Sunday, February 16, 2020

Questions I'm Frequently Asked About Writing Nonfiction for Children


By Don Tate

I’ve been an illustrator for the majority of my career. Ten years ago, I began writing, too. My first manuscript was a biography of folk artist Bill Traylor. It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw published with Lee & Low Books in 2012. Since then, I’ve authored four more books. Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton (Peachtree Publishing, 2015) and Strong As Sandow: How Eugen Sandow Became the Strongest Man on Earth (Charlesbridge, 2017). I have two more authored books under contract. My books have received great reviews, and I haven’t looked back. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about my nonfiction writing journey.


How did you choose to write nonfiction for children?

Actually, nonfiction chose me. Early in my illustration career, I was advised by agents and editors to fill a niche. Some editors were looking to hire Black illustrators to illustrate manuscripts written by or about African Americans. That became my foot in the door to publishing.

The first manuscript that came my way was a picture book biography of Willie Mays. Other biographies followed. I illustrated stories about Ron McNair, Effa Manley, Duke Ellington, many others. I enjoyed illustrating the stories of little-known African American historical figures that were absent from my childhood school libraries. When I made the decision to write, I simply followed the path I’d created for myself as an illustrator. I wrote stories about real life people. 


How do you go about choosing the subjects you write about?


Here again, the subjects chose me. Sometimes, people pass along ideas to me, subjects they think I might want to write about. I take every suggestion seriously. If I’m interested, I’ll do some cursory research. Oftentimes, I’ll create a secret Pinterest page on the subject and pin research materials there. But before I invest too much time in a subject, there has to be some personal connection for me. Bill Traylor was an untrained artist, I was an untrained illustrator and author. Eugen Sandow was a bodybuilder, I was a natural bodybuilder. George Moses Horton valued literacy and became a published poet, I value literacy and became a published author. These connections are what inspired me to write biographies about these people and what kept me interested in a project long-term. Some manuscripts are years in the making.


What is the biggest obstacle you face in writing a biography?

Creating a story. A biography isn’t a chronological list of milestones. That’s a timeline, it goes in the back matter. For me, a biography is story with a beginning, middle, and an end. A biography has a scene-to-scene plot with rising and falling action. A good biography demonstrates change in the character from beginning to end. But researching a person's life doesn’t fall so easily into my criteria. Therein lies the obstacle.
 

How do you overcome the challenges?

There’s no cookie-cutter answer to overcoming these obstacles. What works for one book may not work for another. I try to be open to trying different things. When all else fails, there’s always Twizzlers. Or swimming pools. Or long walks.

Mostly, I try to be open to rewriting. The first time a critique partner suggested I rewrite a manuscript, I was mortified. It’s already written, it’s done, I thought. But no. It did need more work. Thirty revisions of more work. The only cookie-cutter part of writing is the necessity to rewrite—even if it takes forty-seven-sixty-thousand revisions. Patience.


You wrote your forthcoming William Still story in free verse. What made you choose that form of storytelling?

First of all, don’t let me fool you into thinking I know about poetry forms. I’ve never studied poetry formally. I approached writing free verse as I approached everything in my career: by trial and error. I also read a lot of picture books that use free verse. I like to to push myself.

The William Still story is complex. It’s the story of Still’s life. It’s also the story of his parents' lives. It became necessary to include elements of his brother’s life. I also had to explain the concept of slavery to my young readers. And the Underground Railroad system. And the Fugitive Slave Act. That’s a lot. My succinctly told picture book was quickly turning into a wordy chapter book.

I could have chosen to eliminate some aspects of Still’s life, but what would I cut out? Everything mentioned above was important to telling this story. Writing in free verse allowed me to condense entire paragraphs down to a few words. It allowed me to write more rhythmically. It forced me to make an emotional connection just a few words. I had to be even more selective in making word choices. Also, with shorter line breaks, the text could be more inviting to young readers. This new way of writing excited me.


Many of your stories deal with hard, painful truths about U.S. history. How do you tell these stories and make them appropriate for children?

Hansel and Gretel is the story of two young kids who are kidnapped by a cannibalistic witch. They are threatened to get baked in an oven. The story of Hansel and Gretel is a fairy tale; it’s not nonfiction, obviously. But for generations, it was a popular story for young readers. Children are tough. They can handle tough stories. I don’t think it’s a good idea to hide our tough history from children.

