This week my bookstore was given permission to start anAfrican-American children's section. A section that in this humble bookseller's opinion was much needed. The first name I put on the list of author's books that we needed more of...Sharon Draper.
Sharon Draper was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1952. the oldest child of Victor Mills, a hotel maitre'd, and Catherine Mills, who worked as a classified advertising manager for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Books filled the Draper home and Sharon inhaled them. Sharon became a straight A student, reading every book in her school libraries.
For thirty years Sharon Draper was an English teacher in the Cincinnati, Ohio, public school system, instilling her love of reading and writing in generations of children, and inspiring them to reach for their greatest dreams. Draper earned a reputation as a no-nonsense educator who challenged her students. One of Draper's writing assignments, in particular, became legendary. As part of their final grade, seniors at Walnut Hills High School were asked to produce a well-researched term paper. Draper's expectations were so high that the task was eventually dubbed "The Draper Paper." T-shirts were even designed and given only to those students who successfully met the challenge. Their shirts proudly boasted: "I Survived the Draper Paper." In 1997 she received the highest honor an educator can be given when President Bill Clinton named her the U.S. Teacher of the Year. As a result Draper became a spokesperson for the teaching profession, crisscrossing the globe to talk about the importance of excellence in the classroom.
Her writing career began in 1990 on a whim. Draper had always encouraged her students to submit stories and poems to writing contests. One day, Draper explains on her Web site, a bold young man handed her a crumpled application form and said, "You think you so bad— why don't you write something! Enter this contest!" Draper accepted his challenge and submitted a short story to Ebony magazine's annual Gertrude Johnson Williams Literary Competition. In 1994 the dedicated teacher released her first children's book, Ziggy and the Black Dinosaurs.
Many of Draper's novels deal with topics that may be controversial, but that are a very real part of everyday life for some people. For example, 1999's Romiette and Julio takes on interracial dating and gang life, and Double Dutch, published in 2002, tackles illiteracy and child abandonment. When asked why she explores such tough subjects, Draper told David Marc Fischer, "Perhaps reading about the difficulties of others will act like an armor and protect my readers from the personal tragedies of their own lives." Today, Sharon has published over two dozen books including Copper Sun, Teaching From the Heart, Just Another Hero, Out
of My Mind, and Forged By Fire. She has won Five Coretta Scot King Literary Awards, the YWCA Career Woman of Achievement Award, Three ALA Best Book for Children, the Children's Choice Award, and the Buckeye Book Award.
Sharon says about her writing, "I learned to dream through reading, learned to create dreams through writing, and learned to develop dreamers through teaching. I shall always be a dreamer. Come dream with me.”