Blended by Sharon M. Draper

Blended

Sharon M. Draper, Author

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Oct. 30, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Racial identify, Blended family, Family Relationships, Divorce, Stepfamilies, Profiling, Violence

Publisher Synopsis:

Eleven-year-old Isabella’s parents are divorced, so she has to switch lives every week. One week she’s Isabella living with her lawyer dad, his girlfriend Anastasia and her son Darren, in a fancy Cincinnati house where they are one of the only black families in the neighborhood. The next week she’s Izzy with her waitress mom and her boyfriend John-Mark living in a small, not-so-fancy house that she loves.

Isabella has always felt pulled between two worlds. And now that her parents are divorced, it seems their fights are even worse, and they’re always about HER. Isabella feels even more stuck in the middle, split and divided between them than ever. And she’s is beginning to realize that being split between Mom and Dad is more than switching houses, switching nicknames, switching backpacks: it’s also about switching identities.

Her dad is black, her mom is white, and strangers are always commenting: “You’re so exotic!” “You look so unusual.” “But what are you really?” She knows what they’re really saying: “You don’t look like your parents.” “You’re different.” “What race are you really?”

And when her parents, who both get engaged at the same time, get in their biggest fight ever, Isabella doesn’t just feel divided, she feels ripped in two. What does it mean to be half white or half black? To belong to half mom and half dad? And if you’re only seen as half of this and half of that, how can you ever feel whole?

It seems like nothing can bring Isabella’s family together again—until the worst happens. Isabella and Darren are stopped by the police. A cell phone is mistaken for a gun. And shots are fired.

Why I like this book:

Sharon Draper boldly takes on challenging topics in her new middle grade novel, Blended. Convincingly penned, it is a thoughtful commentary on divorce, family pressure, racism, identity, police violence and socioeconomic class issues.

Draper’s tackles a timely subject that is rarely addressed in middle grade books — how do biracial children feel about their mixed identity? Draper offers a vivid portrayal of Izzy/Isabella’s emotional landscape. Is she white or is she black? Which box does she check when she fills out paper work? Her first encounter with racism is at school when a student leaves a “noose” in her best friend’s (Imani) locker. It intensifies Izzy’s feelings and she struggles to define her identity. Draper’s first person narration works very well because Izzy’s voice is strong, honest and candid.

Izzy, a talented pianist who is preparing for a major recital, has another dilemma. She wants to really know what “home”  feels like. With her divorced parents competing for her time and attention, she is torn between two worlds fraught with bickering. It reaches a boiling point when both parents decide to get married and pick the same day for their weddings. When her mother is late for their “exchange day near the mall,” her father calls the police. Panicked they are going to arrest her mother, Izzy takes off running. Her desperate act knocks some sense into her parents who realize their selfish impact on Izzy’s life. Readers will identify with Izzy’s journey to seek wholeness. Draper challenges readers with the big question about what is home.

Blended is an exceptional story with a realistic plot and characters that will stay with you long after you put it down. Blended belongs in every school library.

Resources:  The publisher has included a Reading Group Guide available for classroom use.

*Library review copy.

Greg Pattridge hosts the Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his fascinating  Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

Stella by Starlight

Stella by Starlight9781442494978_p0_v2_s260x420Stella by Starlight

Sharon M. Draper, Author

Atheneum Books for Young Readers,  Historical Fiction, Jan. 6, 2015, the official release date. Many bloggers will be reviewing Stella by Starlight today as part of its launch.

Suitable for Ages: 9-12

Pages: 336

Themes: Segregation, Racism, the Ku Klux Klan, Family, Community, Hope

Synopsis: When 11-year-old Stella and her brother, Jojo, witness nine robed figures dressed in white, burning a cross on the other side of the pond near their home late one night, she knows that life in Bumblebee, North Carolina, is about to change. It is 1932, and “Every Negro family knew the unwritten rules — they had to take care of their own problems and take care of one another.” Stella and her community come together to find strength, courage and support as they face the injustices surrounding them in the segregated Jim Crow South.  Will Stella find her own voice in this coming of age story?

Why I like this book:  Sharon Draper’s book is a promise to her father that she would one day tell the story of her grandmother, Estelle Twitty Mills Davis. Draper’s compelling and powerful novel is inspired by her grandmother’s fifth-grade journal. It is a fictional account drawn from that journal. It is also a gift to her readers to share true stories of hatred and prejudice that ran so deep during the segregated South.

