Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Wonderful Reviews for Out of my Mind. Thank You!

I can't remember the last time I was so emotionally overwhelmed by a middle grade novel. Sharon Draper's new novel is the story of Melody, a 10 year old girl with Cerebral Palsy so severe that she can neither speak nor move independently. Trapped inside Melody's uncooperative body is a brilliant mind with a cutting wit.
Melody is relegated to a classroom of special needs kids because she can't communicate what is going on in her head. Her world suddenly opens up when she gets a computer with a voice program that allows her to speak for the first time. Unfortunately, the rest of the school is not ready to accept Melody.
I was silently cheering for Melody while I read this book as I sat at my kitchen table. The conversations she has with her parents and caregivers about being different are gut-wrenching. Melody knows exactly how she is perceived by other kids and adults, including teachers. The conversations between Melody's parents as they contemplate the birth of their second child moved me to tears.
This is more than a book about a girl with special needs. It holds up a mirror for all of us to see how we react to people with disabilities that make us uncomfortable.
I encourage everyone to read this.
Susan Aikens, Kids Book Buyer from Borders Head Office

What would you do if you could not make yourself known, if you had thoughts you could not speak? That is narrator Melody Brooks's plight:
"By the time I was two, all my memories had words, and all my words had meanings. But only in my head," she writes. "I have never spoken one single word. I am almost eleven years old." This is her story, and also the story of a loving family and their devoted neighbor, who help Melody along on her path to say what she needs to say.
Sharon Draper (Copper Sun; Forged by Fire), who herself has a child with cerebral palsy--though she explicitly states that this is not her daughter's story--inhabits the brilliant, frustrated mind and unresponsive body of this child. This is the kind of book--like Terry Trueman's Stuck in Neutral or Harriet McBryde Johnson's Accidents of Nature--that makes readers aware of their own biases, and of what a great disservice those biases do to human beings whose outer trappings belie an extraordinary intelligence within. Draper's book is distinctive for the way she traces Melody's journey and her attempts to communicate from as far back as she can remember. In often poetic language, Melody describes how early on she "began to recognize noises and smells and tastes. The whump and whoosh of the furnace coming alive each morning.
The tangy odor of heated dust as the house warmed up." The author smoothly structures the book in a way that builds suspense while also creating a fuller picture of Melody's daily life. One chapter discusses obstacles from the medical community. At age five, Mrs. Brooks takes Melody to a doctor who says that Melody is "severely brain-damaged and profoundly retarded." Mrs. Brooks defends Melody's intelligence to him ("She laughs at jokes... right at the punch line") and, in another chapter describing Melody's life at school, stands up to a teacher who also underestimates her daughter's mental acuity.
A turning point occurs during one of Melody's daily after-school stays with next-door neighbor Mrs. Violet Valencia ("Mrs. V"): she and six-year-old Melody happen upon a documentary about Stephen Hawking.
"Melody, if you had to choose, which would you rather be able to do--walk or talk?" asks Mrs. V. "Talk. Talk. Talk," Melody answers, by repeatedly pointing at the word on her communication board. This begins Melody's quest to find the tools to express herself--first with word cards she makes with Mrs. V, then with phrases and, finally, with an electronic Medi-Talker. Melody takes charge of her own education and her means of communication. She thrives in her "inclusion classes" with the mainstream students academically, but is not accepted by them socially.
Even the most compassionate classmate can fall to peer pressure, as Melody learns on the brink of her greatest achievement on the Whiz Kids quiz team. Melody sees clearly the challenges before her, and it is the source of her greatest heartbreak but also her greatest inspiration.
It's impossible to close this book without thinking about the world differently.--Jennifer M. Brown

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Release party for Out of My Mind March 27, 2010

Hello all,

The book launch party was a delightful success. Let's see--where do I start?
The day dawned sunny and warm after weeks of rainy, dreary weather. Our color scheme was pale blue and orange, of course, and so loads of helium balloons decorated the outside of the building and along the halls of the school as well. We had it at Walnut Hills High School where I taught for 20 years, and LOTS of my former students came. One drove all the way from Chicago. I guess we had about 250 in attendance.

When people arrived, they were given name tags (because I can't remember anybody's name!) and they signed the guest book. Then they registered for door prizes.

The program began with a children's choir, carrying lighted candles, (battery) walking into the darkened auditorium. They sand "This Little Light of Mine." Then we had an invocation and I came out, dressed in a white suit--of course--with an orange scarf to keep with our color scheme. I gave a welcome and introduced the book, read a couple of selected passages, then I showed the first video, which focuses on words and the power of language. It's only 2 minutes long, so it is powerful and pointed.

Then I read some more, (the part about Ollie) and a couple of passages about the people who helped Melody, like Mrs. V and Mrs. Lovelace. That was followed by a group of disabled young people who do sign language to songs. The music was Josh Groban's "You Lift Me Up," and they were phenomenal. People wept.

I read then the passage about how Melody wished she could fly. A former student sang, in a deep contralto, "I Believe I can Fly." It was a wonderful solo. The next passage I read was how Melody dreams, and what she dreams of. That was followed by my daughter Crystal who did a beautifully moving dance to the song "I Dream in Color." She did half the dance in/ with a wheelchair, and half out of the chair in an expressive, powerful piece. She got a standing ovation.