The enslavement of Black people was an inhumane institution that existed lawfully in the U.S. at one time. That’s an ugly truth. It should not be sugar-coated or erased. Children are our future, and they need to know what happened in the past in order to prevent bad things from happening again. That said, there are certainly things within the topic of slavery that I cannot address in a children’s book. My stories serve as an entryway to discussion.

 
How have you changed as a writer of nonfiction since that first book published?

I’m way more confident. At the time that I wrote my first book, I didn’t see myself as a *real* writer. I considered myself an illustrator who was dabbling with words. In many ways, I felt like an imposter. I feared that some child or reviewer or librarian would see right through my disguise and out me as a phony. That never happened. In fact, children embraced my work. I’ve not stopped writing.


What new books are on the horizon for you?

I have two books that will publish in 2020. We don’t have an official title for the William Still book yet. But that book will publish late this year with Peachtree Publishing. It’s the story of a free Black man, an abolitionist who helped hundreds of enslaved people escape slavery, on the Underground Railroad. My other book is one that I illustrated. Swish!: The Slam-Dunking, Alley-Ooping, High-Flying Harlem Globetrotters, written by Suzanne Slade, will publish with Little, Brown in November. It’s the story of the original Globetrotters. I’m excited about both.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Don Tate is an award-winning author and the illustrator of numerous critically acclaimed books for children. He is also one of the founding hosts of the blog The Brown Bookshelf – a blog designed to push awareness of the myriad of African American voices writing for young readers, with book reviews, author and illustrator interviews. 

Leave one comment below about what struck you in the post.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered NF Fest participant and you have contributed one comment below.
 

152 comments:

  1. I love that your books deal with the hard truths of our history. You are so right that children are strong - they do need to know the truth of our history - picture books are the perfect medium to introduce some of these hard truths in developmentally apprpriate ways. And honestly, they are important for the grown-up readers too! Thank you for your wonderful stories!

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  2. Don, thanks for telling your story. I especially liked your comments on telling children hard truths. They hear and see more than we realize. Being open about hard truths shows them respect. What I love about children’s literature is that it gives children hope for a better world.

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  3. I appreciate the way you differentiate between a timeline and a biography that has a beginning, middle, and end and other elements of a story-and acknowledging that research may not always yield what you need to make this happen. -Sara Ackerman

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  4. I can relate when you say "your subjects chose you." I feel drawn to my subjects in an often (seemingly) mysterious way. I think this might be the universe telling me "Go ahead. This one is for you."

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  5. I love your books, Don. I like how you find connection with each of your subjects.

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  6. You’re so right - children are tough and we must not hide our tough history from them. I look forward to reading your books. Thanks for sharing your journey and your process and congratulations on your success.

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  7. I've enjoyed your books, Don, and I'm glad that these important stories are being told (well!). You make it look easy. It helps to know that you also struggle with crafting the story. I look forward to checking out your new books.

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  8. I'm inspired by your willingness to take on new challenges like free verse and to share hard truths with children. Thank you for all your books and for sharing your process.

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  9. " A biography isn’t a chronological list of milestones. That’s a timeline, it goes in the back matter." This is so important for writers just dipping their toes in narrative nonfiction. Thank you for taking important stories and making them meaningful to kids today.

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  10. I love the idea that your subjects pick you. It's also so important to remember that a bio is a story and not a timeline.

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  11. Hi Don, I have been following your career since your Lee & Low days. Like you, I must feel the connection to write NF or bios. My fave line in this post is, "Children are tough. They can handle tough stories. I don’t think it’s a good idea to hide our tough history from children." They deserve their own stories to make sense out of tough situations. Ready to see the GLOBETROTTERS and can't wait for WILLIAM STILL. Ty.

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  12. The hard truths need to be told! I’m amazed when certain topics come up in my class (I teach 3rd grade) that kids had no idea ever happened (slavery, displacement of Native Americans, etc.). It brings about tough conversations, but ones that need to be had. Thank you for writing your stories!

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  13. I love your answers to these questions (that we all want to know), especially your response to writing about hard/difficult topics. As a teacher/author, I see students struggling day to day and they need to know that they're not alone and that others who've taken similar paths have succeeded or found new strength. I'm looking forward to reading your next books.

