Wednesday, March 10, 2021

ReFoReMo Day 8: Author/Illustrator Don Tate Goes Back to Basic Storytelling

When I first started writing back in 2009, some of my picture book writing buddies suggested I read 300 picture books. I already had way more than 300 picture books in my studio, but while I’d studied and admired the pictures, I hadn’t actually read many of them. 

The first one I read came highly suggested by picture book writing buddy Dianna Aston. She said that anything by Kathleen Krull, and specifically, WILMA UNLIMITED (Harcourt), was the perfect mentor text for a newbie author, like me, needing to study the storytelling structure. Now the book was first published in 1996, but a strong storytelling structure is timeless. I’ve used WILMA UNLIMITED as a mentor text for just about every book I’ve written since.

 



In terms of basic story telling structure, the following are oldies but goodies, too: 

 




Frida, by Jonah Winter and Ana Juan

Tomas and the Library Lady, Pat Mora and Raul Colon



Not Norman Kelly Bennett and Noah Z. Jones

Anything written or illustrated by Eric Rohman


 

Don Tate is an award-winning illustrator of numerous critically acclaimed books for children, including No Small Potatoes: Junios G. Groves and His Kingdom in Kansas, Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions,  Hope’s Gift, Swish! The Slam-Dunking, Alley-Ooping, High-Flying Harlem Globetrotters, and many others.

 

He is also an award-winning author. Some of his books for children include: Strong As Sandow: How Eugen Sandow Became The Strongest Man on Earth; Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses HortonIt Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started To Draw, and William Still and His Freedom Stories: Father of the Underground Railroad.

 

Don is a founding host of the The Brown Bookshelf –a blog dedicated to books for African American young readers; and a member of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, created to address the lack of diverse, non-majority narratives in children’s literature. He lives in Austin, Texas, with his family.

179 comments:

  1. So very true. If you're going to write PBs, you need to read PBs. And classics are the finest place to start. Then mix it up with current titles that are destined to become classics. Thanks for sharing some of your favorites!

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  2. Always great to see recommendations that I'm not familiar with. Like you, I was also told to read hundreds of picture books and it made a huge difference to my writing. Thanks for the post!

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  3. Don, I love your mentor texts. I still have my notes from your discussion on Wilma Unlimited at the WOW retreat. I refer to them often. I'd add Honeybee by Candice Fleming, illustrated by Eric Rohman. Thanks for a "new to me book" - Thomas and the Library Lady.

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  4. Thank you for sharing these mentor texts. I was not familiar with any of them before ReFoReMo!

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  5. These must be good stories. I’m still waiting for them after reserving them in February. I remember loving Wilma Unlimited. Thanks for this list, Don. I love Whoosh!

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  6. One of my favorite mentor texts so far was “Wilma Unlimited”. I also loved “Not Norman.” I’m looking forward to reading the others. Great choices!

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  7. Thank you, Don! I have read SQUID and NOT NORMAN and look forward to reading the other picture books for basic story structure mentor text.One book has been your mentor text for pretty much all of your books! That's advice that was perfect timing and a perfect fit! I love your art. We are so fortunate that you devote time to creating books! Thank you so much for what you are doing to address the lack of diverse non-majority narratives in children's literature.

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  8. I have a few mentor texts that I love reading over and over. It's invigorating to see such wonderful structure and prose and have it inspire the writing we set forth. I look forward to reading these titles today!

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  9. What wonderful oldies that withstand the test of time. Thank you, Don.

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  10. Thank you for your great mentor text suggestions.

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  11. In evaluating WILMA UNLIMITED I noticed it was slice of life, from her birth to winning at the Olympics. I think I will try slice of life for myself.

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  12. I love Not Norman as an example of a story with a classic arc. It's a classroom favorite, too!

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  13. Shukran for sharing your favorite storytelling texts. I also love getting picture book suggestions from writing partners. They know your style so well & really look out for you.

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  14. Read, read, read! I'm going to read all of your recommendations again!

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  15. So true that reading PB is very important if you want to write them. Thanks so much for sharing these books. I'm looking forward to reading them.

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  16. Thank you for this interesting post and examples of books!

