Sunday, November 8, 2009

Well, I’m back home, a bit jet-lagged, but glad to be in the USA once more. The trip to Africa was amazing. The purpose, if you remember, was to take Copper Sun back to the continent. The program Reading Across Continents paired American students with students from Ghana and Nigeria. It was a true inter-continental, global, cross-cultural, shared social and educational experience. It focused on friendship and shared, common interests. As Americans, we sometimes see only the negative aspects of African society. We often fail to recognize the positive—their focus on education and their academic successes. The young people who were part of this program are the future leaders of their countries. And perhaps because of this program, they have formed friendships that will ease some of the world’s social tensions.
Ten students from Ghana and ten from Nigeria visited the United States for three weeks in September. On this trip, twenty American students, all high school seniors from School Without Walls in Washington, DC, made the journey to Africa to meet up with their friends. Ten went to Ghana. Ten went to Nigeria. Their reunions were joyous and heartwarming.
I went to Nigeria first, where I got to know the students there. We visited the American Embassy in Abuja, as well as other sites, and the students began taking classes—in the uniforms of the Nigerian students. I did a book talk about Copper Sun to the teens from both Nigeria and America. It was an amazing discussion.
All too soon I had to leave Nigeria for Ghana, where I met the ten American students as they arrived from the US. Another joyous reunion of friends from two continents.
In Ghana, the American students again embraced the uniforms of their Ghanaian friends. I did another book talk with the teens in Ghana about Copper Sun, and somehow it was an even more effective and powerful discussion. I think it’s because Ghana is where it all started.
The next day we got to travel to Cape Coast Castle, the place where the seeds of Copper Sun was born. I got to retrace my steps, to touch the stones of that building once more, and to tell Amari that I had done what she asked me to—tell her story to the world. I stood at the Door of No Return, in front of those twenty students, their teachers, and assorted guides and other visitors, and told the story of how the story started, of how I felt that I was asked to tell the tale. Then I gave thanks that not only was I able to write the book, and bring it back to that place, but that the book had been instrumental in joining the hearts and minds of forty young people and their teachers and schools. Not only had the story been told—it had been shared with the world. Standing in front of that door at that moment was one of the most powerful, emotional moments in my life. I wept. So did many of the students.
I took Amari back home.
Thank you.

To see all the pictures go to:

Saturday, October 24, 2009

My Trip To Africa--Day One

Today I am writing this from Abuja, Nigeria. I just arrived, and of course the first thing I did was to find the computer in the lobby! It's warm and welcoming here. The World Cup Soccer games are in town, so there is a great air of excitement all around. I have no pictures to post yet, but I'm going to take lots!
The reason I'm here is because my book Copper Sun was chosen by the State Department and the International Reading Association to be read by students in the US, and students in Nigeria and Ghana. How cool! Now that is a truly international, inter-continental, multicultural literacy event. Twenty America students were chosen to come with us. Tomorrow we begin our adventures with the Nigerian students. I'll post whenever I find a computer. I don't think I'll have access after today. But when I get home I'll post pictures and lots of good stories. Pray for us!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Back to School! Read, Read, Read! And Enjoy the Process!

Salute to Librarians and Teachers--The Reader's Rap! It's back to school and back to reading.
Thanks for all you do to celebrate books, and to spread the magic and beauty of language.
The name of the poem is Reader's Rap, and you can find it in Book 6 of the Ziggy series. It's called Stars and Sparks On Stage.
The music is done by my friend Annie Ruth--visual artist, poet, musician, and creator of a magic all her own.

Have a wonderful school year!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Lovely article in Publisher's Weekly!
Q & A with Sharon M. Draper
This article originally appeared in PW's Children's Bookshelf. Sign up now!
By Felicia Pride -- Publishers Weekly, 6/25/2009

Sharon M. Draper has been busy of late, with her new Sassy series for tween girls from Scholastic, as well as the release of Just Another Hero (Atheneum, July), the final book in her Jericho trilogy. The former teacher now writes fulltime, and does school visits and appearances. Children’s Bookshelf caught up with the author to talk about her writing life.

This year marks the 15th anniversary of Tears of the Tiger, your first book. How have things changed for you?
So much has changed. I’ve learned a great deal about writing and the publishing business. I’ve been blessed with two really good editors who have taught me so much about the nuances of writing—Marcia Marshall, who has retired, and Caitlyn Dlouhy, my current editor. I believe I’m a better writer now than I was when I started. I’m grateful that I had good guidance because you don’t make it in this business without good editors and a lot of support from your publishers.

Have things changed regarding the types of books that young people want to read?

No. They want it to be good. They are very impatient, so the cover, back copy and flap have to grab them. It has to grab them on page one because they don’t have time to read 10 chapters to get to the good part. If those don’t capture them, then they put it down because the cell phone is ringing, text messages are coming in, and there are other things to do.

Like The Battle of Jericho and November Blues, the two previous titles in your Jericho trilogy, Just Another Hero tackles serious issues, including prescription drug addiction and school violence. How do you manage to pack so much into your books?

Well, I try not to overload them. But I found that young people are expecting something to happen. Also, there are issues that they need and want to talk about. A lot of times, the adults in their lives won’t.

I’ve been thinking about doing something about school violence since Columbine, but I couldn’t write about killing children. I wanted to bring up the issue so kids can talk about it, without gratuitous bloodshed. I also wanted to discuss the idea of heroism. What is a hero? What makes a hero? We have a tendency to think of heroes as movie stars; I wanted young people to talk about the real heroes in their lives.

This is your second trilogy. Is there something in particular that you like about them?

With the Hazelwood High trilogy, I wasn’t sure I was writing a trilogy. I would just write one book, then another, and then another, because the young adults who wrote me told me that they wanted to read more. This time, I knew I was writing a trilogy and planned it, so it reads chronologically. There’s so much to cover and you can do it more effectively in a three-part series than in one book.

Are you sad when the final book is released?

I’m waiting for the letters that ask when I’m going to write book four. I got those a lot with the first trilogy.

But I do get a little sad because the characters are like friends to me. I treat them like they’re real people. I live with them and know what their kitchen smells like. If you can get that kind of detail in the minds of readers, they tend to feel the same way.

What about your new Sassy series? Will there be more than three books?

Yes. Three are done and there will be more.

How did that project come about?

I already had the Ziggy series from Simon and Schuster, which is geared more towards middle grade boys. Girls have come to me and said, “These are nice, but what about something for us?” Girls read a boy book, but boys don’t necessarily want to read a girl book. I wanted to do something for these girls. I also have a sassy granddaughter—well, she’s not sassy, she’s fun.

I wondered if you had a specific girl in mind when you developed Sassy Simone Sanford’s character.
I did interview a whole class of fourth-graders. We met after school and had pizza. They showed me what they carried in their purses. We had a fun time. The teacher is a former student of mine, so they thought that was special.

Do you do this type of field research often?

I do research for every single book, regardless. For Double Dutch, I learned to jump, and learned the scoring system. For November Blues, I interviewed pregnant teens. I like to get up close and personal with the kids involved in the situations I write about.

In Sassy: Little Sister Is NOT My Name, the first book, Sassy wants her own identity and to shed the “little sister” nickname. What does she experience in the forthcoming book, The Birthday Storm?

In book two, she and her family visit her grandmother in Florida for a birthday party. The party is cancelled because of a hurricane, so instead of candles and cake, they have bottled water and boarded-up windows. Sassy learns that family is more important than cake and ice cream and she also gets to save a family of sea turtles from the hurricane.

The colorful Sassy sack that she carries with her everywhere always seems to come in handy.

In Sassy’s sack, she has anything that she or someone else might need. If someone needs a rubber band, Band-Aid, gum, Sassy can reach down in her sack and give it to them. It’s the magic of the sack.

I could use a sack.

I have one! I had it specially made. I take it with me to school visits and all the girls want one. I got an email from a parent who said she had looked all over the city looking for something that resembled a Sassy sack.

What’s in yours?

I have pencils which are sparkly. I have pens with feathers, key chains with sparkles, lip gloss, eye shadow that glimmers, sparkle nail polish, all kinds of things. Everything is shiny, of course.

Throughout your teaching career, it was your students who encouraged you to enter a writing contest, which led to writing books. Do you find that young people continue to encourage you?

They encourage me through emails, letters, and personal conversations. They’re so funny sometimes. Some will say, “I have to do a report on you, can you tell me everything about yourself by Thursday?” But others will be more serious. During [Hurricane] Katrina, I got letters that said, “The only thing that kept me going was reading, because that’s all I could do.” Young people lead me into the directions of the kinds of issues that I need to talk about.

Just Another Hero by Sharon M. Draper. Atheneum, $16.99 ISBN 978-1-416-90700-8

Sassy: Little Sister Is NOT My Name by Sharon M. Draper. Scholastic Press, $14.99 ISBN 978-0-545-07151-2

Sassy: The Birthday Storm by Sharon M. Draper. Scholastic Press, $14.99 ISBN 978-0-545-07152-9

Monday, June 15, 2009

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

"Speed Dating" in NYC at Book Expo--Sassy Sack is featured!

BookExpo America 2009: Speed Dating with Authors, Illustrators
By Rocco Staino -- School Library Journal, 6/2/2009

Those attending this year’s Book Expo America in New York from May 29-31 had a chance to speed date—with their favorite children’s authors and illustrators.

Sharon Draper shows off her Sassy sack.

Some 23 children’s book creators took part in the event, sponsored by the Children’s Book Council, which involved spending three minutes talking about their latest book and the creative process behind it before jumping to another table.

Sharon Draper introduced her new character Sassy (Scholastic, 2009), the nine-year-old character in her new series, by bringing along her patchwork Sassy Sack filled with super glue, lip gloss, and paperclips, which Sassy uses to help her friends out of various difficult situations.

Newbery Medalist, Linda Sue Park handed out blue baseball caps with the name of her book Keeping Score (Clarion, 2008) emblazoned across the front. The story, set during the 1950s Korean War, is about a girl who loves the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Holly Black brought along geek candy and nerd pocket protectors to pitch Geektastic (Little, Brown, 2009), a collection of short stories from various authors, including Garth Nix, John Green, and Scott Westerfeld.

Illustrators Michael Rex (Goodnight Goon, Penguin, 2008) and cartoonists, James Sturm, Andrew Arnold, and Alexis Frederick-Frost (Adventures in Cartooning, Roaring Brook, 2009) all drew three minute sketches as they spoke about their latest books.

After 90 minutes of table hopping the authors and illustrators were exhausted, and more than 100 of their “prospective dates” anxious to try out their new books. There didn’t seem to be any telephone numbers exchanged.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

"Grammy, I'm Famous!" SASSY hits Jasmine's school.

My granddaughter Jasmine is almost seven. Her school is having their Scholastic Book Fair this week. She called me last week when the flyers went out, telling me that my new book Sassy was "right there on the very first page!" She told her class that her grandmother had written the book, so I asked her what they said. She replied, "Well, half didn't believe me and the other half didn't care." But her teacher had listened. So this week, on the first day of the Book Fair, they ran the video clip that came with the BF package. Of course she's in it. When we did the filming for the Scholastic promo, we needed little girls about Sassy's age. So of course we chose Jasmine and a few other girls from my daughter's dance school.

Jasmine called me yesterday, just before I was to do a presentation for Scholastic at the International Reading Association Convention, to tell me that when she got to school the morning news show (yes, they do a TV show each morning with kids as anchors) was running the video. "And I"m in it, Grammy! And they didn't just show my class. The WHOLE SCHOOL saw it! Kids have been calling me Sassy all day!"

So I started my presentation with her story! It was, of course, a huge success. We must have had 200 folks in line.

So this morning Jasmine calls me again. It has gotten bigger. She got interviewed on the morning news show! They asked her all kinds of questions about her grandmother and how the book was written and how she got to be in it, etc. The whole interview, my son said, took almost ten minutes. Then they showed the video clip again! The librarian went out and bought 20 hardbacks for her library, and just about everybody in the school ordered Sassy from the book fair. And every kid in the school knows Jasmine, speaks to her, and thinks she's cool.

She ended her call this morning with a whispered, "Grammy, I'm famous!"

Now how cool is all that?? :-)

Friday, May 1, 2009

"The Apostle of Planet Tween" -- Article in May Ed. of Cincinnati Magazine.

When young adult and children’s author Sharon M. Draper visits schools nationwide—sometimes greeted by marching bands, cheerleaders, and deeply grateful parents and teachers—she’s not only there to read her books to the throngs of tween fans that hang on every word. She’s also listening intently.

“When you’re there on a daily basis you know the words [students] use,” says Draper in a quiet third-floor corner of the Main Library downtown. She’s taking a brief pause at the end of a day packed with talking about her path from award-winning teacher to award-winning author, and why it pays to watch young people. “You observe things like [how they] wear one pants leg up and one pants leg down, you know they use different color shoelaces in their shoes and that means something,” she says. “When I go to schools I’m teaching as well as learning. Sometimes I take notes. I keep a little notebook.”

In a mad rush before summer break, Draper is touring schools in Chicago; Atlanta; Washington, D.C.; South Carolina; Orlando; Daytona Beach; and Minneapolis to promote her latest young adult novel, Just Another Hero (Simon & Schuster), a story that examines the concept of heroism through a group of friends confronted by school violence. “I wanted to deal with violence without killing anybody,” she says bluntly. “It’s a lot of noise, a lot of screaming, a lot of broken glass. I wanted kids to discuss violence without experiencing it.”

