Author of the Month: Don Tate

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April is National Poetry Month. Don Tate’s new book, Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton, received a highly recommended rating in our April issue of School Library Connection/reVIEWS+.

Don Tate

Bill Traylor and George Moses Horton were two men born into slavery; one taught himself to draw, the other taught himself to read and soon after began to write poetry. In two beautifully illustrated books written by Don Tate, you can introduce these inspiring individuals to your elementary grade students.

If you’ve never heard of either Bill Traylor or George Moses Horton, you’re probably not alone. As Don Tate suggests, “So often with books about historical figures, the same stories get told time and again. I think publishers realize that a story about Abraham Lincoln or Dr. Martin Luther King or Harriett Tubman will sell well. But,” he reminds us, “there are a lot of equally inspiring stories out there that haven’t been told.”

Tate’s latest book, Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton, tells one of those “equally inspiring stories.” In its telling, Tate doesn’t shy away from the reality of Horton’s life as a slave: “I don’t sugarcoat history, though I do try to present it in a child-friendly way. I believe that children are strong, they can deal with hard truths. So I encourage school librarians to share my books, and be prepared for some dynamic conversations and learning opportunities for everyone.” Furthermore, he points out that “it is important for kids to know about people like George Moses Horton because his life serves as an example of how someone can achieve so much with practically nothing. Horton was enslaved. As the property of his master, he had nothing to call his own—not even freedom. Still, he didn’t allow his circumstances to define him. He taught himself to read and became a published author. That’s an important lesson for anyone of any age. The story also speaks to the importance of literacy. There are so many great things one can learn by studying the life of George Moses Horton.”

Tate appreciates the opportunity to reach kids, teach them a thing or two, and have fun at the same time. He loves school visits, one reason being that “children put off a wonderful energy. When I speak to them at schools, there’s this magical ebb and flow of positive energy that happens between us. I give to them, they give back—and back and forth. Sometimes,” he goes on to say, “students are warned ahead of time to sit quietly and behave. And while I do need for them to be on their best behavior, I also want them to feel free to open up and participate. Author visit day is their day, and so I want it to be fun and memorable for them.”

Besides authoring Poet and It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw, Tate has illustrated books such as The Cart that Carried Martin, Duke Elllington’s Nutcracker Suite, The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch, and more. Readers will find his books accessible and educational and many provide jumping-off points for discussions on issues that can otherwise be difficult to approach. And if you’re unsure how you can help your students get the most out of George Moses Horton’s story, there are classroom resources for Poet on his website that address a variety of standards across the curriculum.

To learn more about Don Tate and his books, visit his website at http://dontate.com

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