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  17. Thanks for sharing! For those that like Not Norman, Kelly Bennett's second PB recently came out - Norman : one amazing goldfish!

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  18. Straight storytelling - the oral tradition lasts because it works! Thanks for the reminder texts.

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  19. I agree that Wilma Unlimited is a great book. For years, I used it in my classroom as a mentor text. Thanks for the reminder that sometimes keeping a basic storytelling structure is the best start!

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  20. Thanks for sharing some of your favorite PBs!

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  21. Love the look at structure. Thank you.

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  22. Thank you Don for the great suggestions. Can't wait to check out The Brown Bookshelf!

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  23. Wonderful suggestions, thank you!

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  24. I've found that by keeping an online borrowing history at the library you can go back to books that you've read time and time again. It's a helpful organizing tool. If they let you organize them into shelves beyond "for later", "in progress" and "completed" to types of story structures and other custom categories, that would be clutch!

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  25. Great advice. Thanks for the super text suggestions.

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  26. Thanks for suggesting these classic tales. Time to go and study them!

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  27. I understand completely about scouring the illustrations and finally realizing I hadn't actually READ the book! LOL Thank-you for suggesting Not Norman. Kelly's third Norman book is coming soon, so obviously she is writing great stuff that connects with kids. Also, I love Candy and Eric's book Oh, No! and the classic Eric Rohmann book, Cinder-Eyed Cats. It doesn't get much attention, but it's a favorite. BTW, loved your work on Swish about the GlobeTrotters.

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  28. Nice reading list for today. I read the books and then went back and re read them. Eric Roman wrote "My Friend Rabbit" and it was an award winning book...so I took it apart and analyzed it. Then I got a couple more by him, and he is simple and complex at the same time with a wonderful sense of humor thrown in. His writing is clever and his illustrations match his writing, simple but clever. The emotions are displayed on his characters faces....even just the raising of an eyebrow can make you smile. Thank you for a nice reading list.

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  29. I agree with your writing buddies...reading PBs is the best way to learn PBs. These are some new ones for me (besides Giant Squid)...thanks for the suggestions.

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  30. No matter how we dig into books - words or illustrations first - studying them can really help inform our creations! Thanks for listing these classics Don.

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  31. I love the story of Tomas and the Library Lady. I've read it before but a second read made me appreciate it one more time. Loved Giant Squid. Thanks for your list!

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  32. Don Tate, I will have to reread WILMA UNLIMITED. Great collection- I also greatly admire TOMAS AND THE LIBRARY LADY.

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  33. Some wonderful mentor texts here––thank you for sharing some of your story with us too!

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  34. Don, thanks for your brilliant suggestions. I have just reread WILMA UNLIMITED, and I totally agree with you!

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  35. I have always loved and read picture books, but when I got serious about writing them, I found I looked at them in a whole new way. Thanks for these great suggestions.

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  36. Reading and rereading picture books for hours a day?? Studying has never been more fun! I'm excited to add your recommended selections to my mix.

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  37. Thank you for sharing your mentor texts. Can't wait to read Wilma Unlimited for structure. I'm waiting for my turn to check it out of the library.

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  38. Such great books - several of my personal favorites and the rest I am enjoying for the first time. Thank you?

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  39. DON: GREAT reminder that sometimes we just need to go back to the basics of good old fashioned storytelling. Because when done right, they don't seem "old," but "classic," as your example of "Wilma Unlimited" truly illustrates. Like you, we should all return to our bookshelves and start an in-depth STUDY--not just "read,"--of our old "friends." Also, I am SO IN LOVE with your work! Studying "No Small Potatoes" and "SWISH" were TRULY ENJOYABLE and helpful to me in seeing how much your illustrations helped to tell the stories. I've NEVER read a book SO FULL OF LIFE through action-infused illustrations as "SWISH!" AMAZING!!! THANK YOU for ALL the INSPIRATION, in both art forms.

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  40. I was able to get three books: Not Norman, Giant Squid, and Tomas and the Library Lady. I loved all three! I hope to be able to read the rest of them also. Thank you for your post!

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  41. There is so much emphasis on recent texts that it was lovely to see you reaching back for stellar storytelling examples. Thanks!

