From left to right, your SCBWI Team Blog: Don Tate, Jolie Stekly, Martha Brockenbrough, Jaime Temairik, and Lee Wind
Thanks to Kim Turrisi and Linda Sue Park for the pictures!
From left to right, your SCBWI Team Blog: Don Tate, Jolie Stekly, Martha Brockenbrough, Jaime Temairik, and Lee Wind
"Write organic stories." Sometimes she finds that it's almost as if writers are checking off boxes for diversity with their diverse cast of characters, but "character shouldn't feel like categories."
"Be respectful. Show it to others who are part of those communities. Make sure authentic is how it's portrayed."
"Study. Research. Vet. ...Make sure you're not exploiting the topic."
You can write outside your experience "but you have to get it right."
|SCBWI Team Blog, left to right: Lee Wind, Jaime Temairik, Jolie Stekly, Don Tate, and Martha Brockenbrough|
We're so glad you're here -- in person and/or following along on this blog.
|SCBWI Team Blog, from Left to Right: Jolie Stekly, Martha Brockenbrough (standing), Lee Wind, Don Tate and Jaime Temairik|
Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton
Written & Illustrated by Don Tate
Peachtree Publishers 9/01/2015
32 pages Age 4—8
“GEORGE LOVED WORDS. But George was enslaved. Forced to work long hours, he wqas unable to attend school or learn how to read. GEORGE WAS DETERMINED. He listened to the white children’s lessons and learned the alphabet. Then he taught himself to read. He read everything he could find. GEORGE LIKED POETRY BEST. While he tended his master’s cattle, he composed verses in his head. He recited his poems as he sold the fruits and vegetables on a nearby college campus. News of the slave poet traveled quickly among the students. Soon, George had customers for his poems. But George was still enslaved. Would he ever be free?” [inside jacket]
Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton is indeed remarkable. Author and artist, Don Tate, has written an amazing story which he illustrated—with gouache, archival ink, and pencil—beautiful scenes of Chapel Hill, North Caroline, circa mid-1800’s. George Moses Horton is a real person. Young George’s desire to read and write were so strong that he listened in on the white children’s lessons while working long hours for his master. With diligence and hard work, George mastered the alphabet and learned to read and then write. He loved the inspirational prose he found in the Bible and his mother’s hymnal, but most of all, George loved poetry. He wrote poems while working those long hours in the field, but without paper or pen, he had to commit each poem to memory.
At age 17, George and his family were split up and George was given to the master’s son. George found the silver lining in his situation while selling fruit on the University of North Carolina’s campus(where he was teased by students). George distracted himself from his tormentors by reciting his poetry. It was not long before George was selling his poetry, sometimes for money—25c—other times for fine clothes and fancy shoes. A professor’s wife helped George put his poetry onto paper and get it published in newspapers, making him the first African-American to be published. George often wrote about slavery and some poems protested slavery, which made his work extremely dangerous in southern states—some states actually outlawed slavery poems, no matter the author’s skin color. The end of the Civil War officially made George a free man, yet his love of words and poetry had given George freedom since he learned to read,
“George’s love of words had taken him on great a journey. Words made him strong. Words allowed him to dream. Words loosened the chains of bondage long before his last day as a slave.”
Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton is one of those “hidden” gems the textbooks forget about, but history should not. Tate’s picture book portrays George’s life with the grim realities of the era, yet there are moments of hope when the sun literally shines upon a spread. This is more than a book about slavery or the Civil War. Those things are important, because they are the backdrop to George’s life, but Tate makes sure the positives in George’s life shine through, making the story motivational and awe-inspiring.
Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton is about following your dreams and then taking your dream and yourself as far as you can go, never giving up on yourself, regardless of negative influences. For those who dream of a better life, especially writers and poets, George Moses Horton’s story makes it clear that the only thing that can truly get in your way is yourself. Schools need to get this book into classrooms. Stories such as George Moses Horton’s should be taught right along with the stories American history textbooks do cover.
