Brooklyn author Jessica Love wins prestigious book award

Brooklyn writer and artist Jessica Love has snagged a prestigious award for her recently published children’s book, “Julián is a Mermaid.”

Love received the Illustrator Honor Award from the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, named after the late children’s author and illustrator, for the volume, which was published by Candlewick Press.

“Ezra Jack Keats was one of those remarkable people who really did make the world better than it was before he lived in it,” Love told this paper. “He brought his prodigious talent to bear on these quiet, humble stories, making us look closer at the stuff we do every day. He filled his books with people of many colors, never making the color of their skin the focus of his stories. He made books with tremendous quiet grace, and lived his life that way too.”

Love has worked as a theater actor for the last 10 years and currently lives in Sunset Park.

“To receive an Ezra Jack Keats Honor is, for me, a profound encouragement that I at least have my shoes on the right feet, and am walking in the right direction,” added Love.

The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, in partnership with the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection at The University of Southern Mississippi, announced the award winners at a ceremony held on April 4, during the Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg.

Deborah Pope, executive director of the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, said, “It is a joy and a privilege each year to recognize and support new writers and illustrators who create beautiful and entertaining books that reflect the childhood experiences of our diverse population.”

Pope believes that the Ezra Jack Keats Award brings greater attention to artists who, like Keats, seek to inspire all children to achieve their full potential.

“I’m proud that children’s book authors and illustrators across the country, and even some from around the world, are being given a career boost by an award honoring one of Brooklyn’s greats, Ezra Jack Keats, who was born and grew up here in East New York,” Pope told this paper.

“It also gives me a special thrill to know that many of these authors and illustrators, who like Ezra, are celebrating this country’s diverse population, have migrated to Brooklyn to do their work,” she went on. “In fact, Jessica is one of the incredible artist/authors who’ve come to Brooklyn and found special inspiration to create wonderful books, like ‘Julian is a Mermaid.’”

Other winners include John Sullivan, who won the writer’s award for “Kitten and the Night Watchman,” and Oge Mora, who won the illustrator award for “Thank you, Omu!” which she also wrote. The winning writer and illustrator each received $3,000 and a bronze medallion.

In addition,  Jane McGuinness also won an Illustrator Honor Award for “Prickly Hedgehogs!” which she also wrote. The 2019 Ezra Jack Keats Award Honor winners for writing were Juana Martinez-Neal for “Alma and How She Got Her Name,” Matt James for “The Funeral” and Keith Calabrese for “Lena’s Shoes are Nervous: A First Day-of-School Dilemma.”

Sophie Blackall — who won the 2003 EJK Award for Illustrator for her children’s book “Ruby’s Wish” as well as two Caldecott Medals, in 2016 for “Finding Winnie,” and this year for “Hello Lighthouse” — presented the 2019 Ezra Jack Keats Awards. Bweela Steptoe, a renowned designer of unique wearable art, delivered the Keats lecture.

To be eligible for the Ezra Jack Keats Award, the author and/or illustrator must have had no more than three children’s picture books published prior to the year under consideration.

“This year’s EJK Award winners celebrated human connection and kindness through thoughtful books that remind us of the sheer joy and the lasting impact of Ezra’s work,” said Ellen Ruffin, curator of the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection and the Keats Archive. “We look forward to their continued, illustrious careers, writing and illustrating delightful children’s books that make a difference.”

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