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  14. Write the tough stories. Find the structure that works for the story. Thank you for a well written post about your path as an illustrator/author. Congratulations!

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  15. I loved Don’s answer to the obstacles question! His illustration style is gorgeous, and now he’s doing both writing and illustrating! What a powerhouse!

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  16. I had never thought of writing in free verse as a way to pare down text. Makes me think that may be the way out of the wordiness I'm struggling with. Besides, free verse provides a wonderful opportunity to play with words, something I dearly love to do.

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  17. Thanks, Don, for reminding us that children can handle difficult stories. And may even need them. I appreciate the way you tell your stories in a way that makes them accessible to readers of all ages.

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  18. Thank you for sharing your story. The Twizzlers part made me laugh. I enjoyed the whole piece and especially this: "It did need more work. Thirty revisions of more work. The only cookie-cutter part of writing is the necessity to rewrite—even if it takes forty-seven-sixty-thousand revisions. Patience."

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  19. I have also used secret pinterest pages for my research and ideas! Thanks for a great post!

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  20. Your post connected with me in many ways. Like you, I don't choose my genre, it chooses me. I feel insecure about my writing, like you didn't feel like a "real writer." I've learned that multiple revisions are just part of the business. Thank you, Don, for this great post.

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  21. Finding a personal connection to a story before you decide to pursue it is such a great point. It makes me think why have a chosen some topics to pursue. That's something worth figuring out. What drives the writer to write that story?
    -Ashley Congdon

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  22. I'm struck by your comment, "The only cookie-cutter part of writing is the necessity to rewrite—even if it takes forty-seven-sixty-thousand revisions. Patience." This is so very true. I also think finding a personal connection to your subject is very important. Thanks for this excellent post!

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  23. Your art and your words are filling a void in PBs. Sharing them with my mentees has sparked powerful genuine conversations on difficult topics. I ca not wait to share your future books. Keep up the great work!

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  24. The necessity to rewrite - so true. Thank you for sharing your insights, Don. I agree that finding that personal connection is so important for that voice of authenticity.

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  25. What an amazing and honest post! Thank you, Don! I loved what you said about the challenge of nonfiction biography, the need for story rather than a timeline. Great advice! I think I need to try those Twizzlers. :)

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  26. Thanks for a great post. My favorite lines: A biography isn’t a chronological list of milestones. That’s a timeline, it goes in the back matter. For me, a biography is story with a beginning, middle, and an end. A biography has a scene-to-scene plot with rising and falling action.

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  27. Thank you for a good basic post that applies to all of us, whether we're people of color or not. I really enjoyed reading about your journey in the children's book world.
    On a possibly politically incorrect (?) note, I hope the day will come when African American illustrators are thought of to illustrate books about dinosaurs and trains and everything else, not just books about African American people. We could all use a little more color blindness in that sense.

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  28. "For me, a biography is story with a beginning, middle, and an end. A biography has a scene-to-scene plot with rising and falling action. A good biography demonstrates change in the character from beginning to end." This was so helpful for me - direct, to the point structure. Thank you!

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  29. Your willingness and desire to push yourself to learn new forms resonates. And I agree with not shying away from tough subjects. Many of our kids are living tough stuff every day. Thanks!

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  30. "a biography is story with a beginning, middle, and an end. A biography has a scene-to-scene plot with rising and falling action. A good biography demonstrates change in the character from beginning to end." Oh yes...I was so encyclopedic at first. Hopefully I'm a story teller of information now. Thank so much. This is a great post.

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  31. Ahh, Twizzlers, a great way to earn or spend a brain break :) At this point in your career, do you have a preference for writing over illustrating? Thx for your post!

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  32. Many of my first nonfiction drafts were written like a book report. I continue to hone the craft of writing kid lit that children want to read because I'm telling a story with a BME and a character who has changed and grown.

    Thank you, Don.
    Suzy Leopold

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  33. Thanks for mentioning how free verse allowed you to condense your writing and connect emotionally while covering a serious subject.

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  34. So glad you've stopped feeling like an imposter--and haven't stopped writing!

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  35. Thanks for the encouragement to keep persevering. Glad you kept writing.

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  36. I love the Horton book and am excited to see the William Still story-it sounds like it will be full of great information and illustrations for my students. Thanks!

