Our History

How We Began

The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation was incorporated in 1964, with Ezra as President and his lifelong friend, Martin Pope, as Secretary. Ezra made private contributions and donations through the Foundation until his death in 1983, when his will directed that the Foundation use the royalties from his books for social good. It was left to his successors to decide out how best to carry out his wishes.

With Ezra’s royalties, Martin Pope and his wife, Lillie Pope, now President and Vice President of the Foundation, focused their efforts on a population especially dear to Ezra: children. When Ezra was a boy, his family was extremely poor and discouraged him from trying to make a living as an artist. Public school, where he won prizes in art, and the public library, where he learned about the world, were lifelines that allowed him to dream of success. The Foundation would give later generations of children the same kind of opportunities, hopefully leading them to a lifetime of learning, a love of reading and a belief in themselves.

Ezra’s commitment to diversity in children’s books is acknowledged by the EJK Book Award, which recognize emerging writers and illustrators whose books reflect our diverse culture. The Foundation also supports fellowships for the study of children’s literature and scholarships in art and music to universities, museums, music schools and other public organizations.

Many of the programs implemented by Martin and Lillie Pope are still going strong. Deborah Pope, Executive Director since 1999, has made it her mission to expand the programs and make sure that they reach as many beneficiaries as possible. Below are partial lists of current and past programs and the dates they began. For a complete list of current programs, see Programs. For more on past achievements, see Awards & Honors.


Current Programs


Ezra Jack Keats Bookmaking Competition, West Coast

In partnership between the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco and the United San Francisco School District, the Foundation expanded one of its signature programs to a second city.



Keats Family Concert

The popular event, featuring a crowd-pleasing musical headliner and a Keats storyteller, is part of the Celebrate Brooklyn! summer event series in Prospect Park.



Bedtime Story series

A monthly story hour at the Brooklyn Public Library Central Library. Children, who may attend in their pajamas, receive a free picture book.



Imagination Playground

The long-running storytelling series in Prospect Park began at the Ocean Avenue Playground  with master storyteller Cooper-Moore. The Foundation commissioned sculptor and artist Otto Neals to cast bronze sculptures of Ezra’s iconic characters Peter and Willie for a new playground planned for the site. Tupper Thomas of the Prospect Park Alliance made the project a reality. In 1997 the Imagination Playground opened with Peter and Willie as a prominent installation, at which storyteller Tammy Hall continues the tradition of spinning tales every Saturday in July and August.



EJK Mini-Grants

Supporting projects in U.S. public schools and libraries that demonstrate creativity and cooperation, and allow educators to step outside the standard curriculum with special activities for their students. Projects that advance the Common Core within the curriculum have been added as of 2015.

Ezra Jack Keats Bookmaking Competition

A city-wide initiative, launched with the New York Public Library and the New York City Department of Education. Open to grades 3-12 for writing and illustrating books, with awards for city-wide and borough-wide winners. In 2000 the Competition added the high school category, thank to a generous grant from the Pierre and Marie-Gaetana Matisse Foundation. In 2012 the Competition left the NYPL for the Brooklyn Public Library’s flagship branch, at Grand Army Plaza, where judging, the award ceremony and book exhibition take place every spring.

Keats Archive

Established at the de Grummond Childrenʼs Literature Collection, at the University of Southern Mississippi (USM), in Hattiesburg, the Archive preserves Keatsʼs original artwork, private papers and memorabilia, and provides material for exhibitions.



Ezra Jack Keats Book Award

An award for early-career children’s book authors of picture books that celebrate originality, diversity and family. The program was designed by the EJK Foundation’s Lillie Pope and Hannah Nuba, founder of the Early Childhood Resource and Information Center (ECRIC) of the New York Public Library. The New Writer Award was first presented in 1986, the New Illustrator Award was added in 2001, and the Honor Books category, in 2012. A move to the University of Southern Mississippi, the same year, brought the award under the stewardship of the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection. The award ceremony takes place during the  annual Children’s Book Festival, in April.


Past Programs



The Snowy Day’s 50th anniversary

A year-long commemoration, including a special edition of the Keats classic, with added features, published by Viking; “A Snowy Day in May,” a family festival hosted the Brooklyn Public Library; celebrations in parks, school and libraries around the country; and extensive media coverage.



“The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats”

The Jewish Museum in New York City organized a major retrospective of Keats’s life and work with support from the EJK Foundation and original material from the Keats Archive. From 2012 to 2014, the exhibition traveled to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts; the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco; the Akron Art Museum in Ohio; the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia; and the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles.



EJK Press

The Foundation launched a national literacy campaign with the founding of this small press. Copies of its first publication, an updated edition of the influential textbook Teach Anyone to Read: A No-Nonsense Guide, by Lillie Pope, were sent to libraries, colleges and universities in every state. In 2011 EJK Press brought out an e-book edition.



International Book Week

The EJK Foundation developed and supported this event at the Library of Congress, in Washington, D.C., for 10 years. The program for educators featured speakers such as Roald Dahl, Leo Lionni, Eric Carle and Ashley Bryan.


This traveling children’s library based in Jerusalem brought books to Arab and Israeli children until hostilities made it too dangerous. The Foundation currently supports the New Israel Foundation in its efforts to preserve civil rights in Israel.

International Award for Excellence in Children’s Book Illustration

This biennial award was established by the Foundation with UNICEF and the United States Board on Books for Young People (USBBY). The 1992 ceremony, in The Hague, Netherlands, was broadcast to a worldwide audience in honor of UNICEF. A reorganization of UNICEF in 1994 brought the award to an end. Winners included Felipe Davalos (1986, Mexico), Barbara Reid (1987, Canada), Feeroozeh Golmohammadi (1989, Iran) and Arone Meeks (1992, Australia).