Student Illustrator Scholarship in 2013, and Tate is a member of our Team Blog. The Jack Ezra Keats Award, named in honor of the author/illustrator of The Snowy Day, is given to new picture books that display an exceptional creative spirit and a dedication to cultural diversity.
Don Tate has embraced these ideals throughout his career as an author/illustrator, founder of the Brown Bookshelf blog, and artist outreach coordinator for the We Need Diverse Books Campaign. Tate’s winning book Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton of Chapel Hill (Peachtree, 2015), which he both wrote and illustrated, is the true story of a slave whose love of language led him to become the first African American poet published in the Southern United States. The book has already garnered star reviews from Kirkus and the School Library Journal, which called Horton's story “lovely” and “inspirational”. Tate previously won a Jack Ezra Keats Award honor three years ago for his book It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw, and called the experience “one of the proudest moments of my career[…]There has always been a special place in my heart for Ezra Jack Keats. 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.”
Phoebe Wahl won the illustration award for Sonya’s Chickens (Tundra Books), a bittersweet story about a farm girl tending chicks under the guidance of her multicultural family. Sonya’s lessons about responsibility and the circle of life are framed by warm, richly-textured art pieces that have earned Wahl a Kirkus star. In an EKJ press release, she spoke about the influence that Ezra Jack Keats had on her own signature style: “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. 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.” Sonya’s Chickens is her debut book.