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  37. Thank you Don for reminding us the only constant in writing is to revise. Be Inspired, Nicki Jacobsmeyer

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  38. Thank you, Don, for sharing your journey into writing. You inspired me to keep writing and to have patience.

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  39. Thank you for sharing your ideas and insight with us! I’ve never made a secret Pinterest page for a book. I’m going to give it a try. 🙂🙂🙂

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  40. 'Children are tough. They can handle tough stories. I don’t think it’s a good idea to hide our tough history from children.' ~ This is exactly how I feel and gravitate to writing about social issues and history.

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  41. You are absolutely right, Don. We should not be shielding our children from the tough stories. Thank you for sharing your journey with us.

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  42. Thanks for a great post, Don. I appreciate the advice to find your niche. I look forward to reading your upcoming books.

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  43. I agree that children are able to handle hard truths. Of course they don’t need to know gory and sexually exploitive details, but to keep them away from every disturbing fact is unnecessary.

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  44. Children are tough, much tougher than most of us give them credit for. Looking forward to your forthcoming books. Thanks!

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  45. Exactly--stop sugarcoating history...kids are resilient and deserve to read the truth. I'm looking forward to reading your upcoming William Still book especially after reading why you decided to write in free verse!

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  46. I love that you say how challenging this work is and how important rewriting is. Your pushing yourself into new forms is inspiring.

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  47. Your differentiation between story and back matter is a helpful reminder. Great to learn how you pick your subjects/they pick you.

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  48. So stirred by your answer about why you chose free verse for the William Still book. We always distill, condense down our words for picture books, but to capture rhythm and emotion in even fewer words is awe inspiring. Thank you.

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  49. I feel the same way. Nonfiction biographies chose me. I dabbled in fiction and it didn't seem to work. It is nice to hear that you also found your niche.

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  50. What a fascinating post! It's filled with so much that writers need to hear. I especially appreciated your making a distinction between a timeline and a biography and the need for a biography to be a story with beginning, middle, and end with all of the elements that make good fiction applied to it. Loved the suggestion of using free verse in nonfiction. Sounds like something interesting to try. Continued success to you in your endeavors!

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  51. What struck me most in this great post is that a non fiction biography is not a timeline. I love this: "For me, a biography is story with a beginning, middle, and an end. A biography has a scene-to-scene plot with rising and falling action. A good biography demonstrates change in the character from beginning to end." Thank you!

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  52. You make a great point about looking for the connection; I think that connection and excitement comes through in the writing. And if the excitement and connection's NOT there, that also comes through.

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  53. Don makes many great points in this post! This one excited me most: "Writing in free verse allowed me to condense entire paragraphs down to a few words." I have tinkered with using free verse in one biography. I'm going to return to this idea in another biography I'm just beginning.

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  54. Thank you Don for your wonderfully illustrated books and for your writing also.
    I appreciate your fresh , honest apptoach, relating that if the subject holds your interest, resonates, you go for it.
    And, how children can handle tougher subjects.
    Beautiful books, thanks so
    Much!

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  55. I love your illustration style and am so happy that you are also handling the text part of stories.

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  56. I love your honesty and integrity. I also love what you said about tackling history for young readers. Thank you for your post!

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  57. I had the pleasure of attending a workshop given by Don Tate. Thanks again for your wisdom! One thing I wrote down was the pinterest board idea. I think that would work great to gather info. Thanks. -Rebecca Blankinship

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  58. I love the connections that you bring from your own life to your writing and art! Amazing! ❤️📚❤️

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  59. Thanks for sharing so much about your creative journey! It's always so inspiring to hear about another person's path to writing for kids!

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  60. Great post, Don! Thank you for sharing your writing journey with us. I totally agree with not shying away from tough subjects... as adults we tend to sell our children short and sugarcoat subjects that we think they won’t be able to handle... but they understand more than we give them credit for.

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  61. I agree with you--it's hard to tell a story rather than just cite the events in a subject's life. I recently tried my first bio in free verse, too. Thanks for sharing your story with us!

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  62. Wise words from a wise man. I liked the parallel he drew to Hansel and Gretel, and I agree children need to know about our history, even the raw and ugly.

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  63. Thanks for sharing your journey. I love the idea that you share something in common with the subjects you choose to write about. And perseverance, another great message.

