The Sunshine State Author Series brings top-notch writers of children’s and young adult literature to Orange County for public readings, writing workshops and visits with students to spark interest in reading. Each featured writer has written a book that has been on the Sunshine State Young Readers Award or Florida Teen Reads lists.


Sharon M. Draper is an award-winning author of more than 30 books for children, young adults, and teachers, including Out of My Mind, the Sunshine State Young Readers Award winner for 2011 for middle grades; Tears of a Tiger, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults; Romiette and Julio, listed by the New York Public Library as a Best Book for the Teen Age; and Copper Sun, named one of the Top Ten Historical Fiction Books for Youth.

Draper is a five-time winner of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards, has been the National Teacher of the Year and received the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime literary achievement from the American Library Association. Her latest book is Stella by Starlight.

Orange County Library System Youth Services Reference Clerk Lorrie Taylor interviewed Draper to talk about her inspiration, her work and her upcoming visit to Orlando.

THURSDAY, JAN. 26, 6pm. 
Author Event: Sharon M. Draper

Orlando Public Library 
Draper will read from and discuss Out of My Mind.  Registration recommended.

FRIDAY, JAN. 27, 3pm. 
Teen Writer’s Workshop w. Sharon M. Draper
Edgewater Branch Library
writer’s workshop for teens ages 11–18.
Registration required.

SATURDAY JAN. 28, 11am. 
OCLS Features Sharon M. Draper
at the ZORA!™ Festival
Eatonville Branch/ZORA!™ Stage
Draper will read from and discuss Stella by Starlight on the outdoor stage. Signing to follow at Eatonville Branch.
$20 adults. Free for children.


Lorrie Taylor: Thank you for agreeing to come to Orlando to our libraries and the Zora Festival.

Sharon Draper: I’m really looking forward to this. Zora Neale Hurston is my hero. If not for Zora, I wouldn’t be doing what I do. She paved the way for African-American women writers in her own iconic way. She was brilliant—probably misunderstood by most—but she was powerful, pushy, dominant and excellent. While I was writing [Stella by Starlight] I went back and reread all of Zora’s writings. Her cadence, her dialogue, her way of grabbing a character in a story—the whole essence of Zora is infused into the story.

LT: You dedicated Stella by Starlight to your father.

SD: When my grandmother was little, she used to go outside and write in a notebook. This would have been around 1915, at a time when black people in general and girls in particular were not encouraged to get an education. She was a learner and a writer. Her only means of writing was in this little notebook. This was unusual in 1915. I didn’t know about the journal until after she passed away when my father gave me the remaining journal. My grandmother’s notebook was the inspiration for Stella.

LT: Let’s talk about Out of My Mind which was a Sunshine State Young Reader’s Award book for both 3–5th and 6–8th grades. I cheered for Melody.

SD: I write about ordinary kids who have trouble in school. This is the reality of the child who goes to school every day—that is Melody. I have known lots and lots of kids with disabilities. The truth is that so many of these kids are ignored, overlooked and underestimated.

LT: What message would you give to a child who says, “I hate to read”?

SD: I would say, “That’s okay, but let me give you this book. You don’t even have to finish it. Just read Chapter 1.” You have to find the right book for each child. They need a reason to open the book that will have meaning to them.

LT: What advice would you give to their parents?

SD: If you read a book together, you never, ever forget it. There are parents who say: “Your teacher said you have to read 30 minutes, so go upstairs and don’t let me see you again till 30 minutes are over.” It becomes a punishment. But if they turn it around and say: “Wow, it’s our 30-minutes time so let’s sit down and read together,” that becomes a learning experience.