Listening to how her readers talk—and sometimes asking those same students for clarity and validity—is how Draper stays plugged into issues plaguing their young lives. In fact, dealing with the issues that baffle parents has turned Draper into a one-woman CNN. As a veteran teacher who began her career in the Princeton school district in 1970 and retired 30 years later from Walnut Hills High School (where she won a National Teacher of the Year award in 1997), Draper has reported from the frontlines of tween angst throughout 28 books in 15 years, eloquently exposing suicide, date rape, gang violence, sex, drugs, and the slave trade on a level teenagers can handle. Her characters triumph amid a flurry of teachable moments.

It’s been this way since Draper’s 1994 debut—Tears of a Tiger, which chronicles the aftermath of a drunk driving incident—nabbed the American Library Association’s Coretta Scott King Genesis Award honoring new work by an African-American author. Her 2006 book Fire From the Rock, which follows a black high school freshman named Sylvia as she’s thrust into the segregated world of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957, is the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County’s current young adult title for its annual On the Same Page community reading project. Call it street cred; her readers do.

She describes her ever-expanding recognition and sales as a “groundswell of appreciation. Students appreciate me. Kids take the time to find and thank me,” she says, leaning in to display e-mails on her iPhone, paging through with her fingertip. “They write in text language. I get them every day. I get teachers, too. ‘I was a young teacher and didn’t know what to do and somebody said try Tears of a Tiger and boom!’” Draper can also attest to the broad racial appeal of her books. Especially her first historical novel, Copper Sun, which traces the life of Amari, a 15-year-old Ghanaian girl stolen from her village and sold into slavery in 1738 North Carolina.

Draper shows me a laudatory e-mail from a teacher who taught Copper Sun, which came out three years ago. “Now this is from Waynesville, Ohio. These are white children. That is rewarding,” she says. The blur of hotels, book signings, and fans wears on Draper, but her seemingly bottomless well of material leaves little choice.

“I sit down and the words come faster than I can type them,” she says. “It’s a gift. It’s like I am the vessel through which this is being poured.” And it appears her readers drink up every word.

Sharon Draper, The Collected Works

Draper on Paper
“I thought my calling was to go to Washington and work with Obama. I just want to sit in his living room and chat about education.” Draper even filled out a 12-page online application for a job with the Department of Education. “I haven’t heard. I may never hear.”

Treading Water
“I can’t swim. I tell kids, ‘If you hear of Sharon Draper going on a cruise, I’ve been abducted. Call 911.’ I don’t do large mounts of water.”

Dreaming of O
“I think every author dreams of being on Oprah. Oprah’s people have people. I don’t have any connections to Oprah. Oprah has to find you.”

King Me
Tears of A Tiger (1994), Forged By Fire (1997), The Battle of Jericho (2003), Copper Sun (2006) and November Blues (2007) all received the Coretta Scott King Award. Presented by the American Library Association, it recognizes excellent African-American authors and illustrators of children’s and young adult books.

Originally published in the May 2009 issue.

Laughing Baby. Laughter is contagious. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Salute to Librarians and Teachers--The Reader's Rap!

Thanks for all you do to celebrate books, and to spread the magic and beauty of language.
The name of the poem is Reader's Rap, and you can find it in Book 6 of the Ziggy series. It's called Stars and Sparks On Stage.
The music is done by my friend Annie Ruth--visual artist, poet, musician, and creator of a magic all her own.


Sunday, February 1, 2009

Interview on The Brown Bookshelf--Thank you!

Sharon M. Draper

It’s not unheard of for authors to wear two hats and be a “slash.” Author/Lawyer. Author/Doctor. Author/Teacher.
Although many writers draw from their other full-time job to enhance their fiction, most are counting down the days to shed that job so author becomes their sole profession. But Sharon Draper, bestselling author and five-time winner of the Coretta Scott King Literary Award, is among the group of writers who has such a passion for both her professions that she remains active in both in ways that would have most waving the white flag of surrender. She is an active member of the National Council of Teachers of English, the International Reading Association and has been honored as a National Teacher of the Year.

Her accomplishments are many and her literary prowess is well-documented with powerful stories of loss (November Blues), strength (Copper Sun) and change (Fire from The Rock). So what does someone who continues to help shape young adult literature feel about the state of it?

