Okay, so I haven’t blogged here in awhile. It’s difficult to keep up with so many social networking options. But it’s time to fire up this blog again, as it will soon be linked to the national SCBWI blog. What? Yes. So here’s some very cool news: Lee Wind, “Captain” of the National SCBWI Team Blog, has invited me to join his team. My assignment will be to cover the upcoming New York conference. And if that goes well, I’ll return later in the summer to cover the LA conference. It’s my understanding that for awhile, the posts will link up from here, and then move to the national blog on the days of the conference. So tune in!
Devas T. Rants and RavesThe Blog of Children's Book Author-Illustrator Don Tate
I am pleased to announce that I am the recipient of an SCBWI Launch Grant Award. The award provides two grants of $2,000 each to an author or illustrator, to be used to promote an upcoming book. As a recipient, the award will make it possible to launch my forthcoming book, POET: THE REMARKABLE STORY OF GEORGE MOSES HORTON OF CHAPEL HILL (Peachtree, fall 2015), in North Carolina, right in the community where George Moses Horton once lived. The award will also allow me to take the book on tour with author Kelly Starling Lyons. The tour, tentatively entitled “Freedom Tour: Celebrating 150 Years of Emancipation and Reconstruction,” could include stops in places such as the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (OH), the National Civil War Museums (PA), the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (NYC), others. Plans are under way.
POET: THE REMARKABLE STORY OF GEORGE MOSES HORTON OF CHAPEL HILL, tells the inspiring story of George Moses Horton, a young cow-boy who was enslaved on a N.C. farm, who taught himself how to read and later became the first African American to publish a book in the south.
In addition, two other books that I illustrated will be included in the tour: THE AMAZING AGE OF JOHN ROY LYNCH (Eerdmans, spring 2015), written by Chris Barton, and HOPE’S GIFT (Penguin), written by Kelly Starling Lyons. ELLEN’S BROOM, by Kelly Starling Lyons, will also join the tour.
Thank you to the SCBWI for helping to make these plans possible. And, thank you, SCBWI, for supporting diversity! POET can also be classified as a diverse title. Industry-wide, there has been a lot of talk lately about the need for more diverse books. But talk is cheap. Money is what encourages change. The SCBWI Launch Award will allow me to launch my book on a national level, especially within communities of color.
I flew in late on Friday and had the pleasure to hang out with author-illustrator Arree Chung (NINJA!) We met in Paris, dined over crepes, and then he shared artwork with me from some of his upcoming books. What a treat!
On Saturday, anticipating a long, draining day ahead, I fueled up with an hour of power yoga in my hotel room, and then I zapped myself right over to the convention center. First I signed IT JES’ HAPPENED: WHEN BILL TRAYLOR STARTED TO DRAW (Lee & Low), as well as a few older L&L titles, including SUMMER SUN RISIN’ and BLACK ALL AROUND. Believe it or not, two years after this book published, this was my first signing with Lee & Low, so this was especially meaningful. And guess what, Lee and Low possessed the hottest commodity at the conference: #WeNeedDiverseBooks bling!
Next I signed THE CART THAT CARRIED MARTIN with my publisher, Charlesbridge. I was especially excited to meet my editor, Yolanda Scott. I’ve worked with Yolanda on two books, DUKE ELLINGTON’S NUTCRACKER SUITE, and THE CART, but this was our first face-to-face meeting.
That evening, I hopped a cab over to a Paris ballroom, where I had the pleasure of attending LET OUR REJOICING RISE! A celebration of 45 years of the Coretta Scott King award. The panel discussion was moderated by none other than Andrea Pinkney. Panelists, including Patricia McKissak, Theodore Taylor, Nikki Grimes, Rita Williams-Garcia, Bryan Collier, and Kadir Nelson, fielded questions such as: Are the Coretta Scott King Awards still relevant and necessary? The answers were resounding, and unanimous: Yes!
Prior to the discussion was a reception for past winners. I was dumbfounded to find myself in the mix of Christopher Paul Curtis, Jacqueline Woodson, Bryan Collier, Kadir Nelson, Nikki Grimes, Rita Williams-Garcia, in addition to others like Frank Morrison, Jan Spivey Gilchrist, Christian Robinson. And leave it to me to greet everyone with cheese stuck in my newly grown beard. Doofus.
Sunday morning was the Coretta Scott King Awards breakfast. The most touching moment was when Patricia McKissak accepted the Virginia Hamilton Lifetime Achievement award, her three son’s at her side. She gave a heartwarming, emotional — and funny! — speech. And then it was off to sign my iRead posters!
