The Lower School's Mock Ezra Jack Keats Awards Program

The Lower School's Mock Ezra Jack Keats Awards Program

The Mock Ezra Jack Keats (EJK) Awards Program at Friends School of Baltimore is a months-long collaboration among Lower School homeroom teachers, the librarian, and the technology educator where students engage in a literary analysis project. The Mock EJK Award is based on the real Ezra Jack Keats Award, which “honors outstanding authors and illustrators whose books, in the spirit of Keats, celebrate the diversity of our culture and depict children from the widest spectrum of ethnic groups and around the world.”

Recognized by the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation and the deGrummond Children’s Literature Collection at the University of Southern Mississippi, Friends School’s Mock EJK Awards Program was generated by Kindergarten/Pre-First Teacher Frannie Morrissey in 2019. At the time, Frannie was searching for diverse literature for her classroom and approached the librarian about doing a mock award such as was done for the Caldecott and Newberry awards. The librarian discovered that there was no mock award process designed for the EJK Award and contacted the EJK Foundation about beginning one. This year marked the fifth year of our Lower School students participating in what is now the formal EJK Foundation EJK Mock Award. It has spread to over 70 educators in the United States.

How does the project work? After choosing our list of eligible picture books from new publications that year, students engage with each book in various ways throughout each week. Usually, students have read, or been read to, the book two to three times each week. At the end of the week, students use the app Seesaw to rate the book using a star system and we capture their thinking by recording their thoughts and explanation. Here is a list of the seven criteria we use: Childhood, family, diversity, words and pictures go together, excites your brain, hugs your heart, and makes you want to learn. 

Once the initial list of books is read, discussed, and rated, students go through a process in which they decide on the shortlist (usually five to seven books), books that have risen to the top from our overall list. Using the shortlist, there is a final round of voting to determine the overall winner and which books receive honors from our esteemed student committee. The EJK Mock Awards Committee Celebration takes place in the Forbush Auditorium where our Lower Schoolers wiggle in their seats with excitement while waiting for their top three books to be revealed. 

This project is one of many shining stars of our Lower School programming. It is a natural integration among our Worship, language arts, and discovery programs. The themes, settings, and characters support our testimonies and our pursuit of discovering the world outside our classroom. Using the EJK Award criteria extends the children’s literary analysis beyond the beginning comprehension strategies of our curriculum.