BBS: I’d be remiss if I didn’t make mention of our new President. As a teacher and writer for young readers, what do you think having a President, who is also an author, will mean to literacy in our country (either the impact on education or on reading/libraries/literacy measures)?

SD: I’m very proud of our new President and very hopeful for what change he can make in this country politically, socially, and of course, educationally. I don’t think the fact that he is an author is as significant as the fact that he is highly educated and he understand the value of books and literacy for his children and for ours as well. He knows that knowledge is the key that can unlock doors of possibility, so I’m confidant that he will be a powerful advocate for schools and libraries and educational programs. I’m hopeful that I will be able to offer my services to the new administration in the areas of literacy and education.

BBS: Can you tell me a little bit more about the infamous Draper Paper. What made it so tough? So tough students who have passed it donned “I Survived The Draper Paper”.

SD: The “Draper Paper” was simply a ten-page research paper that my seniors had to complete. It required several library visits and lots of planning and note-taking, and outlining, etc. In short, they learned the skills necessary to do a college research assignment. The problem, for the students at least, was that I required it be completed the last quarter of their senior year. Instead of going to the mall to look for prom dresses, they had to go to the library and find first-person references. In order to pass my class for the year, students had to complete the paper. It kept them on task at a time when seniors are most likely to lose interest in academics. They hated doing it, but felt so proud when they had completed it successfully. I still get emails from students who told me how they used their Draper Paper in college, and how it helped them learn perseverance. Even years later, many of them still have their tee-shirts, which were always designed by a student, and worn proudly the day the papers were turned in.

BBS: Do you believe the education system is challenging middle and high school students enough when it comes to their writing skill and reading levels?

SD: When I was in school we learned grammar. We learned sentence structure, then learned to use those sentences in paragraphs, and then to put paragraphs into longer written works. Many schools no longer do that. They have even divided what we used to call “English” classes into Reading classes and Language Arts classes, with little or no team teaching between those teachers. How can we separate reading from writing about what we have read? To divide seems to conquer, it seems to me. Students need to learn the structure of the language so they can read it and write it effectively. Hundreds of reading and writing programs exist that claim to help improve both skills. However, without a skilled, well-prepared, highly qualified teacher, such programs are merely decorations on a shelf.

Those of us who wish to help students on a more individual basis can help by reading to students, reading with students, and letting students read to us. It’s important that kids read what interests them. Have them read the instruction manual on a popular game, or an article from a sports magazine, for example. The same is true for writing. Encourage a student to write about what is important in their life—family, friends, school. Individual instruction is powerful and effective.

BBS: Although it’s taken some time to see an increase in the type of fiction available to young African American readers, we are seeing it. However, there are some who feel that offering a “Black” Gossip Girls could have a negative impact on literature for young African American readers. As more commercial and trendy books feature Black characters, where do you see the state of YA fiction for young Black readers in five or ten years?

SD: I would hope that young Black readers would demand quality. We so often stoop to the lowest common denominator, like purchasing music which denigrates our women in the name of culture. So I’d hope that readers who say that something like the Gossip Girls is not good enough, that they would demand books that reflect who they really are. As I travel around the country and talk to high school students, I’m overwhelmed by their strength and resilience, by their dreams for their future. Books should reflect their struggles and mirror their aspirations, not denigrate them into caricatures of reality. We’ve come too far to settle for less than the best.

BBS: You have the Hazelwood High trilogy and the Jericho trilogy. What attracts you to trilogies?

SD: I did the first trilogy by accident. I wrote Tears of a Tiger, and it ended up being quite successful. When I was asked to do a second book, I decided to take a minor character from the first book and develop him as the major character of the next book. That ended up being Gerald in Forged by Fire. Those two books meet in the middle as companion books. The third book in the Hazelwood trilogy, Darkness Before Dawn, was written to answer all the questions I received about what happened to the characters in the first two books. If I had known I was going to write three books when I started, I would have written them in chronological order.

But I found that students love reading more about the various characters, and they get involved in the fictional lives. So the Jericho trilogy was planned to be a trilogy, and, in chronological order! Each of the six books can stand alone and be read without the others, however.

BBS: What is the release date for Just Another Hero?

SD: Just Another Hero should be out in late May or early June. November Blues, the second book in the Jericho trilogy, will be available in paperback at that time. I’m real excited about Just Another Hero. It asks the questions, “What makes a hero? Who can be a hero? Can a girl be a hero? Can a villain be a hero? What does heroism look like in a modern American high school?

