What kids are saying about the books they're reading.
Thursday, November 16, 2017
The Power of the Picture Book: Don Tate
picture books! They are the doorway to literacy. But to eight-year-old Don
Tate, that doorway felt like an unwelcome place.
When I was a
kid, books didn’t attract or hold my attention. I struggled with comprehension. I couldn’t always
remember what I’d read. Plus, reading had to compete with what I loved
best—drawing and making things with my hands. Most of all, I think, because the
majority of books featured white characters, I thought of them as being, first
and foremost, for white people. I mean, beyond THE SNOWY DAY and other books by
Ezra Jack Keats, there was DICK AND JANE, and a whole lot of walking, talking
animal books. Oh, and Dr. Seus.
picture book was our Better Homes & Gardens Illustrated Medical
Encyclopedia, because, well, who doesn’t enjoy an illustrated in-grown toe
nail? I also loved our Funk & Wagnalls Young Student’s Encyclopedias, too.
They featured stories, drawings, and photographs of all kinds of people. Brown
people! In books—I felt welcome to enter that place.
In my early
twenties, I finally became a reader. I was working at an educational publishing
company when, one day, I discovered the book BLACK BOY by Richard Wright. Of
course that title caught my attention. It was a book about a Black family. The
main character was a Black kid. The kid was trying to understand and navigate
the complications of life and race in his mostly white, Southern world. I could
relate, that book was me! I finished reading that book, and I then read all of
Richard Wright’s books—which led me to read books by Gordon Parks, Claude
Brown, Alex Haley, Nathan McCall, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Tananarive Due.
I was finally a reader.
As an author
and illustrator of picture books, I want to do the same thing for young
children that Richard Wright did for me: I want to inspire a lifelong love of
reading—and therefore learning. I want to create picture books that create a
welcome doorway to literacy for all kids, but especially brown kids who are
often underrepresented in books.
world suggest that the color black is negative, I have just the picture book:
BLACK ALL AROUND! (Lee & Low Books), which celebrates the beautiful color of black (and brown, and
every color in between).
world proves unjust, I have just the picture book: RON’S BIG MISSION (Penguin), which tells the real life story of Ron
McNair, a Black child who
influenced great change in his community by protesting the injustice he
experienced at his neighborhood library.
world places limits on a child’s dreams, I have just the picture book: WHOOSH! LONNIE JOHNSON’S
SUPER-SOAKING STREAM OF INVENTIONS (Charlesbridge). It tells the story of a
child who liked to tinker, who grew up to invent the world’s most loved toy.
I even have a
picture book called STRONG AS SANDOW, who was a Victorian strongman and “Father
of Bodybuilding.” He was not Black—but hey, young readers and future authors,
don’t place limits on yourself, write what you want!
picture books, I can tell the stories that 8-year-old Don Tate needed to
hear—the true stories of African-American poets, artists, sports figures, politicians, inventors, orators, and more—stories that
allow kids of color to see themselves, blasting that doorway to literacy and
learning wide open.
Don Tate is the illustrator of numerous critically acclaimed books for children. In 2013, he earned an Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Honor Award for his first picture book text, It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw (Lee & Low Books, 2012). In 2016, he won The Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Book Award for Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton (Peachtree, 2015), his first authored and illustrated picture book. That book received a SCBWI Crystal Kite Award, a Christopher Award, and a 2016 Texas Institute of Letters book award, among others. In 2016, he was also honored with an Illumine Award given by the Austin Public Library Friends Foundation. Don enjoys visiting elementary schools throughout the country, sharing his literary experiences with children (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0BULyw3JLgE). Don lives in Austin, Texas, where he enjoys visiting elementary schools.