Draper works magic in her multi-layered storytelling that highlights the depression, segregation, racism, and a girl filled with hopes, dreams and ambitions during a time when such qualities are risky for a girl of color. Stella is a gutsy, resilient and compassionate hero with a strong and candid voice. Readers will benefit from meeting Stella and following her journey. The language in the story is true to the time period. The setting shows a caring and supportive African-American community at the height of the depression and segregation when families depend upon each other. The plot is packed with action, twists and a lot of tension — it is scary, heartbreaking, sobering, celebratory, and humorous. The pacing is spot-on throughout the story, keeping readers fully engaged. Readers will find themselves richly rewarded by this deeply realistic and satisfying tale. Draper has once again succeeded in creating a story that will ignite the passion of reading among students.

Resources: Visit Sharon Draper at her website for more information about Stella by Starlight and her other books.  There will be a study guide on the site for Stella.  Teachers and students may be interested in having their entire class read her book. Draper looks forward to communicating with students in their schools via Skype and Twitter. Visit her site for information and to follow directions.

Sharon Draper, a five-times Coretta Scott King Literary Award winner for Copper Sun and Forged by Fire, delivers another contender in Stella by Starlight. Her novel Out of My Mind has won over twenty state awards and has been on the New York Times bestseller list for over a year.  She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she taught high school English for 25 years and was named National Teacher of the Year.

“Panic” by Sharon M. Draper

Panic9781442408968_p0_v1_s260x420Panic

Sharon M. Draper, Author

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, YA Fiction, March 2013

Suitable for Ages: 14 -17

Themes:  Dance, Kidnapping,  Sexual Predators, Sexual Abuse, Teen Dating Abuse, African-American

Opening“Diamond knows not to talk to strangers.  But just once couldn’t hurt.  Right?”  (Jacket Flap)

Synopsis:  The Crystal Pointe Dance Academy is shaken when one of its members, 15-year-old Diamond, goes missing and no one can find her.  Diamond and her best friend, Mercedes, make a trip to the mall before a dance performance to purchase tights.  While Mercedes is looking around, Diamond heads to the food court to buy food so they won’t be late.  A well-dressed stranger approaches Diamond and asks for directions to the food court.  He tells Diamond that he’s supposed to meet his wife and daughter there.  Harmless, she thinks.  When Mercedes arrives minutes later, Diamond is gone.

Every other chapter is the voice of one of the main dancers, Diamond, Mercedes, Layla and Justin.  There are parallel stories told as Draper alternates between Diamond’s abduction, the emotional reaction of the high school dance troupe to the situation and the every day drama of their own personal lives.  There are some very important themes of relational and sexual abuse, teen dating abuse,  trust, and family issues woven into the story.  What holds the troupe together is their concern for Diamond and their love of music and dance.  My favorite scene in the book is when the dancers are with their instructor, Miss Ginger.  Each student selects a dance that fits their personality and expresses their own fear or desperation for Diamond  — a beautiful and powerfully moving cathartic release.

Why I like this story:  Sharon Draper has written a gripping and contemporary novel that is very real in today’s world.  It is a must read for teens.  Even though kids are taught at a young age not to talk to strangers,  abductions continue.  There is no tidy description for sexual predators.  But predators have one thing in common — the ability to artfully lure a child or teenager into a web of lies and manipulations that leads to kidnapping.  That is what Draper addresses in her skillfully crafted and suspenseful novel.  Draper handles Diamond’s abduction scene realistically but with sensitivity.   She also has a gift of getting into the minds of each character.  Panic is one book readers will have difficulty putting down because it is a page turner.  Hopefully teens will learn through Diamond the tragic results of taking risks with strangers.  Panic is an excellent book for school libraries.

Book Giveaway:  I will be giving away one copy of Panic during a random drawing on March 29.  All you have to do is leave a comment on this post and indicate whether you’d like to be included in the drawing.   I will announce the winner on Saturday, March 30.

Sharon Draper a New York Times best-selling author has also won the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent for Fears of a Tiger.  She won the Coretta Scott King Literary Award for her novels Copper Sun, and  Forged by Fire, and the Coretta Scott King Author Honor for The Battle of Jericho.  She also was selected as a National Teacher of the Year.  For more information about all the books she’s published, resources, activities, interviews and information on school visits, visit Draper’s website.  I’ve also reviewed Draper’s novels, Out of My MindCopper Sun and Double Dutch.

