Facts are what ignites author & illustrator Don Tate’s imagination

Original article posted in bgindependentmedia.org - David Dupont


Perry Field House at Bowling Green State University Saturday hosted scores of future Don Tates.

Tate, a prolific illustrator of children’s books who has turned his talents to writing as well, was the guest author for Literacy in the Park.

The Austin, Texas-based author and illustrator started out just like all the kids who raised their hands when he asked: Who likes to draw?

He’s been drawing since before he could remember, and showed a picture he made when he was 3 of his mother, and baby sister, and some poop falling out of the infant’s diaper.

Construction activity with the Wood County District Public Library

Construction activity with the Wood County District Public Library

Even then, he liked to include realistic details.

When he was a kid growing up in Des Moines, Iowa, Tate said he particularly liked non-fiction, including the “Family Medical Guide,” which had pictures of bloody ulcers and pus-filled toe sores.

And when he turned to writing his own books, as well as illustrating them, he turned to non-fiction, writing about strongman Eugen Sandow and early African-American poet George Moses Horton.

Those themes were among those reflected in the dozens of activities available to children throughout the field house.

Nothing, though, about pus or bloody sores.

Still the activities showed how literacy is intertwined with construction, natural science, art, drama, and nutrition.

Tate encouraged his young listeners to follow what they loved whether it was dancing, theater, or soccer.

Tate said as a child he wasn’t as good at basketball as his father would have liked. He instead wanted to make puppets. He realized he could make a simple puppet with patterns and cloth. He wasn’t satisfied. Using an old wig his mother gave him, he made a more elaborate puppet modeled on the Muppets made by his idol Jim Henson.

His mother loved it, but Tate’s father wasn’t impressed. “Your son is making dolls,” he told Tate’s mother.

Young Tate persisted drawing, painting, doing macramé.

His work progressed along the way and led to a career in illustration. He’s illustrated more than 50 books, including work by such notable writers as Jack Prelutsky and Louis Sachar.

Therapy dogs

Therapy dogs

When he decided to write a book, he did about 30 drafts of “It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw.” It’s a true story of a man, born into slavery, who became a renowned folk artist. Then he showed it to a published author, who loved it, and told him it needed to be rewritten. That happened twice more. But every time he rewrote it, the book got better, Tate said. A published book doesn’t just happen.

When it was published, it was a success and won awards.

His book on the strongman Sandow, considered the father of modern body building, was also based on fact as well as the author’s personal experience. As an adult, Tate decided to take up body building, and despite early disappointment, he went on to win trophies.

Tim Murnen, BGSU faculty member coordinating the event, said bringing in Tate was a bit of a risk. He doesn’t have the name recognition of past guest authors. But he took a different path to a career in children’s literature. He went to a trade school for high school and then community college. It was a story he shared Friday with students at Penta Career Center.

Murnen does literacy research and outreach. Literacy in the park is a keynote event for those outreach efforts, but it is not sufficient. The event is meant to send ripples throughout Northwest Ohio and promote programs throughout the year.

One such program is Books4Buddies (Books4buddies.com).

The Holland-based endeavor was founded in 2012 by Laneta Goings and her grandson. He, like many boys, had problems with literacy. Every night he had to do his homework and read. “Literacy seems to be a problem especially with boys,” she said. “We spend a lot of time trying to encourage boys to read.”

They do that by recruiting young high school age men to help collect and distribute “gently used” books.

The effort has distributed more than 50,000 books.

The Books for Buddies ambassadors have come from local neighborhoods, but also from Ghana, Senegal, and Pakistan, and those ambassadors want to bring that effort to their countries.

The 25 ambassadors, she said, consider themselves “a brotherhood.”

Literacy in the Park is a good event for the effort. They understand they “are blessed” to be able to share with others what they have benefited from.

For all the good intentions and serious purpose behind the day, it is about having fun, whether with Play-Doh or finding the hidden sugar in foods.

Joe Rosansky was there with his daughter Teagan, who is, she indicated, four-fingers old.

This is the second year the family has participated. “Our daughter really likes it,” Teagan’s dad said. “She likes the books and all the activities.”

Teagan reports she likes, after a long pause, “the flowers.” Those flowers were lining the front of the stage.

And when Tate opened the floor up to questions after his presentation, the first question was: “Where’d you get the flowers?

Bostdorff’s, Murnen said from off-stage.

That’s just the kind of detail a young Don Tate would have liked. The kind of attention to detail that can blossom in so many ways.