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  42. Wow, I actually hadn't read any of these! I've got Wilma Unlimited coming from the library today (as well as most of the others), so I can't wait to dive into that. I love that you've used it as a mentor text for so many of your books!

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  43. Thank you for this help with story telling structure! I love these book choices. These will definitely serve as mentors.

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  44. So many great books here. I'm getting Wilma Unlimited for the first time.

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  45. It's nice to see some timeless beauties on this list! Great books do not have expiration dates. Thanks for this list!

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  46. What a good collection to focus on for story structure, thanks for the great list.

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  47. I love how you go back to your oldies but goodies! I have several picture books I will never part with for that reason. As you say, Basic storytelling doesn't change, and this is a good example of the difference between a mentor text and a comp title. Thank you!

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  48. Great mentor texts. There are a couple I haven't read, so I'm adding them to my list!

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  49. Thanks for the suggestions of books to study for good story structure. Perfect!

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  50. Basic storytelling is timeless, as you point out. Great suggestions here. Thanks so much.

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  51. Thanks for sharing these examples!

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  52. Thanks Don - all such wonderful mentor texts.

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  53. Thanks for your posting of great storytelling. I have added them to my list of must-reads and read again.

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  54. Thank you for a look at these classics! It my first time reading Wilma Unlimited and I had somehow forgot about Not Norman. Loved them both so much I had to order a copy of each for our home library. Now I will be able to study them again and again. :)

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  55. Very interesting choices and I still have to find some of them. Thanks Don for your insight.

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  56. “...a strong storytelling structure is timeless.” So true!
    Thank you for this reminder to study excellent classic picture books as well as recently published books. Reviewing favorites through the lens of a writer is a great way to mature as a writer.
    Thank you, for sharing the picture books you have used as mentor texts. I appreciate your body of work, too.

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  57. I am loving my library system this past year as I can check out so many picture books to read and study. I have my stack ready to read this afternoon for mentor text. I'm going to add some of these to my holds.

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  58. Wonderful examples. Thank you Don.

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  59. Thank you for such an important reminder and wonderful list of mentor texts! I love Giant Squid. :)

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  60. I completely agree! Great post😊

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  61. Not Norman is a great story arc text to study. I found it fascinating that both Frida Kahlo and Wilma Rudolph had polio as young girls

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  62. Thanks Don! I'm fascinated to learn that the same story structure works in NF as well as fiction PBs. I'm trying to pay attention to that, as you've encouraged, and go back to my shelves and see.

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  63. Great story structures and diversity of topics. I had to read Tomas in Spanish bcz that is the only copy my library had (Tomas y la Senora de la Biblioteca) Fortunately I have been studying Portuguese for a few years and the cross-over was close enough at this level that i could pull it off :) I also enjoyed Frida - a human being I have admired for quite some time. Not Norman was a fun read with a happy ending.

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  64. Thanks for these suggestions! BTW...I LOVE No Small Potatoes!

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    1. Also, Swish gave me chills! Love the story and artistry!

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  65. Thank you for six outstanding picture book recommendations, Don.

    Suzy Leopold

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  66. Thanks for providing great books for our "300". Such heart in Wilma Unlimited and Tomas and the Library Lady. Still giggling over the ironic twist of the refrain, "not Norman".

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  67. I have always loved WILMA UNLIMITED! Wonderful book!

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  68. Thanks for sharing some of your favorites!

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  69. Thank you for your wonderful book recommendations!

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  70. Giant Squid and Frida took my breath away. Glad to encounter these older books and to think about basic story structure. Thanks!

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  71. Thank you! I can't wait to check these out!

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  72. Thanks, Don, for these storytelling structure mentor texts!

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  73. I'm finding that there is always something new to learn. Thank you, Don!

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  74. Don, this is such a great reminder about using mentor texts! I loved Wilma Unlimited when I taught summer school for ESL students several years ago!

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  75. Thank you Don! Love these oldie but goodies!

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  76. Thank you for sharing this wonderful selection of mentor texts!

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  77. Thank you for these recommendations. I can see why WILMA UNLIMITED became your go-to mentor text. Not only is the book well-written, the story of Wilma is important and inspiring.