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  64. First I love all of your books Don. Second I appreciate the advice about making connections to your subject and revising. Great post!

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  65. Don Tate, there's no reason you should feel insecure as a writer. You rock!

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  66. Thanks for a great post. I especially appreciate what you said about not sugar coating truth.

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  67. This was great! From the topics choosing you to the secret Pinterest boards to free verse with no poetry background, I felt that there was so much I learned in just this post. Thanks so much!

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  68. I loved reading your post. It was very encouraging.

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  69. I enjoyed reading about the connections that drew you to the subjects of your books, and I'm really looking forward to your book about William Still. His is an important story to tell. Thank you - Priscilla

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  70. So love this quote: "The only cookie-cutter part of writing is the necessity to rewrite."

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  71. I agree that kids "can handle tough stories. I don’t think it’s a good idea to hide our tough history from children."

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  72. The parts about kids being able to handle hard stories and The importance of having a connection to the story really resonated with me. Thank you for sharing! PS...I prefer Peanut M&Ms, but Twizzlers work in a pinch...

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  73. Thank you for sharing your writing process and journey. There is so much here that resonated with me: the necessity of re-writing and the persistence that entails. Your words inspire me. I also appreciate your insight on creating a story arc that follows a character's transformation or journey. I look forward to reading your upcoming books!

    Celia Viramontes

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  74. Hi Don! I love that you try to tell the best story when it finds you- illustrator and/or author. And that you said kids are resilient and can learn about history no matter how difficult it is to hear. Thanks for the detailed post!

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  75. Don, I agree that kids are tough and that adults try to screen them way too much. It's interesting to see the books they "sneak" in the school or public library. Best way to get an entire school toread a book - ban it. The can't resist seeing what adults think is "too scary" or "too much" for them. Can't wait to see you newest books. Thanks for a great post.

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  76. You are an inspiration to all children's writers. Thanks for being so open about your journey and your process with us. Your illusions are fabulous, ad is your writing, and I cherish every book I have with your name on it.

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  77. Thanks for sharing about your experience with free verse; it was encouraging!

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  78. I'm intrigued by the idea of writing a bio in free verse and as a way to pinpoint the important scenes. Thankyou!

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  79. Congratulations, Don.You have an impressive body of work that tell tough truths.

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  80. Don is a passionate and generous author/illustrator whom I had the privilege of meeting one summer at WOW writing conference. I especially like the connections he had with three of his subjects; that gave him an added layer to his stories.

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  81. So happy to get your stories into the hands of my students Fascinating to hear how the subjects choose you Thanks for sharing 📚

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  82. Wow! This post is packed full of information and words that spoke to me. Thank you! I'll be waiting for the William Still book to come out as a potential mentor text for a NF piece I have with moving parts and "big picture" ideas. And . . . making myself a secret pinterest board, too :-)

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  83. Learned a lot from your post about breathing life into a timeline to make it a biography. Thank you.

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  84. Love your perspective on writing and children. As someone who is also untrained in writing and illustrating, I am forging ahead and I find your post very inspiring. Thank you.

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  85. I can relate to just about everything Don said! And also, just as children are able to handle hard truths, I think children can grasp more difficult concepts like particle physics which may elude some adults. LOL!

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  86. Great to hear how you found your niche!

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  87. Love that you found free verse a way to encapsulate in a few words several complex subjects.

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  88. I've never considered creating a secret Pinterest board for nonfiction stories. What a great idea. It's about time I used that app for something more than instant pot recipes. Ha!

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  89. Thank you for the amazing insight! I love the idea that children are resilient and shouldn't be hidden from ugly truths. As writers it's our job to make it palatable and Hansel & Gretel is a perfect example. I find that stories also find me (vice me finding the story). If we stay on this path, of owning our interests, the stories will come and it's a much more natural process. Thanks a bunch!

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  90. Agreed wholeheartedly, the hard truths must be told--and taught as our real history.
    I also appreciated your comment about the value of using free verse as an alternate, and better choice, for the content you were dealing with on William Still. Love free verse.

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  92. Thank you and congratulations on your success! I could not agree more with your statement: "Children are tough. They can handle tough stories. I don’t think it’s a good idea to hide our tough history from children." And even more so that :Children are our future, and they need to know what happened in the past in order to prevent bad things from happening again." I adhere to this philosophy in reading to my own small children and also in my writing and research. Wonderful post!

