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Kaigler Children’s Book Festival, Ezra Jack Keats Award Ceremony set for April 10-12 at USM Hattiesburg Campus

Tue, 02/20/2024 - 10:09am | By: David Tisdale

Cynthia Leitich Smith, a New York Times bestselling author, will be recognized as the 2024 Southern Miss Medallion Winner when The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) hosts the annual Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival and Ezra Jack Keats (EJK) Award luncheon and ceremony April 10-12 on its Hattiesburg campus. This event, held at USM since 1968, is presented by the USM College of Education and Human Sciences’ School of Library and Information Science (SLIS) in conjunction with University Libraries’ de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection.

NYT Bestselling Author

Smith is the 2021 NSK Neustadt Laureate and was named one of the 10 Must-Read Native American Authors by Book Riot. Her novel Hearts Unbroken earned an American Indian Youth Literature Award, and her anthology Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids was an ALA Children’s Notable Book, along with earning the Reading the West Young Readers Book Award.

Dr. Mary Osborne, director of the festival, praised Smith for her contributions to the genre and expressed her anticipation for the festival and recognition of the up-and-coming authors and illustrators who will be recognized at the event with the Keats Book Award, presented through the EJK Foundation.

“We’re so thrilled to have Cynthia Leitich Smith as our Southern Miss Medallion winner this year,” said Dr. Osborne. “Her body of work is so wide ranging – everything from picture books to novels for young adults – and she’s also done an impressive amount of service work, giving her time and knowledge back to the publishing community.

“I remember reading some of her picture books as a child myself, and it’s just amazing to be able to honor her work with the Medallion award. Cynthia truly models what I imagine children’s authors should aspire to: incredible work with an emphasis on identity and helping other authors.”

Book Festival

Keats (1916-1983) was a pioneer in American children’s literature. He based the lives of his multiracial characters on his childhood but added loving parents, friends, and pets. He wanted no child to be an outsider. “If we could see each other exactly as the other is,” he wrote, “this would be a different world.” The stated goal of the EJK Award that honors his legacy is “to nurture illustrators and writers, early in their careers, who create extraordinary books that reflect our diverse population, the universal experience of childhood and the strength of family and community.”

Since it began in 1986, the Keats Award has succeeded in fostering the early careers of many of America’s leading children’s book makers. It is given annually to an outstanding new writer and new illustrator by the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation in partnership with the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection. 

Karlie Herndon, curator for the de Grummond Collection, says the Keats Award “has been uplifting emerging authors and illustrators and embracing the spirit of Keats.”



“I am proud that de Grummond is a part of this important award,” Herndon continued. “Each year, our committee of artists, writers, and librarians selects beautiful new picture books that celebrate diversity in all its forms, while connecting with readers through the universal experience of growing up. This year's Winners and Honors are no exception to this tradition of excellence, though each of our 2024 books is, itself, exceptional.” 

Highlights of the three-day event include the following:

Wednesday, April 10

*11:30 a.m.: Welcome Session/Magnolia Awards
*12-1:30 p.m.: Coleen Salley Luncheon with Juana Martinez-Neal
*1:45-2:45 p.m.: de Grummond Lecture with Jason Chin
*3-4 p.m.: Lesa Cline-Ransome Keynote Presentation

Thursday, April 11

9-10 a.m. James Ransome Keynote Presentation
*10:15-11:15 a.m. Medallion Session with Cynthia Leitich Smith
*11:30-1 p.m. Ezra Jack Keats Award Luncheon

Friday, April 12

*9-10 a.m. Pedro Martin Keynote Presentation
*12-1:30 p.m. SLIS Lecture and Luncheon with Liz Kleinrock

About the Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival
The Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival is hosted annually by the Southern Miss School of Library and Information Science and was first held in 1968. It promotes children’s literature, as well as writers, illustrators, publishers, librarians, and educators with its mission “to recognize excellence in the field of children’s literature and to provide librarians, teachers, researchers, and community members the opportunity to learn about and appreciate children’s literature through presentations, workshops, and personal interactions with people of significance in the field.” Learn more for a complete schedule of this year’s festival and information on registration.

About the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation
Founded by the late Caldecott award-winning children's book author and illustrator Ezra Jack Keats, 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; cultivating new writers and illustrators of exceptional picture books that reflect the experience of childhood in our diverse culture; and protecting and promoting the work of Keats, whose book The Snowy Day broke the color barrier in children's publishing. Learn more about the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation.

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 1,300 authors and illustrators, as well as 180,000+ mostly American and British published books dating back to 1530. Learn more about the de Grummond Children's Literature Collection.