Sydney Smith, Ashleigh Corrin Win 2020 Ezra Jack Keats Awards

The author of Small in the City and the illustrator of Layla's Happiness earn the 2020 EJK honors.

Sydney Smith (Small in the City, Neal Porter Books) and Ashleigh Corrin (Layla’s Happiness, Enchanted Lion Books) have won the 2020 Ezra Jack Keats (EJK) Award for writer and illustrator, respectively. The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, in partnership with the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection at the University of Southern Mississippi (USM), recognizes “talented authors and illustrators early in their careers whose picture books, in the spirit of Keats, portray the multicultural nature of our world.”

“Winning the Ezra Jack Keats Award is incredibly meaningful. Keats wrote about children and their experiences with empathy and inclusivity,” Smith said in a statement. “The risk of writing for children is to be an adult telling children what it’s like to be a child. Keats has inspired many, including myself, to simply be a human sharing the wonders of the human experience.”

For Corrin, the award is a confidence boost and confirmation that she did well in her debut.

”As a first-time illustrator for children’s books, I doubted myself,” she said in a statement. “Winning this award serves as affirmation and encouragement. What an honor! I have always looked to Ezra Jack Keats for artistic inspiration, and because he celebrated ideas and feelings through the eyes of a black child.

“Sometimes authors and illustrators don’t use black characters as the protagonists of their stories because they feel identifying with a black child will be too difficult for a 'mainstream' audience. I think Keats, and many authors and illustrators since, have proven this isn’t true. That’s what I hope Layla’s Happiness continues to prove. It was important for me to make sure Layla was represented in the best way for young black girls and that all readers could celebrate each moment of happiness that Mariahadessa was expressing through her poem.”

Smith and Corrin will each receive $3,000 and a bronze medallion, which will be presented to them at the award ceremony on April 2nd during the Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival at USM in Hattiesburg, MS.

There were two writer Honor awards given: Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie for Layla’s Happiness and Matthew Farina for Lawrence in the Fall (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers).

Three illustrators received Honor awards: Doug Salati for Lawrence in the Fall; Zeke Peña for My Papi Has a Motorcycle (Kokila); and Kate Read for One Fox: A Counting Book Thriller (Peachtree Publishing Company).

Read the full press release below.


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Kara Yorio

Kara Yorio (, @karayorio) is news editor at School Library Journal.

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