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  93. We are feel like imposters from time to time. So agree that children can handle the tough stuff more so when adults help them through it.

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  94. I love that you were open to new ideas when faced with one of my common problems - figuring out what to cut and how to do it without sacrificing story.

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  95. Don, I enjoyed reading about your journey into writing and that you keep pushing yourself. It's something we should all do.

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  96. I enjoyed reading this post, Don. I especially appreciate your view that biographies need rising and falling action, like fiction. Keeping that in mind during research will help in structuring the story.

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  97. I liked your all-so-true comment that the writer's life is littered with revisions, and that originally you balked at the idea. Been there, done that! And produced a better book because of it.

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  98. Great post, Don. Loved your insights into telling a story, not a list of facts. Also appreciated your view on no sugar-coating difficult truths for children. Thank you!

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  99. "Children are tough. They can handle tough stories." Thanks, Don.

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  100. Love how you let stories and approach choose you. I aim to do that - we'll see ; ) And love that a biography is NOT a timeline. Good work; looking forward to more of yours.

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  101. In one of those exciting "connections" that God is so good at revealing I just learned about William Still this past weekend at a storytelling conference! Sheila Arnold introduced us to Williams and then told a story from William's book. I've put a hold on Underground Railroad and I can't wait to read your book about William!

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  102. Don, thank you for this! And for reiterating how important it is to be truthful with young readers. Love your line: "Children are tough. They can handle tough stories." Amen.

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  103. The point that struck me the most was about not avoiding the tougher subjects for kids. I agree and know that kids need the information to learn how to be better than the people who have lived before them.

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  104. I can't believe you felt you were not a "real" writer at one point! I love your work and have had the pleasure of having you visit with my students. Thank you for opening up your writing process to the rest of us.

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  105. How inspiring to read of your development from illustrator to author-illustrator--and then branching out from writing prose to free verse. And I know what you mean about biography subjects choosing you. Mine grabbed onto me about 20 years ago and didn't let go until I started writing her story a few years ago.

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  106. Don handles tough topics appropriately, truthfully and with grace. And I agree, kids are tough and can handle more than often they are given credit for. They are living through tough times right now. Someone should tell these stories and I am so happy Don Tate is one creating them.

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  107. I'm inspired by your comments about the hard work of revision.

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  108. This "A biography isn’t a chronological list of milestones. That’s a timeline, it goes in the back matter." jumped off the page and slapped me in the face! Although I have written a number of biographies, deciding what to leave in and leave out is something that I continue to struggle with. Thank you for your insight Don.

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  109. I love that you approach every new thing by trial and error. Sometimes we have to learn by doing!

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  110. I like the idea that stories choose you. It's so important to have that spark of interest or a link with your own life that encourages us to continue with the research and the story that is writing biographical non-fiction for children.

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  111. They choose you-most definitely agree! Thank you

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  112. Yes, children are tough and they need to know our history. I couldn't agree more. Thank you for sharing these stories with our children.

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  113. Kathleen Cornell-BermanFebruary 18, 2020 at 6:22 AM

    I enjoyed reading about your writing journey. I agree that children are tough. They need to hear the truth about the dark history of this country, as well as other places. How will they every learn if they do not know?

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  114. I'm inspired by your bold approach to revision and the trial and error method you employ while searching for the best way to tell a story. Thank you for your books and for a great post!

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  115. I love how you describe your books as "an entry way into discussion" about tough issues. Thank you for sharing how you go about the process of making these gorgeous and important books for our kids.

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  116. Don, I've seen a few of your books. Great Job. Thanks for your insight and advice.

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  117. Love this post (but then again, ever since I saw Don as the keynote speaker at the WOW Retreat in Georgia, I have been a big fan). I especially like the comparison with Hansel and Gretel and hard truth books about history. In fact, I see more and more children's books being published that "trust the reader". The next time someone says to me "you can't put that in a children's book" I will explain it just like you did.

    Congrats on the two books you have coming out!

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  118. That's so true about needing to revise! Again, and again, and again...

    Thank you for sharing about your process!

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  119. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Don, about using pinterest for research, connecting to topics, persistence, and revising among just a few.

