Feature Book of the Week/Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


 Eleven-year-old Melody has a photographic memory. Her head is like a video camera that is always recording. Always. And there's no delete button. She's the smartest kid in her whole school — but no one knows it. Most people — her teachers and doctors included — don't think she's capable of learning, and up until recently her school days consisted of listening to the same preschool-level alphabet lessons again and again and again. If only she could speak up, if only she could tell people what she thinks and knows...but she can't, because Melody can't talk. She can't walk. She can't write.

Being stuck inside her head is making Melody go out of her mind — that is, until she discovers something that will allow her to speak for the first time ever. At last Melody has a voice...but not everyone around her is ready to hear it.

Sharon graciously agreed to answer some questions about her book Out of My Mind and her life shortly after Out of My Mind was first released.  This is a re-post of that interview.

Out of My Mind is about a brilliant young girl who does not speak or write.  Can you explain how you came up with this character and provide some insights into what made you want to write a book about her?

I’ve often wondered about what’s really going on in the mind of a person who cannot share their thoughts.  I have a pretty good idea, because I have a daughter who is disabled.  I’m pretty sure she’s really smart, but I’m her mom—of course I’d want to believe that.   So I created Melody—not as a portrait of my daughter, but as a character who is truly her own being.  Melody has spunk and determination, and a great sense of humor.  I tried very hard to make her memorable—someone you would never dare feel sorry for.
Kids with disabilities are just like their peers.  They want to be accepted, to have friends, to be included in the social life of the school.  Melody understands the pain of being ignored and overlooked, and I've given her a voice to show her humanity.  She represents all those young people, who have feelings as well as dreams.   I wanted to give those kids, who are often treated as if they are invisible, a chance to be heard, to be seen as the individuals they are, not the machines they ride in, or the disability that defines them.

What part of the writing process do you enjoy the most? What part gives you fits?

I love getting up early in the morning (4 AM!) and sitting down to a quiet house and a fresh computer screen.  I love listening to the birds outside, and watching the sun warm the trees, or watching a rain or snow storm.  All of this helps my writing.  I need complete silence and focused concentration so I can “live” in the world of the characters I’m creating.  The worst part?  I’ve done this work of love and beauty and I have to chop it up to work on the edits my editor suggests.  She is very good at what she does and we usually agree on most changes, but it’s hard to change one single word, let alone whole chapters.  But I do it and the result is always better than the original.

All of your books except for Copper Sun and Fire From the Rock are set in the present. Why do you primarily write about the here and now with characters that face modern issues affecting middle and high school students?

Teens and tweens live in the world of today—a modern, techo-friendly world of current problems and issues.  I want to speak to them, to create characters they can relate to, so I write about the world they know right now.  I want to address their issues and create a forum so they can talk about them.  I try my best to make it real for them.

All of your covers accurately portray your characters. Can you explain the process you have had working with your publishers when picking a cover?

Some covers I like.  Some I think could have been better.  Authors rarely have much say about what ends up on the cover, but I do get some input occasionally.  I REALLY like the cover of Out of my Mind.  It really captures the frustration of the main character in the book.  When a fish leaps to freedom, the result is probably not what he expected when he made that jump.  The same is true for Melody in the book.

You have a very successful career, not only are you a writer, and an educator, but you just recently completed a Doctors of Law degree. What made you go back to school to get this degree? What plans do you have for using this degree and how will it affect your writing?

You want to hear a funny codicil to getting a Doctorate?  I now get all kinds of junk mail for medical supplies and lab coats and magazines on surgical techniques.  And lots more respect when getting seats on a plane.  I just chuckle and hope no one asks, “Is there a doctor on board?”  But seriously, a doctorate is simply another means to gaining more knowledge, to being better prepared to face the world.  There is so much to know, and never enough time to absorb it all.

When you taught school, what were some of your favorite books to teach and why?

I used to love to teach Shakespeare (Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet) and Beowulf.  I always wanted to make a movie of Beowulf, and someone has done so—in 3-D no less!  It’s a powerful story of heroism and honor.  I used bits of that story in Just Another Hero.  The teacher in that novel is teaching the story to a group of students who, of course, need a hero before the end of the book.

Your bio on your website states that you travel extensively. What have been some of your favorite destinations and why?

I’ve been to England and Germany and Russia.  And Guam and Bermuda and Jamaica.  But the place I loved the most was Africa.  I loved the warmth of the air, the grace of the people, and the power of the history there.  It was during my first trip there that I knew I had to write Copper Sun.  I went back twice more for research.  I learned more and loved it more each time I visited.  The last time I went I took a group of American students with me, and we met up with a group of African students, and all of us share the book together.  Now that was a powerful experience. 

