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The award was established in 1996 by the Kansas Reading Association. The purpose of the award is to promote an appreciation of quality literature in young children across Kansas. The award is named for Bill Martin Jr, an internationally renowned author. We honor the outstanding authors and illustrators who produce outstanding literature for this audience.

The titles are suggested by teachers, parents, communities, and librarians. A committee of KRA members choose nominations from the list of suggested titles. Then the nomination list is presented to the body of KRA members to vote on, the title with the most votes wins the year's award.