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  120. I agree that kids deserve and can handle the truth. Painting over scars in hopes that no one notices is a failed approach. Better to reveal the scars and create a common bond of empathy based on reality in hopes that the same mistakes will be avoided in the future.

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  121. Kids do deserve stories that introduce them to tough topics and help them navigate their responses. I like that you remind us to pick stories that we have a personal connection with since we'll be with them for a long while.

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  122. Thank you for sharing the answers to your frequent questions. There seems to be a trust you've established to let the work choose you! Great advice.

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  123. Thank you so much for sharing these insights.

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  124. Both those upcoming books sound fantastic, and I can't wait to read them. Thanks for sharing your insights, Don!

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  125. Thank you for sharing "secret" elements of your process. Like "Oftentimes, I’ll create a secret Pinterest page on the subject and pin research materials there. But before I invest too much time in a subject, there has to be some personal connection for me."

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  126. I've so enjoyed your books so enjoyed the stories behind some of the stories.

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  127. A biography is a story with a beginning middle and end. That is a great reminder when writing non fiction. Thanks

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  128. So much good information in here, especially "When all else fails, there’s always Twizzlers."

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  129. The paragraph about creating a story with a clear beginning, middle and end was a very helpful. It's not just regurgitating the facts. I totally agree about being honest with kids. They see things clearly before we color their mind with our adult view of the world. We must be truthful in our storytelling. Thanks for a great post.

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  130. 'When all else fails, there's always Twizzlers...' :) I like how you try to see yourself in the subjects you choose to write. In a way, telling their stories can be a little like telling your own. Looking forward coming across more of your books in future.

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  131. A biography needs to be a story not a timeline is a great point. Maria Johnson

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  132. There are so many good stories out there that need to be told--and it's an important point that we need a wide variety of storytellers to tell them--bringing nuances to the tales that not all of us have the background to paint with. Thank you for doing what you do, and for taking the time to share this with us.

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  133. It took a lot of courage to try writing in free verse--I love how you just followed your instincts. Your work is wonderful and inspiring, and thank you for your generosity in always trying to help others succeed in the kidlit world.

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  134. I know and reviewed Poet. When I read it, I loved your story of how a little boy born into slavery became a poet. What an incredible story to find and share! I also loved reading your own story in the author's note. Thank you for the bonus story!

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  135. I know and love so many of Don's books, but POET is one that has really won my heart. Great post!

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  136. We absolutely have to give kids credit for being able to handle the hard truths. Thank you for your work and this excellent post.

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  137. I’m always reassured to hear that rewrites are part of the business. Sometimes I feel like I am just going in circles.

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  138. Very helpful to think about the many dark stories that have been told for children and how to work with this in nonfiction. Thanks!

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  139. Thanks so much for answering these questions. And, yes, you have to be open to rewriting. My youngest son once told me, "Mom, if you're a good writer, you shouldn't have to do all that rewriting. You should get it right the first time." In my opinion the rewriting is what makes the difference between a so-so book and a great book. It makes the story shine.

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  140. Leaving a single comment is tough because there was so much good stuff in this article. Your "voice" comes through in the interview, and I am looking forward to reading it in the Still bio. And for the record, I love that you pin research materials on Pinterest...I do that too!

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  141. "A biography isn’t a chronological list of milestones. That’s a timeline, it goes in the back matter. For me, a biography is story with a beginning, middle, and an end. A biography has a scene-to-scene plot with rising and falling action. A good biography demonstrates change in the character from beginning to end." Yes. I've been thinking about a writing a biography of my great grandfather for a few years. It's figuring out which part of his life has these elements.

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  142. I like that you feel a need to connect to your non-fiction subject matter. I feel it is important, too.

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  143. Don, I love that you use children's lit as an entryway into difficult topics.

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  144. Thank you, Don, for clearly explaining your mindset for working in NF. I enjoyed meeting you several years ago at a WOW Retreat in Georgia where you and I had a conversation about the Still family. I so look forward to reading your forthcoming PB about William.

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  145. I loved reading your post! Thank you for sharing your connections to the books you choose to write - look forward to reading your books and checking out your blog.

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  146. Oh Don, since Georgia Wow Retreat in 2016, I’ve loved to hear and read what you have to say! Thanks for a great post!

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  147. It was helpful when you said you create a story, not just a timeline. Thank you!

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