BBS: Your next release is Sassy. It looks like a middle grade novel. Do you enjoy writing one over the other when it comes to MG and YA? Why or why no preference?

SD: Sassy is geared to grades 3-4-5. Since I have the very successful books that feature young Black males in the six Ziggy books, I decided to focus on the younger girls in the Sassy books. Writer for a younger audience is fun, and a nice change of pace. Both audiences are demanding, however. They want books that engage them and capture their spirits.

BBS: When the fatigue sets in, the deadlines loom large what keeps you writing?

SD: I love this. Writing makes me happy. It’s not a job—it’s a passion. I’m very blessed. The words flow easily—sometimes faster than I can type them out. So I’m rarely tired of it, and I usually manage to make my deadlines. Well, most of the time!
I start with an idea, or a problem or a conflict, or even a situation that might be pertinent to the lives of young people, then the characters grow from that point. I try to make strong characters that change and develop and learn from their mistakes. I try to make characters so real that young people believe they are real people, and many do. I get letters from kids who ask for a character’s home phone number, or who are angry at me because of something that happened to one of the characters. It’s a thrilling, exciting process.

BBS: If you had one wish for young African American readers, what would it be?

SD: Read all the time. Read for pleasure and read for knowledge. Read to escape from problems and read to learn how to solve them. Read because you can. Our ancestors were beaten and even killed for daring to learn to read. Don’t let their sacrifice be for nothing. Honor them by reading all the time.

The Buzz on Draper’s Novels

“This action-packed, multifaceted, character-rich story describes the shocking realities of the slave trade and plantation life while portraying the perseverance, resourcefulness, and triumph of the human spirit” - School Library Journal on Copper Sun

” A High school basketball star struggles with guilt and depression following the drunk-driving accident that killed his best friend. Short chapters and alternating viewpoints provide “raw energy and intense emotion,” - Publisher’s Weekly on Tears of a Tiger

“The graduation scene, in which class president Keisha gives the closing speech, is moving and triumphant, showing Draper and her vibrant characters at their best” - Booklist on Darkness Before Dawn

Wow! What an honor to be on this list. Way cool.

South Fort Myers High School will celebrate the 20th Annual African American Read-
In. The event, which is the fourth at South Fort Myers High, is scheduled for 7:45 a.m.-
1:45 p.m. Monday, February 2nd in the school’s media center.

The African-American Read-In is sponsored annually by the National Council for
Teachers of English (NCTE) and has been endorsed by the International Reading
Association. Organizations around the country gather people together to listen to
material written by African-American writers.
This is the fourth year that South Fort Myers High has sponsored the event for the
student body. Throughout the day students will hear works written by such great writers
as Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, Sharon Draper, Alice Walker, Alex Haley, Dr.
Martin Luther King, Jr. and many others

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

You can't win them all!

Click here for a really cool interview from a blogger who really knows how to do it!

I'm a READ poster!

The Media Specialist at Lafayette High School in Williamsburg, Virginia, put me on a poster! Media Specialists are the folks that used to be called Librarians, but because they do SOOO much more these days, they've been upgraded. They're are always cool, innovative people, and I appreciate what they do. I've always admired those READ posters that I've seen hanging in libraries because I think they are a great way to encourage young people to read. I never thought I'd be on one. And now I am. Way cool. Thanks, Mrs. Schauffler!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Mr. Obama's Letter to his children and ours

'What I Want for You — and Every Child 
in America'
By Barack Obama

Dear Malia and Sasha,

I know that you've both had a lot of fun these last two years on the campaign trail, going to picnics and parades and state fairs, eating all sorts of junk food your mother and I probably shouldn't have let you have. But I also know that it hasn't always been easy for you and Mom, and that as excited as you both are about that new puppy, it doesn't make up for all the time we've been apart. I know how much I've missed these past two years, and today I want to tell you a little more about why I decided to take our family on this journey.

When I was a young man, I thought life was all about me-about how I'd make my way in the world, become successful, and get the things I want. But then the two of you came into my world with all your curiosity and mischief and those smiles that never fail to fill my heart and light up my day. And suddenly, all my big plans for myself didn't seem so important anymore. I soon found that the greatest joy in my life was the joy I saw in yours. And I realized that my own life wouldn't count for much unless I was able to ensure that you had every opportunity for happiness and fulfillment in yours. In the end, girls, that's why I ran for President: because of what I want for you and for every child in this nation.