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  78. Reading picture books, even for research, is such a joy.

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  79. Enjoyed this list of books. My library didn't have Frida by Jonah Winter, so I borrowed, Lilian's Right to Vote - A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Tomas and the Library Lady by Pat Mora was a good example of including culture into the story.

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  80. Thank you, Don, for sharing titles from past years. Good mentor texts are always gold. I'm an admirer of your writing and your beautiful illustrations--they speak to the heart.

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  81. Basic storytelling is anything but basic! Thank you for sharing such beautiful books.

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  82. Thank you for referring us to Kathleen Krull's works and reminding us to study the books we read instead of just enjoying reading them. I am working on paying more attention to structure, word choice, plot, and first line along with other PB characteristics. And, by the way, very handsome bowtie!

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  83. Thank you, Don, for these wonderful PB bios. I can see why Wilma Unlimited would be a mentor text. Not just an amazing story but very well told. I haven't been able to find some of the books on the list, but I am looking forward to reading the ones I did find. Thanks again.

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  84. Thanks for looking at story structure and listing these great mentor texts!

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  85. I am so enjoying reading all the wonderful reccomendations. Thank you for these gems!

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  86. Today we're hearing that a writer should read 1,000 PBs before querying. It seems huge, but, really, once you start on this path (and anyone who's here certainly has), you'll have hundreds read before you know it. Thank you, LAPL!

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    1. Wow! 1000 books! I hear 10,000 hours is what it takes too.

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  87. Great reminder that in order to write picture books, we need to read lots of them. Thanks for this list of mentor texts.

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  89. Thank you, Don! Great books with excellent structure that takes the reader along in the story from beginning to end!

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  90. I will check out Wilma Unlimited. Thanks for the tip, Don.

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  91. Oh, I'd love to have a studio with more than 300 picture books! (You've probably got at least double that now.) Thanks for sharing some of your favorites.

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  92. I had read all of these books to students in the library except Frida by Jonah Winter.That is definitely one that I wish I had known about as there are so many students that have imaginary friends and Frida used great coping mechanisms. The illustrations were beautiful as well. Wilma Unlimited by Kathleen Krull is a longtime favorite biography to read to kids and you can tell they are engrossed because they cheered her on in the races and gasped when she faltered with the baton. The way that she overcame her challenges is incredibly inspiring. Tomas and the Library Lady by Pat Mora is another favorite especially for a librarian but it is very encouraging to see how kids relate to Tomas's feelings when he discovered books and the library. Not Norman by Kelly Bennett is an excellent example of authentic kid's voice.The whole book recounts the narrator's journey from not wanting a goldfish to not wanting to trade his goldfish for anything. This is a great mentor voice for establising voice.Giant Squid by Eric Rohman is a great mentor text for imagery, word choice and vivid description.The great illustrations match the words that aptly describe the scary looks and actions of the giant squid. This is an excellent group of books thatwill definitely inspire great writing. Thanks so much for sharing!

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  93. Looking forward to reading these- especially, NOT NORMAN and TIME FLIES

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  94. "A strong storytelling structure is timeless." Yes!

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  95. I thoroughly enjoyed these mentor texts. The basis story structure was used seamlessly. Let's see if I can follow suit. Not Norman is one I plan to purchase.

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  96. Thank you for the mentor texts for story structure. This will be really helpful. Thanks Don!

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  97. Yes, I love how you've used the same mentor texts to help you with numerous books. This is very powerful!

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  98. I love these texts, Don, and I include your books as mentor texts as well!

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  99. Excellent selections, especially Wilma Unlimited for filling in very interesting details in a story I've shared with many children.

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  100. Great choices for mentor texts. And by the way, I love your book Strong as Sandow!

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  101. Thanks for these reads today! I enjoyed everyone of them. The only one I didn’t get to read yet was Not Norman. But I will try to find. Something special happened today where my son came home with Giant Squid from his school library and I was like that’s my homework. Lol. He said let’s read it together and we read it in unison; side by side. It was such a blast. And what a coincidence that he picked it out! It was so exciting and the author did a great job making with the words. You feel like you are right there with the Giant Squid! 🦑 Best Read Aloud!! Thanks Don Tate.