One thing I have forgotten to talk about here, is that I am the 2015 iRead artist . That afternoon, I signed posters to enthusiastic librarians. The highlight: my mother-in-law, who lives in Vegas, fought her way into the convention center and came to my signing. Very sweet.
I capped the day off by attending the Newbery/Caldecott banquet, in which I escorted my editor at Charlesbridge. For a children’s literature fanboy like me, it was like being in a candy store. Too many names to call off. It was a classy evening, and the 3-D popup banquet programs were definitely a keeper.
My editor and I were too tired to hang around for the lengthy reception line, so we dragged ourselves back to our respective hotels, and I got a couple of hours of sleep before heading back to Austin.
My advice to authors and illustrators: Even if you are not going to participate in an ALA conference, I highly advise you attend one simply for the magical experience.
Here are a few of my favorite selfies with children’s literature celebs (forgive the dry beard, I forgot to take my beard care stuff, so I’m looking like Wolfman McGee):
It’s been a long time since I posted on my blog. I won’t even try to post an update on everything I’ve done over the past few months, the details are enough to fill a novel. But I would like to talk about the past two days that I spent in Wisconsin.
On Thursday, I flew to The Badger State, where I had the pleasure of participating in a very special workshop experience at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Ethelene Whitmire, an associate professor at the School of Library and Information Studies, received a Mellon Foundation scholarship. The funds made it possible for her to invest in having her scholarly biography reimagined by industry professionals, with a goal of it reaching a broader audience. In this case, a picture book, hopefully!
On the evening before the workshop, the university hosted an author’s panel, “Creating Children’s Books about Real People.” Panelists included myself and authors Jan Pinborough (Miss Moore Thought Otherwise) Ann Bausum (Freedom Riders), Jacqueline Houtman (The Reinvention of Edison Thomas). The panel was moderated by K.T. Horning of the Cooperative Children’s Book Center. Topics discussed included how authors go about finding the heart of a story in research, as well as how to write children’s stories involving historical figures with controversial, um, side-lives, for lack of a better word. The discussion was informational, humorous, engaging.
The actual workshop took place the next morning on campus, at Center for the Humanities. Participants included myself and author Jan Pinborough, as well as K.T. Horning and other faculty members Allison Kaplan, Madge Klais, Rebekah Willett and Sara Guyer. For two hours, we tore through the manuscript, offering suggestions that addressed story arc, page turns, character development, voice, and so much more. It was a lively discussion, and I think we all learned about as much as we contributed.
After the workshop, I toured the CCBC library, where recent Charlotte Zolotow winners and honor books were on display. The best way to describe the CCBC library? Children’s book heaven!
I had a wonderful time. The only downer was on my flight home, when the airlines stranded me in Chicago. Oh, well, I got a hotel and a good night’s sleep. But I likely won’t fly United again.
I am pleased to announce that It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw has been selected by Reading Is Fundamental’s 2013-2014 Multicultural Book Collection. This list is comprised of 40 children’s books for grades K-5. Each book in the collection was carefully reviewed and selected by RIF’s Literacy Services team with guidelines provided by RIF’s Literature Advisory Board and Multicultural Advisory Committee, national panels of educators and experts in books for children.
Each book will also have an accompanying set of activities developed in accordance with the new Common Core standards. Educators, parents and community volunteers alike are sure to enjoy sharing this collection and activities with children.
Thanks to the generous support of Macy’s, more than 600 book collections will be donated to RIF programs serving children in low-income communities throughout the U.S.
Click here to download a copy of the guide!
Announcing the winners of my drawing for signed copies of The Cart That Carried Martin, written by Eve Bunting and illustrated by me. And the winners are:
La Rosa Brown
The response to this giveaway was amazing. I received nearly 100 entries within the first two hours, and over 200 entries before the days end. And it didn’t stop there, as more people entered throughout the next two weeks.
Originally, I’d planned to give away two signed copies. But given the overwhelming response, I felt compelled to give away more. I’ll be in contact with the winners.
Thank you for your support.
Next week officially kicks off the season when youth literature creators will be presented with awards for the best books of 2013 — shiny medals embossed with the words Caldecott, Newbery, and so many others. No doubt our kidlit community will laud the winners. Their stellar works deserve to be celebrated.
