A University of Lynchburg education professor has won the 2017 Ezra Jack Keats Book Award.
Dr. Jeri Watts, a professor of education and program director of undergraduate curriculum and instruction, won the award for the children’s book A Piece of Home.
The annual award honors a new author of children’s books every year. There is also a section of the award for illustrators, and each recipient receives a prize of $1,000.
“I had no expectation of receiving this great honor,” Dr. Watts said. “Ezra Jack Keats was an amazing author. As a reading specialist who taught many years in public school, and a professor who now prepares future teachers to teach reading, I teach his books. I’ve just never even imagined my writing would be used in the same sentence as his name.”
Watts’ latest book, A Piece of Home, portrays a young Korean boy who moves to West Virginia and struggles to adjust to his new home. Eventually he makes connections with the new places and people and finally begins to feel like he belongs.
Ezra Jack Keats is most famous for his book The Snowy Day, which was published in the 1960s. The book portrays an African-American child as the main character, which was groundbreaking for that time period, and discusses the many changing problems children face as they grow up.
“His books continue to make a difference for children of color because they ‘see themselves on the page,’” Watts explains. “His books also were among the first to allow children who lived in cities to be represented. So, to have my work win this award truly awesome.”
In April, Watts will travel to Mississippi to attend a conference and receive the award. The conference also includes other children’s authors who will speak about their recent work and accomplishments.
Currently, Watts is working on another book with her publisher, Candlewick Press, and hopes to work on more writing after her retirement in May. Watts has taught for 38 years, including 27 in the public school system and 11 at University of Lynchburg.