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Chapters of their lives

Peer pressure, first love, suicide, drinking and driving, and the power of friends and family are all topics addressed in books by Sharon M. Draper.

The issues are what kids talk about with each other and are passionate about, she said.

”Kids like my books because I don't preach to them,“ Draper said. ”They like that it's on their level. … I don't talk down to them.“

Draper, who lives in Cincinnati and has taught high school English for 25 years, is passionate about teaching and writing. The National Teacher of the Year in 1997, she is a prolific author and is a five-time winner of the Coretta Scott King Literary Award. Her bookCopper Sun is currently on The New York Times' children's paperback best-seller list.

There are a lot of books on the market written for children and teens, but Draper thinks the promotion of contemporary literature for teens is lacking.

She's doing what she can to fill the void. Online at www.sharondraper.com, she offers an ”Author Visit in a Box“ kit that includes a life-size cutout of her, a DVD of her giving a presentation on her books, several posters, and a CD of her reading excerpts.

”People today have a tendency to assume that young people don't read, won't read, can't read. That's not true,“ she said. ”They will read, and they will read avidly. They have to find the right books.

”Much of what is available has little literary value. It's like offering them frosted flakes when they could have a steak dinner,“ she said.

Draper will visit Tates Creek High School on Thursday in an event that's not open to the public. Tates Creek English teacher Traci Ransdell said all freshman are required to read Draper's writings. Students are assigned three of Draper's works, but, Ransdell said, they often become hooked and read works not assigned in class.

”Her books are a step away from the traditional classics, but they have literary value,“ said Ransdell, who tried for two years to get the author to visit the school. ”The kids love her.“

The following questions were submitted by freshmen from Tates Creek and were answered by Draper during a recent telephone interview.

Chris Spicer: Did you create any of the characters in your stories using students in your own school?

Draper: No. All my characters are fictional. They are not real people. I am sure they are based on the fact that I've worked with young people all my life, and there is a reality there.

Kayla Denny: Are any of your books becoming a movie?

Draper: I wish. I get asked this a lot­ — of course, never by any Hollywood producers. I have not made the Hollywood connection. I don't know who to call.

Christian Greenlee: How long does it take for you to write a book?

Draper: Between six months and a year, and then it goes through an editing process that might take another six months.

Malik Washington: Do you have a favorite book — one you haven't written — and why is it your favorite?

Draper: I don't really have a favorite book because I read so many. I read probably 300 books a year. It's very hard to get a favorite. I'll read all of a particular author and then go onto somebody else and read another author. The kinds of books I like are mysteries and historical fiction. All I do is read. When I'm not writing, I'm reading.

Rebecca Gross: Of all the books you've written, which one did you most enjoy writing and why?

Draper: Copper Sun. It usually takes about a year to write a book. This one took 10 years. It's historical fiction, and I had to do a great deal of research. I went to Africa twice. I had to do just enormous amounts of research, but the book has won enormous amounts of awards.

Megan Banahan: Where do you get your inspiration for writing your books? Give us an example.

Draper: I get my inspiration from young people that I meet. I really do. The young man that came up to me and said, ”I had never read 20 pages of anything“ (but he had read one of Draper's books). He had found something that made him want to read. That makes me think I need to go back and write something else that grabs this young man.

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