March 25, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Lillie Bellin Pope, Co-Founder of Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, Dies at 97


Photo: Ezra Jack Keats Foundation

Lillie Bellin Pope, co-founder of the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, died October 26 following a long illness. She was 97.

Born in Manhattan in 1918, Pope grew up in Brooklyn. After graduating Hunter College in 1937, she started teaching.

At age 51, Pope earned a PhD from New York University in educational psychology and established the first learning clinic in a mental health setting at Coney Island, which trained women from the community as tutors; a large number went on to earn professional degrees. Following her retirement as associate chief of child psychiatry, Pope worked as a consultant for educational and mental health agencies and also taught at Brooklyn College and at New York University.

“She was a caring, creative and determined woman,” said Rita Auerbach, a retired school librarian who has chaired the Ezra Jack Keats Committee, “whose vision for the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation has benefited countless young people and recognized and encouraged a host of new authors and illustrators of books for children.”

Pope and her husband, Martin Pope, served as, respectively, vice-president and president of the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation. Keats established the foundation in 1963 and used it to make private contributions. In his will, he stipulated that royalties from his works be used to support the Foundation. After Keats’s death in 1983, under the helm of Martin and Lillie Bellin Pope, the Foundation flourished, supporting public education and celebrating diversity.

pope family

Lillie Bellin Pope (center) with her husband Martin Pope (left) and daughter Deborah Pope.

The couple established many programs and initiatives. The Ezra Jack Keats Award honors emerging talent in the field of children’s literature, and the Foundation also offers grants to public schools and libraries all over the country. A recent one, awarded to the Herrin City Library in Illinois, kick-started an architectural study among fourth graders.

In addition to her work in the children’s literature sphere, Pope was also devoted to the theater. At age 64, she became managing director of the New Theatre of Brooklyn, a nonprofit organization.

Pope’s daughter, Deborah, executive director of the Foundation, said, “One of my mother’s extraordinary talents was her ability to get her message across with humor. Her acceptance speech for the Angel Award at the Carle Honors Gala brought the house down. The woman sitting next to me asked if my mother had ever done stand up!”

“Lillie and her husband Martin gave a great gift to children, parents, and teachers [through] the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation,” said Judy Zuckerman, director, youth and family services at the Brooklyn Public Library, “keeping alive the legacy of the beloved author and illustrator and promoting diversity in children’s literature.”

“My mother finished every project she began, and she began many,” said Pope, in a press release statement. “She was an original thinker, smart, tireless, courageous, honest, stalwart, optimistic, realistic, humorous, and above all, loving. We will not see her like again.”


Mahnaz Dar About Mahnaz Dar

Mahnaz Dar ( is Assistant Managing Editor for Library Journal and School Library Journal and can be found on Twitter @DibblyFresh.



  1. I am so sorry to hear of Lillie’s death. Both she and Martin devoted so much to the field of children’s literature. I am proud to have served on the earliest committees for the Ezra Jack Keats Award, particularly since Ezra was a dear friend of mine.