POET: THE REMARKABLE STORY OF GEORGE MOSES HORTON. Text and illustrations (C) 2015 by Don Tate. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Peachtree Publishers, Atlanta, GA.
A Junior Library Guild Selection, Fall 2015
Kirkus, STARRED REVIEW
School Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW
Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW
Also by Don Tate
The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch
It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw
Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite
She Loved Baseball
. . . and many more
Copyright © 2015 by Sue Morris/Kid Lit Reviews. All Rights Reserved
.Full Disclosure: Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton by Don Tate, and received from Peachtree Publishers, is in exchange NOT for a positive review, but for an HONEST review. The opinions expressed are my own and no one else’s. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
One week from tomorrow, you can buy this beauty — the first book that my friend Don Tate has both written and illustrated: In the meantime, you can get in the running for a copy of Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton (Peachtree) that I’ll be giving away. More on that in a […]Add a Comment
“It’s the story of a guy who in ten years went from teenage field slave to U.S. Congressman.” Come again? That’s the pitch author Chris Barton pulled out when he wanted to describe this story to others. You know, children’s book biographies can be very easy as long as you cover the same fifteen to twenty people over and over again. And you could forgive a child for never imagining that there were remarkable people out there beyond Einstein, Tubman, Jefferson, and Sacajawea. People with stories that aren’t just unknown to kids but to whole swaths of adults as well. So I always get kind of excited when I see someone new out there. And I get extra especially excited when the author involved is Chris Barton. Here’s a guy who performed original research to write a picture book biography of the guys who invented Day-Glo colors (The Day-Glo Brothers) so you know you’re in safe hands. The inclusion of illustrator Don Tate was not something I would have thought up myself, but by gum it turns out that he’s the best possible artist for this story! Tackling what turns out to be a near impossible task (explaining Reconstruction to kids without plunging them into the depths of despair), this keen duo present a book that reads so well you’re left wondering not just how they managed to pull it off, but if anyone else can learn something from their technique.
From birth until the age of sixteen John Roy Lynch was a slave. The son of an overseer who died before he could free his family, John Roy began life as a house slave but was sent to the fields when his high-strung mistress made him the brunt of her wrath. Not long after, The Civil War broke out and John Roy bought himself a ride to Natchez and got a job. He started out as a waiter than moved on to pantryman, photographer, and in time orator and even Justice of the Peace. Then, at twenty-four years of age, John Roy Lynch was elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives where he served as Speaker of the House. The year was 1869, and these changes did not pass without incident. Soon an angry white South took its fury out on its African American population and the strides that had been made were rescinded violently. John Roy Lynch would serve out two terms before leaving office. He lived to a ripe old age, dying at last in 1939. A Historical Note, Timeline, Author’s Note, Illustrator’s Note, Bibliography of books “For Further Reading”, and map of John’s journey and the Reconstructed United States circa 1870 appear at the end.
How do you write a book for children about a time when things were starting to look good and then plummeted into bad for a very very long time? I think kids have this perception (oh heck, a bunch of adults too) that we live in the best of all possible worlds. For example, there’s a children’s book series called Infinity Ring where the basic premise is that bad guys have gone and changed history and now it’s up to our heroes to put everything back because, obviously, this world we live in right now is the best. Simple, right? Their first adventure is to make sure Columbus “discovers” America so . . . yup. Too often books for kids reinforce the belief that everything that has happened has to have happened that way. So when we consider how few books really discuss Reconstruction, it’s not exactly surprising. Children’s books are distinguished, in part, by their capacity to inspire hope. What is there about Reconstruction to cause hope at all? And how do you teach that to kids?