You once stated that you would love to have dinner with Zora Neale Hurston if she was still alive. What would you most like to talk with Zora about?

Zora grew up in a place where women didn’t write or express themselves much at all.  She grew up in a place where African-Americans weren’t expected to do much or accomplish much.  But she became the spokesperson of her generation, one of the members of those literate few of the Harlem Renaissance.  She was so creative and literate and powerful.  She was like a flower that bloomed in spite of where it had been planted.  Not only did she bloom, she still continues to influence writers and readers today.  Because of Zora Neal Hurston, I am able to write and publish and be respected for my art and creativity.  She set the path for me and many others.  I’d just like to tell her thanks and let her know that she made a difference in the lives of many.

Thank you Sharon for taking the time to be intereviewed, and for being so accessible. I have enjoyed getting to know you and wish you continued success.


Dr. Sharon M. Draper is a professional educator as well as an accomplished writer. She has been honored as the National Teacher of the Year, is a five-time winner of the Coretta Scot King Literary Award, and is a New York Times bestselling author. She was selected as Ohio's Outstanding High School Language Arts Educator, Ohio Teacher of the Year, and was chosen as a NCNW Excellence in Teaching Award winner. She is a Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award winner, and was the Duncanson Artist-in-Residence for the Taft Museum. She is a YWCA Career Woman of Achievement, and is the recipient of the Dean's Award from Howard University School of Education, the Pepperdine University Distinguished Alumnus Award, the Marva Collins Education Excellence Award, and the Governor's Educational Leadership Award. Last year she was named Ohio Pioneer in Education by the Ohio State Department of Education, and in 2008 she received the Beacon of Light Humanitarian award. In 2009 she received the Doctor of Laws Degree from Pepperdine University.
She has been honored at the White House six times, and was chosen as one of only four authors in the country to speak at the National Book Festival Gala in Washington, D.C, and to represent the United States in Moscow at their Book Festival. Her book Copper Sun has been selected by the US State Department and the International Reading Association as the United States novel for the international reading project called Reading Across Continents. Students in the US, Nigeria, and Ghana are reading the book and sharing ideas-a true intercontinental, cross-cultural experience.

Actively involved in encouraging and motivating all teachers and their students as well, she has worked all over the United States, as well as in Russia, Ghana, Togo, Kenya, Ethiopia, Bermuda, and Guam, spreading the word about the power of accomplished teaching and excellence in education.

Her literary recognition began when, as a challenge from one of her students, she entered and won first prize in a literary contest, for which she was awarded $5000 and the publication of her short story, "One Small Torch." She has published numerous poems, articles, and short stories in a variety of literary journals. She is the published author of numerous articles, stories, and poems, as well as. (Author Bio retrieved from author's website)


Featured Book of the Week # 4 The Youngest Templar: The Keeper of the Grail by Michael Spradlin

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

 Featured Book of The Week

1191 A.D. The orphan Tristan has joined the Knights Templar as a squire, journeying with Richard the Lionheart on his crusade to free the Holy Land from the Saracens. As defeat looms near, Tristan is entrusted with the most sacred of Christian relics, the Holy Grail. He must return it safely to Britain, but he must also keep it secret, because the Grailas power will drive men to madness, and even his fellow Knights Templar will kill for it.

Tristan teams up with the fiery Robard Hodea returning to his home in Sherwood after serving with the Kingas Archersaand Maryam, an equally fierce girl and a member of the dreaded Hashshashin. Together they must escape the Holy Land, dodging bandits, the forces of the Saladin, and unscrupulous knights who will stop at nothing to possess the Grail. (Publishers summary from Powell's Books)

Guest Post From Michael Spradlin

Hello Book Battlers!

This is celebrated author Michael P. Spradlin, coming to you live, from a secret, hidden location somewhere in Michigan, not too far from Detroit but nowhere near Canada. (I cannot reveal my exact location, because, HELLO! We’re in a Book Battle!) I am the author of The Youngest Templar: Keeper of the Grail and many other spectacular books that you should all read because they are fun, will make you smarter and are guaranteed to grow hair on your heads.

Who makes me a celebrated author you might ask? Well, my mother for one. And my sisters. And my wife sometimes. Even my children. But in truth, it is you the readers who enjoy my books so much and write to me telling me how much you love them. I have received your letters from the United States and other countries, so my sincerest thanks to both of you.