Double Dutch by Sharon Draper

Double Dutch

Sharon Draper, Author

Atheneum Books, YA Fiction, 2003

Suitable for: Grades 5 to 9

Themes:  Dyslexia, Bullies, Friendship, Secrets, Sportsmanship

Synopsis:  Three eighth-grade friends prepare for the International Double Dutch Championship jump rope competition  to be held in their hometown, Cincinnati.  Delia, who is the main character, loves Double Dutch.  She is the fastest and best jumper on her team, and  has a shot at the championship.  But, Delia, has a secret she has kept from everyone, including her mother.   She can’t read.  In order to compete, she must pass the state proficiency tests.  This could jeopardize her chance to participate in the competition.  Even her best friend and team member, Yolanda, “Yo Yo” doesn’t know for a while.  Yo Yo, specializes in telling very tall tales, and no one can believes a word she says — she’s the comic relief in the story.

Delia isn’t the only person with a secret.  Randy, whose father is a truck driver, has been missing for weeks.  Randy is close to his Dad and can’t understand why he can’t reach him.  Randy assists the Double Dutch coach, Bomani, and helps with practices — a great distraction for Randy.  He also has a crush on Delia.  Randy is running out of money to pay the rent and electricity.   He doesn’t have enough to buy food.  He’s afraid to tell anyone because he’s doesn’t want to be put into a foster home.  He always makes excuses to Delia about his dad, but deep inside he’s scared and worried.

One thing is for sure, all three friends share a fear of the new Tolliver Twins, the school  bullies.  Especially Yo Yo, who is shoved into a locker when the Tolliver’s pass her in the hall.  They dress in black, wear skull caps, only interact with each other and angrily storm the halls.  They seem to follow Yo Yo around at Double Dutch meets and practices.  Out of fear, she spreads a rumor that the Tolliver twins are going to blow up the school.  Even the teacher’s are intimidated when the twin’s mother goes onto a television program and asks for help for her sons.   This causes a stir at the middle school.  Will there be violence?

What I like about this book This is a good novel for 6th graders, and not too young for eighth graders.  There are no inappropriate scenes and the language is clean.  Author Sharon Draper has skillfully woven together the lives of three middle grade students and all the angst that accompanies their drama-filled teenage years.  She has created a diverse group of characters, a great theme about friendships, and a strong plot with a few twists and turns.  I enjoyed reading Double Dutch, because I used to jump it as a girl.  But not at the competitive level of the characters in the book.  I was amazed at what athletic skill, talent and focus is required of its jumpers.  This book was a great read and will certainly appeal to middle grade girls.

Sharon Draper has also won the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent for Fears of a Tiger.  She won the Coretta Scott King Literary Award for her novels Copper Sun, and  Forged by Fire, and the Coretta Scott King Author Honor for The Battle of Jericho.  For more information about all the books she’s published, resources, activities, interviews and information on school visits, click here to visit Draper’s website.  I reviewed Draper’s latest novel, Out of My Mind,  Jan. 23, 2012, and Copper Sun on Mar. 12, 2012.

Copper Sun

Copper Sun

Sharon M. Draper, Author

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2008, Fiction

Suitable for :  Ages 14 and up

Themes: African-American History, Slavery, Indentured Servants, Escape, Freedom

Awards:  2007 Coretta Scott King Literary Award

Synopsis:  “When pale strangers enter 15-year-old Amari’s Village, her entire tribe welcomes them, for in her remote part of Africa, visitors are always a cause for celebration.  But these stranger are not here to celebrate.  They are here to capture the strongest, healthiest villagers and to murder the rest.  They are slave traders.  And in the time it takes a gun to fire, Amari’s life as she’s known it is destroyed, along with her family and village.”  

Amari is beaten, shackled and herded with other survivors to the ocean, where she is branded and dragged on to a slave ship bound for the colonies.  Sailing on this ship of death is full of unimaginable horrors.  Survival is for those who are strong.  Upon landing in the Carolinas, Amari faces even greater  humiliation when she is forced to stand naked in front of buyers and is auctioned to the highest bidder.  Amari is purchased by a plantation owner, Percival Derby, who gives her to 16-year-old son, Clay, for a birthday present.  Mr. Derby also buys a white indentured servant, Polly.

This unlikely pair, Amari and Polly, become friends on the rice plantation, Derbyshire Farms.  They endure the daily hardships, back-breaking work, emotional turmoil, fear, and brutality beyond their imaginations.  When things couldn’t get any worse, a murder occurs on the plantation.  Amari and Polly have no choice but to escape and run for the freedom they both seek.  Freedom is found in a very unlikely place.  This novel celebrates the strength and spirit of Amari, and the thousands of slaves like her.