I want all our children to go to schools worthy of their potential-schools that challenge them, inspire them, and instill in them a sense of wonder about the world around them. I want them to have the chance to go to college-even if their parents aren't rich. And I want them to get good jobs: jobs that pay well and give them benefits like health care, jobs that let them spend time with their own kids and retire with dignity.

I want us to push the boundaries of discovery so that you'll live to see new technologies and inventions that improve our lives and make our planet cleaner and safer. And I want us to push our own human boundaries to reach beyond the divides of race and region, gender and religion that keep us from seeing the best in each other.

Sometimes we have to send our young men and women into war and other dangerous situations to protect our country-but when we do, I want to make sure that it is only for a very good reason, that we try our best to settle our differences with others peacefully, and that we do everything possible to keep our servicemen and women safe. And I want every child to understand that the blessings these brave Americans fight for are not free-that with the great privilege of being a citizen of this nation comes great responsibility.

That was the lesson your grandmother tried to teach me when I was your age, reading me the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence and telling me about the men and women who marched for equality because they believed those words put to paper two centuries ago should mean something.

She helped me understand that America is great not because it is perfect but because it can always be made better-and that the unfinished work of perfecting our union falls to each of us. It's a charge we pass on to our children, coming closer with each new generation to what we know America should be.

I hope both of you will take up that work, righting the wrongs that you see and working to give others the chances you've had. Not just because you have an obligation to give something back to this country that has given our family so much-although you do have that obligation. But because you have an obligation to yourself. Because it is only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you will realize your true potential.

These are the things I want for you-to grow up in a world with no limits on your dreams and no achievements beyond your reach, and to grow into compassionate, committed women who will help build that world. And I want every child to have the same chances to learn and dream and grow and thrive that you girls have. That's why I've taken our family on this great adventure.

I am so proud of both of you. I love you more than you can ever know. And I am grateful every day for your patience, poise, grace, and humor as we prepare to start our new life together in the White House.

Love, Dad

Monday, January 12, 2009

More great letters!

Dear miss draper
Hi, Ms. Draper i just wanted to say that tears of a tiger was a great book, and that you should make it a movie. if you actually decide to make it a movie can i be in it?

Dear Ms D,
Can you get me a hook up with Keisha on the cover of Darkness before Dawn please?

hey my name is Lisa and your book "forged by fire" is awsome. my life was similar and i cry when i read it.

Hi. Mrs. Draper you are my favorite writer. I have never read a book that amounted to the suspense i had when reading one of your books. Anyway I am writing to let know that there should be more English teachers like you and then it would be more interesting. Also, i should let you know that i am upset that I am finished with all the books you have written so please write another one real fast.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

I love these kids! Emails from wonderful students.

Hey Miss Draper:
Well I just finished your magnificent book The Battle Of Jericho. It was wicked book. I loved it but it was really sad (I cried ).

Dear Mrs. Draper,
I have a question. You look really nice on your website, and you look like a nice lady. How in the world do you think up all this horrible stuff that happens in your books? You don't look like somebody who would write that stuff.

Dear Sharon,
My teacher told us to write to celebrities or movie stars or authors. I figured a celebrity would not answer my letter, so I chose you instead.

Dear Ms. Draper. I'm 12. I read your book Tears of a Tiger and I thought it was ok, but not great. But it did make me think about drinking and driving and stuff. But last week I was at a party and the kid who was supposed to drive me home had been drinking. I called my mom to pick me up. She yelled at me, but only a little because she said I made the right decision. Later that night my friend got killed in her car. You saved my life and I didn't even like your book. So thank you Mrs. Draper.

hi ms. draper i just wanted to know what the setting and the plot is because my report is due tomorrow and im going into seventh grade and i don't wanna start off badly at school!!!! oh and the book is wonderful!!!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

If I could help improve education

If I could change the world of education, I would:

--Infuse joy into each day. Joy for students. Joy for teachers. We learn better when we smile.
--Create excitement about the learning process through discovery
--Encourage creativity, original thought, and honest questions
--Increase teacher salaries and appreciation
--Remove teachers who don’t like kids or teaching
--Allow teachers to teach subjects, not test topics
--Allow teachers time to talk to each other and plan together for learning activities
--Allow students to ask questions as well as figure out answers
--Provide time for arts--music and dance and art and poetry—all types of creative expression
--Provide funds for trips away from school so that children can see a larger world—museums, shows, events. Experiential learning.
--Provide time for physical education—exercise their bodies as well as their brains
--Increase the time of the school day and the length of the school year. Learning takes time.
--Focus on the positive rather than the negative. Praise and recognition instead of approbation and criticism.
--Celebrate success

