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‘Reading is fun’

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Teen books author visits HCHS

By Phyllis McLaughlin

Henry County High School students celebrated “Literacy Week” on Tuesday with a special speaker.

Sharon Draper – author of the 2010 book “Out of My Mind” – said she tells the story of how she became a writer to students all over the country, hoping to emphasize the importance of reading and literacy and to help young people see “how books are cool.”

“Reading is fun, it’s important and it’s an awesome thing to do, but I never come out and say that,” she said minutes before taking the stage in the high school auditorium. “I practice back-door teaching. ... I’m not didactic.”

During her talk to the students, the Cincinnati writer explains how she started out as an English teacher, teaching students in grades seven through 12. “I taught them reading, writing, spelling, literature, grammar, poetry, composition, punctuation,” she said. “It never occurred to me to be a writer. All I wanted to do was make other good writers.”

One student changed all that, challenging her to put her money where her writing hand was, so to speak.

Inspired by an incident at a grocery store, she wrote a three-page story about a small boy who was abused by his mother and submitted it to a writing contest that the student had told her about.

She took first place, which came with a check for $5,000.

“My family had a great Christmas that year,” she said.

She warned the students not to think that being a writer is always so lucrative. “You don’t go into writing for the money,” she said. “Most writers aren’t rich – unless they are a J.K. Rowling. But, it’s very rewarding.”

Once bitten by the writing bug, she continued and wrote her first novel, “Tears of a Tiger,” which, she said took two years to get published.

The book tells the story of a teen-age boy, Hazelwood Tiger, who is trying to overcome pain and guilt. His best friend has died in a car accident, and Tiger was behind the wheel when the accident happened.

Her subsequent books also have dealt with other tough issues, from anorexia to sexual abuse.

On a question-and-answer page on her website, she says she addresses those issues for a reason. “Anorexia is a topic that needs to be discussed. Lots of young women, and young men as well, see themselves as unattractive.”

Her characters’ problems “are a mirror for lots of others,” she explained.

Further, she says, her books stress the importance of hope.

“I think if a human being doesn’t have hope, that person cannot survive. It doesn’t matter whether you’re going through traumatic experiences or just day-to-day life. ... Without hope we have nothing.”

Literacy Week continues at the high school, with more programs scheduled through Friday.