Why am I writing to you today? As you are in the middle of a Book Battle and probably don’t have time to read this, what with the books flying around? By the way, here comes The Complete Works of Shakespeare! DUCK! Whew! That was close.

I am here because I think any activity promoting reading, even if it is a Battle With Books is a great idea and I hope most, if not all of you, will choose to read my book The Youngest Templar: Keeper of the Grail during the quieter times of the battle. I think you will find it to be a fast-paced, full of action and adventure read, with lots of action and adventure and fast pacing. There are sword fights, dungeons, a really handsome archer, an incredibly beautiful warrior girl, narrow escapes, evil Knights, good Knights, a small dog, stuff blowing up, a small dog, good Knights, Evil Knights, narrow escapes, an incredibly beautiful warrior girl, a handsome archer, dungeons, and sword fights. Plus there is a hidden pie. And anyone who finds the hidden pie and emails me with the correct location of said hidden pie will get a thank you email back, after I find and eat the pie.

I think a Book Battle is a great idea. And that is because I once heard somewhere that Reading is Fundamental and you know what? It is. Kids like you who read more books will do better in school, have better cafeteria food, and get better deals at the mall.  Scientists have proven that kids, who read, spend less time watching television and video games because they are busy reading.

If you’re a boy, let me tell you a secret: hundreds of studies have shown that girls your age think guys who read (The Youngest Templar: Keeper of the Grail) at least 50 books a year are much ‘dreamier’ than guys who don’t read. If you’re a girl, let me tell you another secret: hundreds of studies have shown that guys your age think girls who read (The Youngest Templar: Keeper of the Grail) 50 books a year are 97,467% cuter than girls who don’t read. So there you have it. And you can’t argue with me because, you know: Science.

Enjoy your book battle. It’s much more fun than a cotton ball battle. But wear a helmet. With all the books flying around while the battle rages you can never be too careful. And bring a light jacket because it can get cool this time of year. But battle hard. Read lots of books, and start with The Youngest Templar: Keeper of the Grail. You won’t be disappointed. Unless you should happen to get a paper cut, because those things can really sting.

Have a good battle!
Michael P. Spradlin
The Youngest Templar: Keeper of the Grail

More About Michael Spradlin

Michael P. Spradlin is the author of more than a dozen books for children, some of which have actually been published. He grew up in a small town in Michigan not far from the Indiana border, which may explain his irrational fear of Hoosiers. (Both the inhabitants of the state of Indiana and the movie starring Gene Hackman).

Surrounded by books in his formative years, he grew up loving to read, imagining himself the hero of numerous epic battles and indulging in his favorite pastime, which was smuggling fireworks across the Ohio border so that he could blow up his collection of Plastic Green Army Men and Matchbox Cars.

His first book for children, The Legend of Blue Jacket, was called by School Library Journal "a well-researched labor of love." His first novel, Spy Goddess: Live and Let Shop, was a 2006 Edgar Award nominee by the Mystery Writers of America for Best Young Adult Mystery. The second book in the series, Spy Goddess: To Hawaii, With Love, was given a starred review by VOYA. His newest project is The Youngest Templar Trilogy. The first book The Youngest Templar: Keeper of the Grail was published by G.P. Putnam Sons in September 2008. An international sensation, rights to The Youngest Templar have sold in ten countries, and it is also available as an audio edition from Listening Library. The second book in the trilogy The Youngest Templar: Trail of Fate was released in October, 2009 and called by School Library Journal 'brilliant' and 'riveting'. The third book The Youngest Templar: Orphan of Destiny will be released in fall 2010.

Michael's first book for grownups It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Zombies, was a five week New York Times Bestseller. Published in fall 2009, the book recieved raves from The New York Daily News, The Baltimore Sun and many other media outlets.
Michael is also the author of several picture books including the award-winning Daniel Boone’s Great Escape. Check the Coming Soon page for all of the latest updates on his new books including Baseball From A to Z and Off Like the Wind: The First Ride Of The Pony Express, both of which will be published in spring 2010.
Upcoming projects include a novel called The Raven's Shadow which will be published by G.P. Putnam's Sons in 2011. The Raven's Shadow is set in Washington DC in 1825 and features a teen age Abraham Lincoln, Charles Darwin and Edgar Allan Poe who must band together to defeat an evil the modern world will come to know as Count Dracula. Teaming up with illustrator Ard Hoyt again, Michael will publish The Inch High Samurai, a retelling of a Japanese Folk Tale which will also be published by G.P. Putnam's Sons in 2012.