But my thoughts will also be will be with those who are predicted to win, but ultimately will not. Ever think about those people? Here is my story:
Two years ago, my first authored book published to nice reviews. Soon after, my email box filled with notes from my editor, “GOOD NEWS!” in each subject line. I received “GOOD NEWS!” from Kirkus, Booklist, and School Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly and The Horn Book. I received “GOOD NEWS!” from teachers and librarians who wrote complimentary reviews on their blogs. I received “GOOD NEWS!” from readers who posted nice comments on Goodreads and Amazon. Colleagues also sent congratulatory notes about my book’s success.
It was an amazing time, but I didn’t let the “GOOD NEWS!” go to my head and distract me too much. I was too busy doing what I do, illustrating my next book and writing another book. I had my head on straight . . . at that time.
As the year inched forward and then came to a close, the “GOOD NEWS!” did not slow down. My book made several Best-Of and Notable lists. It was included in mock discussions concerning those big January awards. Librarians at schools where I visited predicted that I would win. Friends, family, and colleagues said things like, “Don, it looks like you may get one of those shiny stickers.”
That should have been “GOOD NEWS!” right there, right? But no, it wasn’t. Because that’s when I allowed the “GOOD NEWS!” to distract my focus. Yes, folks, I turned from my work and drank the Kool-Aid — a poison that shot me in a downward spiral for the next month-and-a-half. Soon writing and illustrating became second in order behind tracking all the “GOOD NEWS!”
I Googled the books of past winners. I counted the stars that each book had earned. I studied their reviews. I read their media coverage. I made calculations. According to my math, everyone was right: There would be a Caldecott, Siebert or Coretta in my near future! But which one? To answer that question, I continued my full-time job of mining the internet for more “GOOD NEWS!”
On the weekend leading up to the day of the awards, I was in Raleigh, North Carolina launching a new book. But my attention kept getting diverted to my other book as more accolades rained in.
“I’m proud of you,” people said, “looks like you may get one of those awards.”
My heart grew bigger and more confident with each prediction. It became not a matter of if, but when. When my book would receive that sparkly sticker.
When I returned home to Austin, there was an email from the marketing department of my publishing house with a reminder to alert them should receive The Call.
Oh my gosh, The Call. I hadn’t considered The Call. My concern quickly vanished to reemerged as a full blown panic attack. Who might call me? A person or an entire committee? And how should I respond? I’m not one to display a lot of emotion, so screaming like a Price Is Right contestant was out of the question. So, maybe I’d play it cool. I’d act totally unaware.
“Hello,” I’d answer the phone with a hint of annoyance at receiving a call so early. “Is this Mom? Why are you calling me so early, I’m still trying to sleep?”
That morning, my alarm went off at 5:15 a.m. I had been awake all night. My right eye twitched uncontrollably — a nervous condition that only happens when get overly anxious. When I rubbed my eye, I noticed my hand shaking. My heart pounded fast, and I felt like I was out of breath. I thought I would pass out even before climbing out of bed.
This is crazy, I thought. Why had winning this one award become so important to me? My 30-year, 50-book career hadn’t proved any success? Now I needed an embossed silver sticker to validate something for someone? I felt ashamed. I crawled out of bed and got my son ready for school.
By 6 a.m., I hadn’t received The Call. Not to worry, though, it was early. I drove my son to the bus stop and rushed home. Alone in my studio, I waited.
Thirty minutes later, still no call. I checked my email. A Google Alert: A former Caldecott Honor winner had declared the illustrator of my book as a best-of for that year. A Caldecott winner. That pretty much removed any doubt.
7 a.m., no call. No worries, though. There’s a time zone difference. And besides, maybe the illustrator of the book got The Call, which would’ve been totally cool by me. Still, I waited.
Thirty minutes later, no call. Maybe I’m an honor winner, I thought. Maybe honor winners receive The Call after everyone else.
By 8 a.m., I was worried. I checked my email. There were more messages from friends wishing me good luck. “I’m rooting for you today,” one said. “This is your day,” said another. I checked Facebook. There were more messages of good luck. I felt like I was on a giant national stage and the entire kidlit community was watching me, waiting for me to do something that I had no control over.
9 a.m. No call.
When the announcements were finally made that afternoon, my book was not announced.
I was devastated. Tears? Well, I’ll leave that to your imagination.
I hope this post doesn’t read as sour grapes. I don’t mean it that way. I’m simply painting a picture of what it can look like for those who don’t win, especially if they’ve been drinking the “GOOD NEWS!”
For me, this post was about analyzing what I’d learned from an awful experience, a reminder to myself to stay focused on my craft, to polish my words, to perfect my artwork. It’s not about the “GOOD NEWS!” And it’s definitely not about awards (which are always nice, but out of my control).