Sharon Draper has written a compelling, realistic and action-packed novel that will keep you in a state of suspense.  Draper is a skillful author whose writing is so vivid that you will find your senses heightened.   You smell the foul odors of the ship, feel the burn of the branding and beatings, and hear the screams of a child being torn from a parent.  Copper Sun is historical fiction and it took Draper 10 years to research and write her novel.  Copper Sun is a masterpiece in children’s literature.  It is also an important book for Women’s History Month.

Sharon Draper is the granddaughter of a slave.  She wrote Copper Sun after visiting Ghana years ago.  She “knew she had to tell the story of one girl who might have made that harrowing journey through the door of no return.”  “This book is dedicated to all the millions of girls like Amari who died during that process–as well as those who lived and suffered, but endured,” said Draper. “I also dedicate this to all those who came before me–the untold multitudes of ancestors who needed a voice. I speak for them. Amari carries their spirit. She carries mine as well.”

Draper has also won the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent for Fears of a Tiger.  She won the Coretta Scott King Award for Forged by Fire, and the Coretta Scott King Author Honor for The Battle of Jericho.  For more information about all the books she’s published, resources, activities, interviews and information on school visits, click here to visit Draper’s website.  I reviewed Draper’s latest novel, Out of My Mind,  Jan. 23, 2012.

Out of My Mind – Cerebral Palsy

Out of My Mind

Sharon M. Draper, Author

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Fiction, 2010

Suitable for:  Ages 10 to Adult

Themes:  Cerebral Palsy, Intelligence, Interpersonal Relationships

Opening “Words.  I’m surrounded by thousands of words.  Maybe millions.  Cathedral.  Mayonnaise.  Pomegrante…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 and jokes.  Love songs.”  Melody’s head is full of words and sentences.   She is  11 years old and has never spoken one single word.  Melody has cerebral palsy and is trapped in a body that won’t do what she wants it to do.  She is confined to a wheel chair, unable to move, walk, talk, feed  and care for herself.  Melody has a photographic mind, and is a very smart.  But no one knows that except Melody.  No one knows that her favorite song is “Elvira.”

Draper has written a very compelling novel and has given us a rare glimpse into Melody’s world.  She shows Melody’s frustration in having doctors, teachers and people talking about her like she’s “profoundly retarded and unable to understand.”  Her frustration  and her inability to speak can lead to “tornado explosions,” which only reinforces their beliefs that she’s severely brain-damaged.  Melody says, “I live in a cage with no door and no key.”  “And, I have no way to tell someone how to get me out.”  Draper has created a very strong protagonist who simply will not give up and fights to find that key to unlock the cage so people will know she is there.   She’s tired of going to school and being put in a special education classes and taught the same nursery rhymes and songs year after year.   She wants to learn.  She’s hurt that no one wants to be a friend and deals with constant bullying when she participates in inclusion classes.

Fortunately for Melody, she has loving parents who advocate for her, and a neighbor who drills Melody every afternoon on words she has written on flash cards to help Melody communicate.   Melody is even more determined, and one day she discovers a special computer that can help her speak.  Melody world begins to change once she gets her Medi-talker.  She is catapulted into some exciting new adventures that are also fraught with disappointment.  But this very courageous girl now has a voice, and she’s not afraid to express her feelings.  Hooray for Melody!

After reading Draper’s very moving novel, I believe there are very important things Melody would want you to know when meeting or working with a child with special needs.  Don’t talk about them as if they are invisible.  Don’t assume that they are brain-damaged and aren’t intelligent.  Always assume they can hear or understand you even if they can’t communicate.  Look directly into  their eyes and talk to them as if they understand you.  Treat them with respect and dignity.  Don’ talk in a loud voice, talk normally.  Don’t look away if you feel awkward.  Smile and say hello.

Draper is “fiercely adamant that nobody feel sorry for Melody.” “I tried hard to make her unforgettable – someone you would never dare feel sorry for,” says Draper.  “I wanted her to be accepted as a person, not as a representative for people with disabilities.  Lots of people have worse difficulties in their lives. As readers embrace the story, I hope that they will cheer for her!”

Sharon Draper is a two-time Coretta Scott King Award-winning author, most recently for Copper Sun, and previously for Forged by Fire.   Visit this award-winning author, educator, speaker, poet and National Teacher of the Year at her website (click here).   Her website contains interviews and information about all of her books.

I also want to say a special thank you to Cathy Mealey for recommending this extraordinary book to me.  Out of My Mind is one of my favorite reads this year.