When not writing, he enjoys reading, traveling, spending time with his family and worrying over the fact that he really should be writing instead of doing other stuff. He lives in Michigan with his wife Kelly, son Michael, daughter Rachel and two dogs Willow and Apollo. 
(author bio and picture from Author's website www.michaelspradlin.com)
Thanks so much Michael for taking time out of your busy schedule to pay us a visit.

Fetured Book of the Week/# 3 The Compound by S.A. Bodeen

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Featured Book of the Week

Eli and his family have lived in the underground Compound for six years. The world they knew is gone, and theyve become accustomed to their new life. Accustomed, but not happy. No amount of luxury can stifle the dull routine of living in the same place, with only his two sisters, only his father and mother, doing the same thing day after day after day. As problems with their carefully planned existence threaten to destroy their sanctuary—and their sanity—Eli cant help but wonder if hed rather take his chances outside. Elis father built the Compound to keep them safe. But are they safe—really? (Publisher's Comments from Powell's Books)

Guest Post from S.A. Bodeen

            The Idea Behind The Compound
                By S.A. Bodeen

    In the late 70’s, early 80’s, I was in middle school and junior high. The world was a different place than it is now; a safer place, for the most part, with the absence of many of today’s fears. But one that seemed to loom over our heads was our lousy relationship with the USSR, as it was called then. Supposedly the President of the United States walked around with the codes to set off our stash of nuclear weapons in case the USSR aimed their weapons at us. And my school had drills for just such an event.
    Knowing what we know now about the actual result of a nuclear explosion, it seems silly that, when our fire alarm rang, we all headed downstairs to the smelly wrestling room and crouched crowded together, waiting for the bell to ring again, signaling an all-clear. Some kids laughed, of course, until our teachers told them to be quiet and take it seriously. After all, nuclear war was a real possibility. (Not that we would survive an attack in that wrestling room.)
    I was a very imaginative child and no one ever had to tell me to take it seriously. I did. I had nightmares about a nuclear war, and wondered what would happen if an attack did happen while we were at school. I wondered how long we’d have to stay down there in the wrestling room, and if I would end up with my friends, and what would happen to my parents, who were at home with no fallout shelter.
    For the most part, the imminent danger of a nuclear attack has passed, although it stays in the back of my mind. Which is probably what led me to write The Compound. I did want to find out what happened in that fallout shelter. And although the one I created is much fancier, and better smelling, our wrestling room fallout shelter is still there in my mind, and probably always will be.

More About S.A. Bodeen

S.A. Bodeen is the author of several acclaimed picture books, including Elizabeti’s Doll, winner of the Ezra Jack Keats Award. A native of Wisconsin, she and her husband, both Peace Corps workers, along with their two daughters, have traveled the world. Most recently, Stephanie lived in the Pacific Northwest, where she wrote The Compound and taught fiction workshops for adult education programs. Her last book, The Gardener,  was this summer. (Biography from Macmillan Photo retrieved from author website)

I want to thank Stephanie for taking time to share with us the idea behind The Compound.

Featured Book of The Week #2/Seer of Shadows by Avi PLUS AN EXCITING ANNOUNCEMENT!!!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

This Week's Featured Book of the Week

The Seer of ShadowsNewberry Medalist Avi weaves one of his most suspenseful and scary tales--about a ghost who has to be seen to be believed and must be kept from carrying out a horrifying revenge.

The time is 1872. The place is New York City. Horace Carpetine has been raised to believe in science and rationality. So as apprentice to Enoch Middleditch, a society photographer, he thinks of his trade as a scientific art. But when wealthy society matron Mrs. Frederick Von Macht orders a photographic portrait, strange things begin to happen.
Horace's first real photographs reveal a frightful likeness: it's the image of the Von Machts' dead daughter, Eleanora.
Pegg, the Von Machts' black servant girl, then leads him to the truth about who Eleanora really was and how she actually died. Joined in friendship, Pegg and Horace soon realize that his photographs are evoking both Eleanora's image and her ghost. Eleanora returns, a vengeful wraith intent on punishing those who abused her.
Rich in detail, full of the magic of early photography, here is a story about the shadows, visible and invisible, that are always lurking near. (Publisher's Summary from Powell's Books)

