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)


2 Delicious Comments:

Peaceful Reader said...

What a great interview. I love many of her books and I'm anxious to read this new one of hers. I've heard great things about it.

Anonymous said...

I know I wasn't in book battle for this year, (I was in 5th grade,) but I have read this book, and I'd just like to say that THIS BOOK WAS AWESOME!!!!!

-Hazelwood West Middle :)

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