And that's just a start!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Possibilities and Realities

I recently spent an hour on the phone with the principal of a school who had to cancel my visit there. Funds have been cut and expenditures have to curtailed. Nothing as frivolous as an author visit can possibly be allowed in these tough economic times, say the budgetmeisters. The principal was devastated that she had to cancel. Fundraising had flopped and grants had evaporated. The teachers and librarians were upset. The kids were in tears. But it not because of me. It’s because they had finally learned to love reading, and had connected with an author—a real, live person, not an old dead guy from two hundred years ago. The librarian couldn’t keep my books on the shelves. Kids argued about who got to read which book next. It was a wonderful, glorious reading frenzy--and it had to be extinguished. It hurt me, not because of some financial loss to me, but because the very kids who needed to see and hear and touch a real author were the ones who would once again be left without the opportunities they needed. She and I talked, and we might be able to come up with a Plan B, or even Plan C. I hate to disappoint a child. But there ought to be a fairness genie who sprinkles struggling schools with the same hope and possibility (and the funds to make each possibility a reality!) that schools in wealthy districts take for granted. I once visited a school that had an indoor and outdoor pool, a fully-equipped TV studio, stables for the polo ponies, and a library with over 100,000 volumes. The next week I visited a school whose library had been eliminated because they had to choose between computers and books on the budget, so they chose computers at the expense of books. What kind of choice is that?

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Joy comes in sips, not gulps

I envy folks who have time to blog. I’m usually so far behind in answering emails or letters or even washing the dishes that to take the time to sit down and write about what’s going on in my world is a little daunting. But I shall try to be diligent and post something at least once in a while.
I recently filled out a form on a website that really forced me to think. It’s asked all kinds of thoughtful questions. Like, what’s my greatest flaw? Gee, do I have to admit one?
Who do I most admire? My parents and Barack Obama.
What talent would I like to have? I’d love to be able to dance. I feel the music, but my body does not respond. My fingers, do, however. Maybe my dancing comes through words.

What are my five favorite songs? I don’t really have such a list, but I’ll start with: What a wonderful World sung by Louis Armstrong. The Rainbow Connection sung by Kermit the Frog. Sunshine on my Shoulders sung by John Denver. Bumpin by Wes Montgomery. Brown Baby sung by Oscar Brown, Jr. Lots of others.

What are my favorite songs? I had to think about that one for awhile. What do I hum in the shower? What’s on the most played list on my iPod? I like a wide variety of music and it really depends on my mood. I listen to classical as well as country. I like the blues. I like songs with great beats and songs that are silly. So I chose a few I can listen to over and over.
The song I most recently added to my playlist is called When you Taught Me How to Dance by Katie Melua. It’s from the soundtrack of a movie about Beatrix Potter—the woman who wrote the Peter Rabbit stories. (Yes, there is such a movie! It was a Sunday afternoon and I clicked on Showtime and the movie was there. I couldn’t turn it off because it was about a WRITER!) Anyway I really liked the song. Maybe because I can’t dance. Maybe because my daughter IS a beautiful dancer. But the song clicked with me—I thought it was pretty and a little sad. It was hard for women back then to be independent and free, hard to be a writer. But she succeeded. I guess I admire that.

Or, what is perfect happiness? Hmm, that’s one of those questions that forces a person to evaluate the very essence of life. Heavy. I think perfect happiness is a beautiful sunset, the giggle of a grandchild, the first snowfall. It’s the little things that make happy moments, not the grand events. Joy comes in sips, not gulps.


Thursday, January 1, 2009

My friend Sara

It's because of Sara that I have this blog. I told her I'd screw it up if I tried, and she said it's SOOO easy. But I managed to mess it up anyway. But she helped me and I think I'm up and running now.
She and I have been friends for a long time--We were just moms when we met (as if there is such a thing as "just a mom," and now we're both grandmas. And for sure there's no such thing as "just" a grandmama! We are special people who provide hugs and toys and cool stuff to wonderful, beautiful kids. And don't go calling us old--we're just seasoned and salty.
Sara and I love words and writing and poetry. She'd probably listen to Bonnie Raitt and I'd probably choose Etta James, but that's cool. We used to do emails every single day. We've shared a lot over the years, some good stuff, and some terribly awful stuff as well. If I have a really big problem, I call Sara first. And she calls me. And somehow it's all better.
Sara has the coolest blog. She's got photos and wonderfully deep commentary on everything from schools to travel to raspberries. Check her out while I figure out how to navigate this new ship.
Bon Voyage!

Happy New Year!