I love my career. I love my kidlit community. I love to write and illustrate. And I love the great works that my colleagues throughout this industry have created. So at the end of the day, that’s what really matters to me — wonderfully authored and illustrated children’s literature.
The sticker? Well, it did come later.
So, you may ask, will I tune in to watch the awards next week? Um . . . no. I will not watch the webcast. I am knee-deep in illustrating another book. But, yes, I will listen to the awards as I sketch, of course. I wouldn’t miss them for anything. I’ve had a year to get my head back on straight and realign my priorities.
Next week, I look forward to cheering my friends and colleagues on to victory. And I have my own predictions: Go Locomotive! Go Mr. Tiger! Go Parrots Over Puerto Rico! And cheers to everyone who wins an award next week, and especially to those who do not.
Check back soon for tips on keeping your head on straight, out of the clouds, and focused on what really matters.
Oftentimes for school visits and other literary events, organizers ask for a mug shot and bio. Typically, because I’m just not that organized, I go rummaging through my iPhoto photo albums, or I take a quick selfie. But over holidays, I had professional author photos taken by the every so talented Sam Bond Photography. Sam’s work is simply stunning. I’m also in the process of using these photos to create a downloadable media packet that would include short and longer bios. Check back soon! In the meantime, feel free to use any of these photos for events. And, I have more, this is only a sampling. Thanks for your support.
Yes, the book I illustrated, THE CART THAT CARRIED MARTIN, written by Eve Bunting, was featured prominently in the New York Times this week. Can a guy say squee? Well, let me try it, here goes: Squee!
Today marks one year to the day when I handed over my security badge to the Austin American-Statesman, the newspaper where I worked for 13 years. It was the job that rescued me from “The Hawk” of cold Iowa winters (Des Moines), and bought me to sunny warm Austin, Texas.
My last day at the Statesman produced a myriad of emotions. I was sad about leaving the familiar newsroom. I was afraid about losing a steady paycheck. I didn’t want to let my family down. But admittedly, I was also excited about the opportunity to live my dream of being a full-time children’s book illustrator and author, right here in Austin, a hotbed for children’s literature creators.
Losing my job was sad, but it came as no surprise. For years I saw the end coming. I began working in the newspaper industry in the mid 90’s as a news artist for the Des Moines Register before taking the job in Austin. During that span of time, I watched nervously as the newspaper industry shrank like a wool sweater, and then unraveled completely just the same. As newspapers began to offer free content online, circulation dropped. Advertising revenue crashed. Colleagues at other papers lost their jobs. The light at the end of my tunnel looked dim.
Anticipating layoffs, I went part-time. This allowed more time to focus on developing my dream. With less time in the newsroom, I could hone my speaking skills. I could develop a school visit program. I had more time to write. My first authored book, It Jes’ Happened, published early in 2012. By the end of that year, the book earned three starred reviews from major journals. It made several end-of-year Best-Of lists, and the buzz of awards hummed loudly in several kid-lit librarian blogs. My author career took off at the same time my newspaper career ended.
Earlier this year, I finished illustrating THE CART THAT CARRIED MARTIN (Charlesbridge), written by Eve Bunting. The book published to critical acclaim, not to mention received two starred reviews (Booklist, The Bulletin). I also finished illustrating THE AMAZING AGE OF JOHN ROY LYNCH (Eerdmans), written by my friend, Chris Barton. I wrote two picture books. I sold two picture books. And It Jes’ Happened did go on to win an award.
With success as an author, school visit requests multiplied. I spoke and presented at what seemed like a zillion elementary schools, writing/librarian conferences, colleges and universities (Vermont College of Fine Arts was a highlight). Finally I became comfortable as a public speaker. Says a lot for the once cripplingly shy boy who gypped high school speech classes.
2013 hasn’t been all rosy, though. One of our cars broke down, and we haven’t been able to afford another. Sometimes I’ve paid the mortgage late. I’ve had a few sleepless nights worrying about money. Thankfully I have a supportive wife who hasn’t complained about the hole in the kitchen ceiling (drippy water pump, or something), or not having a new dress or shoes when she wants to, or about having to ride the bus to work sometimes (okay, frequently). We’ve been contented with what we have, and we’re making do.
I try not to make it a habit of getting all church-boy on my blog, but if you asked me what I attributed to success over the years, I’d have to say it’s God. I’m a believer. I talk to him a lot, and, apparently, he listens.
Happy New Year to you. May your dreams come true in 2014.