Barton’s solution is clever because rather than write a book about Reconstruction specifically, he’s found a historical figure that guides the child reader effortlessly through the time period. Lynch’s life is perfect for every step of this process. From slavery to a freedom that felt like slavery. Then slow independence, an education, public speaking, new responsibilities, political success, two Congressional terms, and then an entirely different life after that (serving in the Spanish-American War as a major, moving to Chicago, dying). Barton shows his rise and then follows his election with a two-page spread of KKK mayhem, explaining that the strides made were taken back “In a way, the Civil War wasn’t really over. The battling had not stopped.” And after quoting a speech where Lynch proclaims that America will never be free until “every man, woman, and child can feel and know that his, her, and their rights are fully protected by the strong arm of a generous and grateful Republic,” Barton follows it up with, “If John Roy Lynch had lived a hundred years (and he nearly did), he would not have seen that come to pass.” Barton guides young readers to the brink of the good and then explains the bad, giving context to just how long the worst of it continued. He also leaves it up to them to determine if Lynch’s dream has come to fruition or not (classroom debate time!).
And he plays fair. These days I read nonfiction picture books with my teeth clenched. Why? Because I’ve started holding them to high standards (doggone it). And there are so many moments in this book that could have been done incorrectly. Heck, the first image you see when you open it up is of John Roy Lynch’s family, his white overseer father holding his black wife tenderly as their kids stand by. I saw it and immediately wondered how we could believe that Lynch’s parents ever cared for one another. Yet a turn of the page and Barton not only puts Patrick Lynch’s profession into context (“while he may have loved these slaves, he most likely took the whip to others”) but provides information on how he attempted to buy his wife and children. Later there is some dialogue in the book, as when Lynch’s owner at one point joshes with him at the table and John Roy makes the mistake of offering an honest answer. Yet the dialogue is clearly taken from a text somewhere, not made up to fit the context of the book. I loathe faux dialogue, mostly because it’s entirely unnecessary. Barton shows clearly that one need never rely upon it to make a book exemplary.
Finally, you just have to stand in awe of Barton’s storytelling. Not making up dialogue is one thing. Drawing a natural link between a life and the world in which that life lived is another entirely. Take that moment when John Roy answers his master honestly. He’s banished to hard labor on a plantation after his master’s wife gets angry. Then Barton writes, “She was not alone in rage and spite and hurt and lashing out. The leaders of the South reacted the same way to the election of a president – Abraham Lincoln – who was opposed to slavery.” See how he did that? He managed to bring the greater context of the times in line with John Roy’s personal story. Many is the clunky picture book biography that shoehorns in the era or, worse, fails to mention it at all. I much preferred Barton’s methods. There’s an elegance to them.
I’ve been aware of Don Tate for a number of years. No slouch, the guy’s illustrated numerous children’s books, and even wrote (but didn’t illustrate) one that earned him an Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Honor Award (It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw). His is a seemingly simple style. I wouldn’t exactly call it cartoony, but it is kid friendly. Clear lines. Open faces. His watercolors go for honesty and clarity and do not come across as particularly evocative. But I hadn’t ever seen the man do nonfiction, I’ll admit. And while it probably took me a page or two to understand, once I realized why Don Tate was the perfect artist for “John Roy Lynch” it all clicked into place. You see, books about slavery for kids usually follow a prescribed pattern. Some of them go for hyperrealism. Books with art by James Ransome, Eric Velasquez, Floyd Cooper, or E.B Lewis all adhere closely to this style. Then there are the books that are a little more abstract. Books with art by R. Gregory Christie, for example, traipse closely to art worthy of Jacob Lawrence. And Shane W. Evans has a style that’s significantly artistic. A more cartoony style is often considered too simplistic for the heavy subject matter or, worse, disrespectful. But what are we really talking about here? If the book is going to speak honestly about what slavery really was, the subjugation of whole generations of people, then art that hews closely to the truth is going to be too horrific for kids. You need someone who can cushion the blow, to a certain extent. It isn’t that Tate is shying away from the horrors. But when he draws it it loses some of its worst terrors. There is one two-page spread in this book that depicts angry whites whipping and lynching their black neighbors. It’s not shown as an exact moment in time, but rather a composite of events that would have happened then. And there’s something about Tate’s style that makes it manageable. The whip has not yet fallen and the noose has not yet been placed around a neck, but the angry mobs are there and you know that the worst is imminent. Most interesting to me too is that far in the background a white woman and her two children just stand there, neither approving nor condemning the action. I think you could get a very good conversation out of kids about this family. What are they feeling? Whose side are they on? Why don’t they do something?