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  102. This was a great list of books I hadn't read yet.

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  103. These are some great books. Good to have some good examples of terrific storytelling.

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  104. evafelder@hotmail.com
    I just finished listening to your narration at the National Book Festival of how a child who was not a big reader, drew constantly looking at illustrations in encyclopedias became a writer and illustrator of children books. I love the way you inspire people to write and not give up. A big hug to your mother for giving you that dictionary bought in a garage sale that inspired you to write about William Still. So much to learn from you. Thank you for inspiring us today. I would love to visit your studio one day if it is possible, as I live in Katy, Tx. I look forward to meeting you in person.

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  105. Great selections- good to go back to the classics and rediscover why I love story-telling. And I love your bowtie. Thanks.

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  106. I enjoyed your sharing that you owned about 300 picture books that you hadn't yet read! I feel like I'm the opposite, I probably read 300 picture books to my kids without "seeing" the illustrations. It's fun to get to revisit all those books to re-appreciate them in a new way.
    Your list is wonderful! Thank you for sharing!

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  107. Thanks, Don. What a great reminder to study the classics for great storytelling structure. They are classics for a reason! NOT NORMAN is one of my favorites.

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  108. Sometimes the oldies are the best! Thank you for sharing these recommendations, Don.

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  109. Thanks for sharing your mentor texts and a reminder to study them

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  110. Thank you for sharing all these great titles! I love Giant Squid! And Not Norman was adorable. :)

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  111. Thank you for such a wealth of information!

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  112. I love Not Norman! Thanks for your suggestions.

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  113. Ahhh, storytelling structure. Study them, (enjoy them!) learn the rules, then bend them! Thank you, Don.

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  114. Thank you for sharing these amazing storytelling picture books!

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  115. Thank you for these suggestions - I loved Giant Squid and Tomas and the Library Lady.

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  116. WILMA UNLIMITED was a WOW! Just the kind of uplifting book I needed to read today. Thanks!

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  117. Thanks for sharing this great collection! I’ve loved rereading some and reading others of these for the first time.

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  118. These look so good! Thank you for the recommendations.

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  119. I can't tell you how much time I spent looking for "Anything" by Eric Rohmann. LOL. Can't wait to read "Wilma Unlimited" based on your stellar recommendation and I loved "Not Norman!"

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  120. Such great books to study! Thanks for the recommendations.

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  121. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us! Can't wait to check them all out!

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  122. Kathleen Krull is one of my all-time favorite authors!

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  123. Thanks for your recommendations for books with great story structure. I look forward to reading them to enhance my knowledge.

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  124. Thank you for your recommendations. It's always nice to check out great story structures.

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  125. I am looking forward to reading some of these mentor texts. Don Tate's stories, are also excellent mentor texts!

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  126. Don,
    thanks for sharing the books that mentored and inspired you. I will see if I can read and study them.

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  127. Thank you for showcasing WILMA UNLIMITED!

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  128. This is a great list. I read WILMA UNLIMITED to my students when I was teaching, and now I'd like to go back and reread now as a PB writer. Thank you for this helpful post, Don!

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  129. Thanks, Don, for these great mentor texts on that all-important basic--story structure.

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  130. Writers like myself can always use another lesson in how to strengthen our storytelling.

    Great post!

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  131. I loved Wilma when I read it to my 4th graders in the late 90s and it holds up today as well!!! Thanks for choosing books that further our growth.

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  132. Thanks for the texts on storytelling. I couldn't find Wilma Unlimited, but I will go back to the library for other things by Kathleen Krull.

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  133. It was great to read these inspiring texts.

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  134. Fantastic examples of classic storytelling!

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  135. Yes reading is so important to be better at writing! Great post! Thanks!

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  136. Ah! There were a couple on here I haven't read. Thanks for sharing!

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  137. Thank you for these wonderful examples of storytelling, Don!

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  138. Thanks, these are great examples, and I enjoyed a few that were new to me!

