Friday, Sep 21, 2018
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Don Tate headlines BGSU's Literacy in the Park

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A reluctant reader turned author and illustrator is an example of how the right book can make all the difference.

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Don Tate

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“When I was in school I refused to read the assignments, the Greek and Roman myths, the Edgar Allan Poes, the Steinbecks,” Don Tate said. “It wasn’t until I grew up and discovered Native Son by Richard Wright and Black Boy by Richard Wright that I discovered characters that looked like me who had similar backgrounds to me that I became a reader. It took finding voices that spoke to me.”

On Saturday, Tate will discuss his journey with reading and his career as part of Bowling Green State University’s Literacy in the Park. The free event is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday in Perry Field House.

“I tell kids when I visit schools that reading is knowledge,” Tate said. “And the one thing that no one can ever take away from you is the knowledge in your head through the books you read.”

As an example, he turns to Jack Ezra Keats award-winning book Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton. The story is about a slave who overcame huge odds.

“At a time when it was against the law to teach an African-American person how to read, George taught himself how to read anyway,” Tate said. “You can take away his freedom, but you can’t take away the knowledge that he gained by becoming literate.”

As a writer, Tate specializes in nonfiction stories for children.

“I love these stories of little-known historical figures, because often times when it comes to black history we write about Rosa Parks and Dr. [Martin Luther] King [Jr.], but I like introducing new historical figures to children. People have done great things in the face of obstacles, and their stories haven’t been written about.”

Every child who attends Literacy in the Park will receive a goodie bag, which includes a copy of Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions. Illustrated by Tate and written by Chris Barton, Whoosh! tells the story of a black engineer with NASA who made a splash in pop culture with the invention of the Super Soaker water gun.

It was chosen because of its connection to science and “it’s a different view of what we see a scientist as,” said Tim Murnen, director of Literacy in the Park.

“What we were really looking for is to explore things in a different way. [Tate’s] an illustrator first and then an author so he doesn’t come at literacy in a tradional way.”

Murnen said he also fell in love with Tate’s illustrations. During Literacy in the Park, Tate will give two presentations during which he will bring some kids on the stage to help with illustrations. Between 2,000 and 3,000 people from as many as 700 families are expected to attend. (At 9:15 a.m. Saturday, free buses to Bowling Green for children accompanied by their parents will leave from Rosa Parks, 3350 Cherry St., and Glenwood, 2860 Glenwood Ave., and return about 12:45 p.m., Murnen said.)

On Friday, Tate will visit students from Rosa Parks and Glenwood elementary schools and speak with digital arts students at Penta Career Center. 

Tate’s most recent release as an author-illustrator is Strong as Sandow.

Subtitled How Eugen Sandow Became the Strongest Man on Earth, the book tells the story of Friedrich Muller, a frail and sickly boy who wanted nothing more than to play sports. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t reach his goals until he studied anatomy at medical school. With his newfound knowledge, Muller joined the circus, changed his name to Eugen Sandow, learned bodybuilding, and traveled the world as a highly influential strongman in the Victorian Age. His likeness is still on the trophy for top bodybuilding competitions.

Tate, a self-described “gym rat,” once participated in natural bodybuilding competitions and won two bodybuilding awards. He wanted to put his experiences into a book, but struggled to find a way to translate his story for children.

“It was such a wonderful time in my life; I met so many interesting people,” Tate said. “I couldn’t really figure out a way to put that in a book for kids, because fifth-graders don’t really body build. But then when I came across that image of Eugen Sandow and he’s holding those 1,000-pound barbells over his head, I thought, well, there’s my story.”

Tate said his primary goal was to entertain kids with a book they wanted to revisit time and again.

“Sandow’s story is kind of over the top,” Tate said. “It doesn’t make a difference boy or girl, children or adults, all kids can love a story about a strongman. [The book] shows the obstacles that he faced in becoming strong and how he failed several times and how he eventually overcame and became known as the strongest man on earth or the father of bodybuilding.”

The strongman’s story is one to which Tate can relate. He too was a really skinny kid who was self-conscious about his body. It’s been about 20 years since he competed in bodybuilding, but children are fascinated by his past — and his age, 54, he said.

“There’s not a question that they can ask me that I shy away from,” Tate said. “They’re curious, and that’s what I’m there for … to share my story with them.”

Tate has illustrated three books set for release this year with topics “that are all over the place.”

The latest, Par-tay: Dance with the Vegetables, by Eloise Greenfield, hit stores April 1 and is about what the vegetables in the kitchen do at night.

July 10 brings Stalebread Charlie and the Razzy Dazzy Spasm Band, by Michael James Mahin. It is the fictionalized story of seven homeless street kids at the turn of the century who created their own instruments and played music for money for food and along the way invented the spasm genre.

No Small Potatoes: Junius G. Groves and his Kingdom in Kansas, by Tonya Bolden, is the story of a former slave who becomes a millionaire known as the potato king of the world. Its release is Oct. 16.

Literacy in the Park is a free event that is designed for the whole family, including activities in science, nutrition, art, culture, and financial literacy. It is held inside BGSU's Perry Field House and is accessible to all. Attendees are invited to bring a new or gently used children’s book to benefit the Books 4 Buddies program. Healthy snacks will be provided. To register in advance, visit bit.ly/1VEztp9.

Contact at Shannon E. Kolkedy at: skolkedy@theblade.com.

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