Caldecott Medalist and five-time Caldecott Honor artist Jerry Pinkney will act as a judge and the inaugural artist mentor for the first annual Little, Brown Emerging Artist Award, recognizing new illustration talent and encouraging the development of high-quality picture books that resonate with readers of diverse backgrounds. In March 2017, the winner will be selected by a panel of jurors that includes Pinkney and three members of the Little, Brown Books for Young Readers editorial and design team.

Diversity is, in fact, the keynote of the initiative. The publisher expects qualifying submissions to draw from this country’s rich cultural experiences, manifested in character, theme, setting, or plot. Diversity also extends to the inclusion of characters of unrepresented ethnicity, religious belief, gender identity, class, and mental or physical disability.

“We are both proud of our long history of publishing diverse books and passionate about fostering new talent in children’s literature,” said Megan Tingley, LBYR executive v-p and publisher, in a statement. “Founding an award that brings both of these goals together has long been a goal of ours, given that many aspiring artists don’t have equal access to the resources, education, and connections that can be essential to breaking into the business.”

Award entrants must be previously unpublished and not currently represented by a publishing agent. Submissions, to be made in the form of a picture-book mock-up, will be judged on the quality of text, art, and storytelling; originality and creativity; and the incorporation of diversity. The winner will receive American Express gift cards totaling $2,500, round-trip travel to New York City, and a daylong mentorship with Pinkney and LBYR editors. The editorial team will also review the winning submission for possible future publication. Additional information about the award is available here.

Pinkney said he feels honored to serve as the award’s debut judge and artistic mentor. “As an artist of color, I know the significance of books that speak to the many cultural and racial squares that make up our world,” he noted. “As the inaugural judge for this award, I welcome the opportunity to impact diverse new voices in the field, while also honoring the time, insight, and open spirit of those I was fortunate to have at my side as a young artist, laying the groundwork for success. After more than 50 years of bookmaking, there is no doubt in my mind that mentorship is truly a shared joy and an essential responsibility to the creative process.”