And Tate has adapted his style, you can see. Compare the heads and faces in this book to those in one of his earlier books like, Ron’s Big Mission by Rose Blue, in this one he modifies the heads, making them a bit smaller, in proportion with the rest of the body. I was particularly interested in how he did faces as well. If you watch Lynch’s face as a child and teen it’s significant how he keeps is features blank in the presence of white people. Not expressionless, but devoid of telltale thoughts. As a character, the first time he smiles is when he finally has a job he can be paid for. With its silhouetted moments, good design sense, tapered but not muted color palette, and attention to detail, Mr. Tate puts his all into what is by far his most sophisticated work to date.
This year rage erupted over the fact that the Confederate flag continues to fly over the South Carolina statehouse grounds. To imagine that the story Barton relates here does not have immediate applications to contemporary news is facile. As he mentions in his Author’s Note, “I think it’s a shame how little we question why the civil rights movement in this country occurred a full century following the emancipation of the slaves rather than immediately afterward.” So as an author he found an inspiring, if too little known, story of a man who did something absolutely astounding. A story that every schoolchild should know. If there’s any justice in the universe, after reading this book they will. Reconstruction done right. Nonfiction done well.
On shelves now.
Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.
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Elizabeth Bird, librarian extraordinaire, had a lot to say this week about The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch on her School Library Journal blog. This book has received some great attention, but there’s nothing quite as rewarding for an author as knowing without a doubt that someone has made a point of thinking deeply […]Add a Comment
As a friend pointed out to me, K.T. Horning literally wrote the book on reviewing children’s literature. So her review of The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch for the Reading While White blog would have meant a lot to me no matter what. But I especially appreciate Horning’s recognition of the honesty and authenticity […]Add a Comment
Over at Watch. Connect. Read., Mr. Schu is unveiling the cover of Whoosh!: Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions. That’s my upcoming picture book with Don Tate, the follow up to our first collaboration, The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch. Whoosh!, a biography of the inventor of the Super Soaker water gun, comes out […]Add a Comment
I have two books out this year, POET: THE REMARKABLE STORY OF GEORGE MOSES HORTON (authored and illustrated), and THE AMAZING AGE OF JOHN ROY LYNCH (illustrated). Both books deal with the subject of African Americans who overcame great adversities in the backdrop of slavery and/or Reconstruction. Collectively the books have garnered 5 starred reviews from major book review journals, and have been praised widely elsewhere.
In general, with stories dealing with the topic of slavery—or history in general—I strive to be honest with children and not sugarcoat. History is not always sweet. I believe that children are smart, resilient, and can handle the truth. As one librarian recently said to me about the topic, “Children have no problem with getting down in the mud.” I owe it to children to tell the truth.
In POET, I portray the anger of enslaved African Americans during a slave rebellion scene, several enslaved people brandishing weapons. A white slave owner has been killed. A white mother reaches out to shield her child from the violence. It was a difficult scene and a lot of thought went into it. When I was a kid, I always wondered why enslaved people didn’t fight back. I’d say things like, “No one would have made me a slave, I’d have fought back!” Well, guess what, many times, enslaved people did fight back! Take Nat Turner, whose rebellion caused fear in slaveowners all over the South.
But as a kid, I never saw that depicted in books, so I didn’t know. Had I known, I might not have felt so ashamed every time the topic of slavery came up in sixth-grade history class.
In THE AMAZING AGE OF JOHN ROY LYNCH, I show the fear in an enslaved child’s face, before a relative is about to be whipped by a white man, an angry mob looks on. This is what happened, it was real life for the children who lived through it. I owe it to my ancestors to portray their stories accurately, with empathy, sensitivity, with consideration to my young audience.
Broaching the subject of slavery can be a tricky one, though. Should an enslaved person ever be pictured smiling? Well, it depends upon what is happening in a story. In POET, I pictured Horton on the cover of the book with a glowing smile, although he is enslaved and not freed until later in life. On the first page of the book, I also pictured him with a (slight) smile, all the while, the text on the page reads that “George was enslaved.” That was a tough call, and I revised that spread many times. I worried about what young Horton’s expression might communicate to young readers (and reviewers) about Horton’s condition.