After that, I read one more passage, about Melody's hopes for her life, then showed the last two-minute video, which is set to the music of Louis Armstrong's "What Wonderful World." We ended with a poem I wrote in which the whole audience stands and joins hands and celebrates life. It was just plain awesome. It went off without a hitch.

After that, everyone filed out to the atrium of the building, a new section that is glass-enclosed and really lovely, where we had the reception. We had a guy playing piano. We served blue punch, orange punch, a cake decorated with the cover of the book. Blue candy, orange candy, fresh fruit, and of course, goldfish crackers.

The door prizes? Live goldfish in bowls. I had 2 dozen of them. The children LOVED that.

I signed books for a couple of hours, greeted old friends and new, and left there exhausted. It is a glorious day.

Here are a few pix.

Sharon Draper

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Out of my Mind--My newest novel--Great blog review!

Title: Out of My Mind
Author: Sharon Draper
Release: March 9, 2010
Publisher: Atheneum
Isbn:141697170X (isbn13: 9781416971702)

From blog: eatingyabooks.blogspot.com by Jan Von Harz

Imagine not being able to talk, walk, feed yourself, or take yourself to the bathroom. A real nightmare right? In Sharon Draper’s new book Out of My Mind this nightmare is a reality for eleven-year-old Melody. Born with cerebral palsy, Melody’s mind is filled with words and thoughts she can never express, but Draper’s beautiful and richly detailed prose gives Melody a harmoniously distinct voice impossible to forget. Listen...

I’m surrounded by thousands of words. Maybe millions.
Cathedral, Mayonnaise. Pomegranate.
Mississippi. Neapolitan. Hippopotamus.
Silky. Terrifying. Iridescent.
Tickle. Sneeze. Wish. Worry.
Words have always swirled around me like snowflakes—each one delicate and different, each one melting untouched in my hands.
Deep within me, words pile up in huge drifts. Mountains of phrases and sentences and connected ideas. Clever expressions. Jokes. Love songs.
From the time I was really little—maybe just a few months old—words were like sweet, liquid gifts, and I drank them like lemonade. I could almost taste them. They made my jumbled thoughts and feelings have substance. My parents have always blanketed me with conversation. They chattered and babbled. They verbalized and vocalized. My father sang to me. My mother whispered her strength into my ear.
Every word my parents spoke to me or about me I absorbed and kept and remembered. All of them.
I have no idea how I untangled the complicated process of words and thought, but it happened quickly and naturally. By the time I was two, all my memories had words, and all my words had meanings.
But only in my head.
I have never spoken one single word. I am almost eleven years old.

Using first person narrative Draper provides Melody a voice that is bright, witty, ingenious, and totally believable. I immediately formed a strong connection to Melody partially because of my own experiences working with an adolescent C.P. patient during my career as a nurse. However, the real connection is made because Draper’s characterization is so compelling. Within the first fifty pages, we learn first-hand a great deal about Melody’s life. She explains how she remembers everything she sees and hears, how much her mother and father love and care for her, how frustrating it is to not be able to express herself to those around her. “Nobody gets me. Nobody. It drives me crazy ... It’s like I live in a cage with no door and no key. And I have no way to tell someone how to get me out.”

When Melody’s mother enrolls her in school, Melody is hopeful that she will learn new things everyday. However, school becomes another source of frustration. Surrounded by other “special children” Melody is forced to endure doing the same things every year, “but with a new teacher.” Her experiences give new meaning to “dumbing down the curriculum.” Even her Plexiglass communication tray limits her abilities because it only provides “a handful of common nouns, verbs and adjectives ... and a few necessary phrases, like, I need to go to the bathroom, please and I’m hungry.”

Once Melody describes her first eleven years, the plot begins to truly develop. Melody becomes part of an inclusion program and begins to participate in “real” classroom experiences. Her physical limitations, however, remains a key source of frustrations and continues to define her in the eyes of her non-disabled classmates and regular ed. teachers. With the help of a classroom aide, her parents, and Ms V, a wonderful neighbor whose faith in her Melody is an inspiration, Melody’s imprisoned intellect is released when she receives a computer that talks and allows her to write. The Medi-Talker makes it possible for Melody to participate in classroom discussions and express her thoughts and feeling to her parents and friends without assistance. Sadly, her “regular” classmates and teachers remain skeptical of Melody’s true intellect.

Through Melody’s voice, Draper realistically portrays the insensitivity and discriminatory attitudes that disabled children encounter everyday without resorting to a preachy, bitter, or self-pitying tone. Melody’s perseverance despite overwhelming obstacles both from her physical limitations, and society's intolerance towards imperfections makes this book one of the most poignant and spiritually uplifting stories I have ever read. Melody’s conflicts are very real and the heartbreak she endures will bring tears to your eyes. I predict that Out of My Mind will be a 2010 award winner and is definitely going down as one of my all time favorite reads EVER!

Thanks so much, ,Jan!
Sharon D

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: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=39769&id=1473964793&l=12154a2803

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