A Guest Post From Avi

Seer of Shadows

 If you own a camera these days the chances are, it is a digital one. That said, I think it is worth remembering that like many high-tech devices, photography has a long history, in this case a history that goes back to 1826!  
So it was that before I owned a digital camera, I used film, chemistry and light to make my pictures.  Moreover, I used what was called a darkroom. 
It was never easy to make pictures this way—good pictures were harder--but if you have only used digital photography, you just do not know how much wonderful fun you have missed. There is something magical, even mystical about working in a tiny gloomy room bathed in dim light, while using special lenses, projected light, chemical potions, photographic paper, and the sheer play of all of these things to create images from—well, from right out of the air.  I could and did spend hours in my darkroom. Loved every minute of it.
Moreover, the pictures I made were not in color, but in black and white, which added a whole other shadowy dimension to the images I tried to create.
If all this sounds interesting—how I hope you try film photography!—you should enjoy the book I wrote called The Seer of Shadows.  It is about early photography to be sure, but it is mostly an exciting and adventurous ghost story.  If it is a little creepy, maybe even a little scary, well, good! 
My story tells the story of Horace Carpetine, who, in 1874, was apprenticed to a professional photographer. No question, Horace did not believe in ghosts.  However, something very strange begins to happen when he starts taking his own pictures.  It turns out he is a “seer of shadows,” and some of those shadows . . .
No--I do not think I want to give away the story.  You will have to read it for yourself.
I will tell you, however, that when Horace teams up with the servant girl Pegg, some very strange things happen, dangerous things.  It takes all their wits, courage and cleverness—and a knowledge of photography--to know what to do, and save their lives.
I for one, do not believe in ghosts.  But guess what?  I really do believe in ghost stories!
So Seer of Shadows is the kind of ghost story I believe in.  I hope you will believe it, too, even as you enjoy it.  And I hope that when you read it you will see things a little differently. 
Perhaps you have heard the expression, “One picture is worth a thousand words.”  Wait until you read about the pictures developed here!  They might just get you into a darkroom.  And if you do, who know what kind of images you might conjure up?
You know, shadows are everywhere.  You just need to know how to see them.  
Your friend,

First, I want to thank Avi for agreeing to write a guest post especially for The Area Wide Book Battle. And I have some very exciting news, are you ready?

This year thanks to our good friends at Scholastic Book Fairs, Avi will be joining us at the 
2011 Area Wide Book Battle.

Now More About Avi

 I was born in New York City, along with a twin sister. I am five minutes older than Emily. It was Emily, for reasons no one knows — she certainly doesn't — who called me Avi. It stuck. It's the only name I use now.

My father was a doctor, and my mother, later on, became a social worker. Every night I was read to. Every Friday we were taken to the library. I always received at least one book for my birthday. I have a few of them yet. Early on, I had my own collection of books. I loved to read. Still do.

I came from a family of writers, artists, and musicians. And today we have all that, plus filmmakers, actors, and theater and TV directors. (Two of my sons are in the rock music world. The third is a journalist.) When we get together there is much talk, disagreement, and laughter.

Growing up in Brooklyn, I went to a public school, and sat in the same class with my sister until eighth grade. I hated that. My older brother was considered a genius. He isn't, but he did go to college at the age of 15. My sister was very smart too. Guess who wasn't thought to be that smart?

When I went to high school I wanted to be a designer of airplanes. But flunking out of the science high school brought me to a small private school that provided some of the attention I needed. I got it when an English teacher insisted I get some help with my writing.

I did get help, and that help led me to think that I might become a writer. I made up my mind to focus on this when I was 17 and a senior in high school.

I began by writing plays, and wrote a lot of bad ones. It was only when my eldest son, Shaun, was born, that I took to writing for kids. Since then, I've never written anything else. My first book was published in 1970. I've published over 30 books since then.

For some 25 years I worked as a librarian, first at the New York Public Library, then at Trenton State College in New Jersey. My life has always been with, around, and for books.

“I want my readers to feel, to think, sometimes to laugh. But most of all I want them to enjoy a good read.”

Though the topics and the style of Avi's books range widely, one common thread unites them: They are all invitingly readable, even to the most reluctant readers. Avi explains, “I take a great deal of satisfaction in using popular forms — the adventure, the mystery, the thriller — so as to hold my reader with the sheer pleasure of a good story.”

Honored with the Newbery Medal for Crispin: Cross of Lead and a Newbery Honor for Nothing but the Truth, Avi is the acclaimed author of several works of historical fiction, including The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle and The Man Who Was Poe. Avi faced and overcame many difficulties in his effort to become a writer. He suffers from dysgraphia, a dysfunction in his writing abilities that causes him to reverse letters or misspell words. “In a school environment,” Avi recalls, “I was perceived as being sloppy and erratic, and not paying attention.” Still, in the face of unending criticism, Avi persevered. “I became immune to it,” Avi says. “I liked what I wrote.”
(Biography from Scholastic.com)

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