In the end, I stayed true to Horton’s story, based upon reading his autobiographical sketch in THE POETICAL WORKS. Horton’s life was full of sadness, tragedy, disappointment, anger, misery. He had to perform daylong, backbreaking work, without pay. At seventeen, he was given away to the family member of his master, separated from his family. I made sure to include these sad realities in my text. But do you think Horton, still enslaved, did not smile as he held a copy of his published books in his hands? It’s all about context. What is happening in a story when the smile occurs?
As book creators, we need to be careful not to portray enslaved people as happy in their condition as slaves, but we also have to remember that smiles humanize, they offer hope.
(x-posted at We Need Diverse Books)
Vice-president and creative director for the Scholastic Trade Publishing Group and the founder of Scholastic’s ground-breaking graphic novel imprint, Graphix, David Saylor shares some great advice with Don Tate.
"It’s up to publishers to reflect the world around us in the books we create. We need to be more aggressive to find and hire illustrators who represent all cultures and communities. It’s heartbreaking when children can’t see themselves reflected in contemporary books. And all illustrators need to think about being inclusive and culturally accurate. If you’re going to illustrate humans in your work, then it’s crucial to paint and represent kids of all cultures and backgrounds, not just your own familiar world."
To commemorate Black History Month, the Texas Book Festival has posted an interview with Don Tate and me about his book Poet: The Remarkable True Story of George Moses Horton and our book The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch. Here’s a bit of what Don has to say about the stories he wants to […]Add a Comment
Celebrating Black History Month! Title: Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses HortonPoet: Author and illustrator: Don Tate Publisher: Peachtree Books, 2015 Themes: slavery, illiteracy, poetry, African American, perseverance, Genre: biography Ages: 6-9 Opening: GEORGE LOVED WORDS. He wanted to learn how to read, but George was enslaved. He and his family lived … Continue readingAdd a Comment
The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation
Another great in-depth interview between SCBWI Team Blog's Don Tate and awesome illustrator Joe Cepeda for you at Don's blog here.
They talk about philosophy, diversity, portfolios, so much more. Joe also shares about his breakout workshop at the conference, "Style Versus Voice: An Illustrator’s View."
Here are the most timely and intriguing items about Reconstruction that I found this past week. (What did I miss? Let me know in the comments…) From the University of South Carolina Beaufort: The University of South Carolina Beaufort (USCB), in partnership with the City of Beaufort, Penn Center, and the University Of South Carolina […]Add a Comment
Don changes it up by reaching out to fellow illustrator and kid lit peeps on social media, asking them what questions they have for Eric, and Eric answers those!
It's a fun and informative read, getting to hear Eric's answers to questions from Harold Underdown, Larry Dane Brimmer and Nick Bruel, among others!
Here are the three most notable items pertaining to Reconstruction that I found this past week. Or, at least, two notable items preceded by one blatantly self-promotional one. (What did I miss? Let me know in the comments…) In advance of this month’s inaugural Mississippi Book Festival, this interview with me from Jackson’s Clarion-Ledger: Question: […]Add a Comment
|From left to right: Lee Wind, Martha Brockenbrough, Jolie Stekly, Jaime Temairik and Don Tate|
Full-day intensives for both writers and illustrators,
The juried portfolio showcase with Grand Prize,
The opportunity to network with top editors, agents and publishers
and much more!
Says the Library of Congress: Every year, a list of books representing the literary heritage of the 50 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands is distributed by the Library of Congress’s Center for the Book during the National Book Festival. The pick for Mississippi this year is The Amazing Age of […]Add a Comment
Here are the most timely and intriguing items about Reconstruction that I found this past week. (What did I miss? Let me know in the comments…) From The Chronicle of Higher Education: For scholars of African-American studies, the police killings of unarmed black men in several cities over the past year have been personally searing […]Add a Comment