As the U.S. celebrates Black History Month (and many broaden the discussion via #morethanamonth, #blackfuturemonth and #BlackHistoryYouDidntLearnInSchool), we teen lit fans have a chance to further amplify the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement and spotlight African American book characters and authors. This year’s ALA Youth Media Awards gave us several welcome chances to highlight diversity via award winners, especially the 2015 Margaret A. Edwards Award winner, Sharon Draper, whose “significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature” is no secret to her fans.
The award is for these titles:
- Tears of a Tiger (a 2009 Popular Paperback for Young Adults)
- Forged by Fire (a 1998 Best Book for Young Adults and Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers)
- Darkness Before Dawn (a 2002 Top 10 Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers)
- The Battle of Jericho (a 2005 Selected Audiobook for Young Adults)
- November Blues
- Copper Sun
Pam Olszewski’s 8th grade Language Arts class in Westerville, Ohio, knows Draper’s work well. They can choose Tears of a Tiger, Forged by Fire, or Darkness Before Dawn for their realistic fiction novel, and told me why her work speaks to them:
There’s a lot of cliffhangers. You have a bond with [the characters]. It feels like they’re a real person. And the books are set in Ohio. –Bankole
Realistic and heart-moving. –Robert
Really inspiring. I felt like I wanted to read all of them. –Ethan K.
Reluctant readers can connect with her characters in a way that encourages them to read. I haven’t met a kid yet who didn’t love her work. –Mrs. Olszewski
I love finding out how authors get their start at writing, and Sharon Draper’s “author origin story” has to be one of the best. According to this BookPage interview, she was already an accomplished classroom teacher when she was challenged by a student from the back row one day: “Why don’t you write something?” She took this challenge to heart. Since entering and winning first prize in a literary contest, her prodigious book output has been capturing the attention of readers both inside the classroom and out. Draper has also written additional books for teens, books for tweens, books for teachers, and two books of poetry.
Even if you haven’t read one of her titles (and there’s no time like the present!), you probably know a teen who has. Ask around and start a discussion! Book award season, diversity movements, #blacklivesmatter, Black History Month, and even challenging one’s teacher to become a writer can all be catalysts for positive connection and change. You never know what may result! Congratulations, Sharon Draper!
-Becky O’Neil, currently reading Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell