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Southern Miss Medallion Winner, Keats Award Recipients Recognized at Kaigler Book Festival

Tue, 04/16/2024 - 03:04pm | By: David Tisdale

Award-winning author Cynthia Leitich Smith was presented the 2024 Southern Miss Medallion, the highest award given at the annual Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival, by USM President Dr. Joseph S. Paul (USM photo by Kelly Dunn).

Cynthia Leitich Smith says she hopes her writing continues bringing a spotlight on the hopes and dreams of fellow Native people everywhere, showing they are indeed “here.”

Smith, a New York Times best-selling author of award-winning fiction for children and young adults, in particular about the lives of young Native peoples, said she was “gobsmacked” when told she was this year’s recipient of The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival’s top honor, the Southern Miss Medallion.

Along with Smith, several rising authors and illustrators in the world of children’s literature were also recognized for their accomplishments with Ezra Jack Keats Awards during ceremonies held April 11 at the Thad Cochran Center on the USM Hattiesburg campus.

Smith praised the work of festival organizers, noting the importance of authors and lovers of children’s literature to be able to come together again, especially in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic shutdowns. She also expressed gratitude for having another opportunity through the annual event to discuss and advocate for literature that shares the stories of Native peoples, particularly its younger generations.

“I am so honored to be named recipient of this award,” said Smith, who is a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation. Her work includes Hearts Unbroken, Jingle Dancer, Harvest House, Rain Is Not My Indian Name and Indian Shoes, along with the award-winning series Tantalize.

“To be here, to have another opportunity to lift up and celebrate Native youth with the inclusion of their voices in this genre shows them that they are here, that they can be heroes everyone can cheer on, too - it’s so meaningful.”

Keats Award recipients for 2024 include:

Ezra Jack Keats Award Winner for Writer: Anne Wynter for Nell Plants a Tree; illustrated by Daniel Miyares; published by Balzer & Bray/ Harper Collins

Ezra Jack Keats Award Winner for Illustrator: Sarah Gonzales for The Only Way to Make Bread; written by Cristina Quintero; published by Tundra/Penguin Random House Canada

Ezra Jack Keats Award Honors:

Writer Honors:

Kim Rogers for Just Like Grandma; illustrated by Julie Flett; published by Heartdrum/HarperCollins

Helena Ku Rhee for Sora’s Seashells; illustrated by Stella Lim; published by Candlewick Press

Illustrator Honors:

Fran Alvarez for Dancing Hands; written by Joanna Que & Charina Marquez; published by Chronicle Books

Beatriz Gutierrez Hernandez for Benito Juárez Fights for Justicepublished by Godwin/Henry Holt

Writer Finalists

Sandhya Parappukkaran & Michelle Pereira for The Boy Who Tried to Shrink His Name; published by Abrams/Abrams Books for Young Readers

Jack Wong for When You Can Swim; published by Orchard Books/Scholastic

Illustration Finalists

Adriana M. Garcia for Remembering; published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Juan Camilo Mayorga for Lucky Me; published by Orca Books

2024 Keats Award recipients include, from left: Beatriz Gutierrez Hernandez; Sarah Gonzales; Anne Wynter; and Kim Rogers (USM photo by Kelly Dunn).

2024 Keats Award recipients include, from left: Beatriz Gutierrez Hernandez; Sarah Gonzales; Anne Wynter; and Kim Rogers (USM photo by Kelly Dunn).