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  139. Tomas the Library Lady, author Pat Mora was my favorite book for today. This is a wonderful book that shows how literacy can be improved if each child is given a book to read. This was a beginning for Tomas Rivera. He grew up to be a chancellor of the University of California at Riverside. He promoted reading throughout his life. The illustrator Raul Colon did a masterful job illustrating Tomas imagination as a boy. I still was in reply.
    RhondaKay1

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  140. Yes! Love how Giant Squid conveys such a balance of both the information and the mystery.

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  141. Many new picture books to me. Thanks for these recommendations. I am enjoying studying them.

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  142. Thanks for sharing your mentor texts!

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  143. Enjoyed FRIDA and NOT NORMAN--am awaiting the others. Thank you for these recs!

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  144. Read for enjoyment first. Then read for craft.

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  145. Thank you for sharing these mentor texts. Looking forward to reading the books new to me, and rereading those that I already know ~ especially Wilma Unlimited!

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  146. Great books all, but I must confess Time Flies spoke to me as an author/illustrator and former educator. The vivid and rich illustrations evoked suspense and excitement. Moreover, it required us to become the story tellers. Thank for sharing this amazing book.

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  147. Back to the basics, very inspiring. And I look forward to checking our your blog as well!

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  148. Yay for older books! Love that they hold up so well. PS Loved your illustrations for Swish!

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  149. Looking forward to reviewing these classic books for classic structure. Thank you!

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  150. Thanks for sharing these older titles, Don. I was so impressed with Wilma Rudolph's challenges in her early life.

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  151. Haven't seen some of these great suggestions, thank you. Love reading PBs, my list grows, 300+ and growing.

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  152. Thank you for this selection of books. I loved Wilma Unlimited and her push to never give up, what a strong lady! Loved how the author took you to the very beginning in her life, what a great example for young kids.

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  153. Thank you Don! While we try to read recently published books to stay current, so many books are timeless and can provide that wisdom that we are seeking when striving with our own WIP.

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  154. Thank you for highlighting some timeless picture books that continue to inspire you!

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  155. Classics never go out of style and your recommended resource/mentor texts are straight on. Thank you for comments and reasoning. Wonderful post, Don!

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  156. It's so good to revisit the classics along with current publications - thank you for these suggestions and the reminder to READ what we want to write!

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  157. I love ReFoReMo! I'm introduced to so many wonderful titles and these are new to me. Thank you for sharing this list

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  158. Thank you for introducing new creators to me - the stack gets bigger.

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  159. Not Norman! Loved this! I really loved all the suggestions.

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  160. Loving these wonderful titles, especially Wilma Unlimited. I can see why you use it as a mentor text!

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  161. Thanks, Don. Great examples of storytelling.

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  162. I am working toward 1000 picture books in 2021. Some of these books I would have never chose. Thank you for these recommendations.

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  163. Thank you for these! Wilma Unlimited was so engaging - a wonderful mentor text. I've also had the chance to read Not Norman and Giant Squid - both wonderful in different ways. It's great to have the opportunity to looks at all of these different styles - it reminds me that there's not one "right" way.

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  164. Thanks, Don, for sharing older titles along with recent ones. Giant Squid amazed me with its marriage of images and text. I also love William Still and Poet.

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  165. Hi Don,
    I don't know some of these oldie-but-goodie titles, so I'm excited to read them. Many congrats on your William Still book! Take care :)

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  166. Thanks for sharing these, Don. I haven't read many of these, so I need to brush up on the classics as well as the latest and greatest!

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  167. I have read a few books where the images and illustrations pair so beautifully with the text. Sometimes it is done so well that you lose yourself in the story and don't even realize the structure being used--that's magic.

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  168. Great choices! I'm glad to see a few oldies but goodies mixed into your list.

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  169. Glad to see some older texts to add to my TBR list!

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  170. Yes to this. I did a webinar years ago with Cheryl Klein when I was first starting out and she said to nail the traditional story structure of pbs first before bending the rules.

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  171. I love my library and I'm amazed at just how many picture books there are to study - old and new! Even my 100 or so titles I read a year don't put a dent in the collection! The ones that resonated most with me from this list are Giant Squid and Time Flies. Thank you, Don!

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  172. I’m so excited my library had all of your recommended books. It also shows how timeless some of these are. Thanks for sharing!

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  173. Always helps to read, reread, and read some more to stay on top of my picture book craft.

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