Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Don Tate Is In The House!!!!

Don Tate is the award-winning author and the illustrator of many wonderful books for children. In addition to children’s books, Don also licenses his art, My Peepz, a group of African American characters, is marketed to ‘tweeners and has been a hit in the calendar market.

Don has worked as a graphics reporter and as a publication designer. In addition, he was the art director at an advertising and market research firm and a graphic artist at a print shop. He also flipped burgers in high school and swept floors at the mall! He was born in Des Moines, Iowa, and currently resides in Austin, Texas with his wife and son. In his spare time, Don is a gym-rat, having competed (in better fit days) in body building.

You can connect with Don on Facebook or his website at Here are some of Don’s fabulous books:
It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started To Draw, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, (Lee & Low Books, 2012)(ages 4-up) was his debut as an author, and won the Lee & Low New Voices Award and the Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Honor in 2012.
Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton, written and illustrated by Don Tate, will publish in September of 2015.
The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch (Eerdmans Publishing, April, 2015), written by Chris Barton has received a starred review from Publishers Weekly.
The Cart That Carried Martin (Charlesbridge, Nov. 2013), written by Eve Bunting, is a Junior Library Guild Selection.
Hope’s Gift (Putnam Juvenile, 2012), written by Kelly Starling Lyons, is a Winter/Spring Okra Pick by Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance (SIBA).
Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite (Charlesbridge, 2011), written by Anna Harwell Celenza, has been recognized in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times holiday guides.
She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story (HarperCollins, 2010), written by Audrey Vernick, is a Junior Library Guild selection.
Ron’s Big Mission (Dutton, 2009), written by Rose Blue and Corrine Naden, is a Junior Library Guild spring 2009 selection. 
Summer Sun Risin’ (Lee & Low Books, 2002)
Say Hey: A Song of Willie Mays (Jump at the Sun, 2000), illustrated by Don Tate.
Trade Books:
Black All Around! (Lee & Low Books); The Hidden Feast (August House, 2006) 
The Legend of the Valentine(Zondervan, 2002)

Don is one of my idols. His art is beautiful and we love his books at our house! Though I’ve not yet met him in person, he’s been wonderfully friendly and approachable. He didn’t hesitate to agree to participate in our little Soiree, and I can’t thank him enough!

And now, I’m proud to present…. Don Tate! (Booming applause…….)

How did your interest in writing start and what inspired you to write your first book?

After illustrating books for many years, some of my writer friends suggested that I write, too. At the time I felt unconfident about my ability to write (and about punctuation and grammar and proper English and so on). Instead I started blogging about my journey as a childrens book creator, figuring so what if my participles dangled in an informal blog post. My writing friends read the blog, enjoyed my writing, and encouraged me to put that energy into children’s book manuscripts instead. When I got past my fear of words, I wrote my first book, IT JESHAPPENED: WHEN BILL TRAYLOR STARTED TO DRAW (Lee & Low Books).

How long did it take you to see your work in print and did you have an agent before you published?

Im very lucky. I saw my work in print immediately upon graduating college—I worked for a print shop! It wasn’t books, but makes no difference. There’s nothing like seeing your creations in print. Soon I took a job at a local educational publisher as a book designer. Because I could illustrate, I was also given the opportunity to illustrate book covers, posters, all sorts of educational aids. After many years of developing myself as an illustrator of books for the educational market, I snagged my first trade contract with Hyperion Jump At The Sun. Andrea Pinkney was my first editor and, no, I was not agented at the time. After a few book were published, I was approached by an agent.

As a member of a multiracial family I've noticed a very deep need for more diverse characters and books for children. How do you choose subjects that include diverse characters/story lines and how are these manuscripts generally received by publishers?

As an African American illustrator, I was advised early on in my career by editors, agents, publishing industry professionals that my foot in the door to publishing would be by filling a niche—illustrating manuscripts by and/or about African Americans. I followed that path and it has been a good one for me. When reading a new manuscript or choosing a subject to write about, I prefer stories about real people, little-known but inspirational historical figures who have overcome great obstacles. My stories have been well received by publishers, Ive sold (my agent, Caryn Wiseman has sold) just about every one that I have written.

Do you have a favorite character or book from your work?

Whatever I’m working on currently is my favorite—it better be! But honestly, all of my books have special meaning for me. IT JESHAPPENED was my first authored book, and it won an Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Honor Award. That gave me the confidence to keep writing, so Id have to say that IT JESHAPPENED has an extra special place in my heart.

Where or when do you get or have gotten your best inspiration for stories?

From writer friends. I belong to several critique groups. Several of the books that I have written happened because a writer friend suggested a subject. With IT JESHAPPENED, it was author Dianna Aston who suggested I write Bill Traylors story. With POET, author Chris Barton suggested I write about George Moses Horton. My mom, who is always looking to inspire me, mailed a book to me about black historical figures. Paging through the book one day, I came across the name of William Still, known as the “Father of the Underground Railroad.” That became my next book.

Have you ever really disliked something you wrote that others loved?

No, but I find myself editing my printed words all the time. Ill read one of my books at a school, and Ill come to a word and think, “Hm, why did I choose that word? And wouldnt another word work better?” Ill read the book with the new word.

When you are working on a manuscript, do you direct your characters or do they direct you?

Because I write nonfiction, and everything needs to be based upon facts, my characters direct me. I dig for facts, and present them as truthfully—and artfully—as possible.

Do you work on more than one genre or manuscript at a time?

I always have several projects in the works, in differing stages. Right now, Im completing illustrations on one book. I also completed thumbnail sketches for the next book. Im expecting an editorial letter any day now for two other books Ive written. And I will soon work on revisions for a short story that will publish in an anthology.

How do you organize your research, manuscript drafts, etc.

With my first book, there was a learning curve. I did not organize my research very well at all. And towards the end of the process, I had a big mess to clean up. With succeeding books, I use Google Docs, I keep notes attached to my word processing file, browser bookmarks, etc. Pinterest has become a huge research tool for me. When searching visuals, I create Pinterest pages and pin sources that I can refer to later.

Is writing/art your only career? If not, what else do you do professionally?
Bookmaking is my full-time career. But Ive discovered that speaking is a big part of the bookmaking, so I do a lot of speaking at schools, conferences, bookfairs.

If you could be a superhero, what would your powers be and why?

Id fly. When I sleep at night, in just about every dream I have, I can fly.


  1. What an interesting post! I would love to think that most everything I write will be published. Congrats to Don on a soaring career!

    1. I agree, Kristi. He's such a fascinating man and so very talented!

  2. What an interesting post! I would love to think that most everything I write will be published. Congrats to Don on a soaring career!