Back by Popular Demand: Spotlight on Sharon M. Draper

Bestselling author Sharon M. Draper never intended to write a sequel to her 2010 novel Out of My Mind, which follows the adventures of Melody Brooks, an 11-year-old girl with cerebral palsy, as she navigates the fifth grade. But after the book sold more than four million copies and remained on the New York Times bestseller list for nearly four years, the author’s fans had other plans for Draper—and her heroine.

“I’ve received hundreds—maybe thousands—of letters about Melody and how her story touched the lives of readers all over the country, and yes, all over the world,” says Draper, who has written dozens of books and won five Coretta Scott King Book Awards. “Many of those letters included requests from students and teachers and readers to tell more, to write a sequel to Out of My Mind. I always replied that I had finished with Melody’s story. But Miss Melody has used her board and has shouted at me to give her a sequel! So I did.”

In Out of My Heart—due out in September from Atheneum/ Caitlyn Dlouhy Books—Melody is now 12 years old and has decided to attend summer camp. At Camp Green Glades, she faces unexpected adventures, learns more about herself than she ever thought possible, and finally makes real friends.

Among the many readers eager for a sequel to Out of My Mind was Draper’s editor Caitlyn Dlouhy. “When that book came out there were not many books out there that really did the deep dive on what it’s like to be a child with a disability, and Sharon didn’t hold any punches,” Dlouhy told PW earlier this year. “She went to the heart of things that people don’t think about that are crushing. And once you read about how cruel people can be to other children, or thoughtless because they don’t know any better, that ever leaves you. It’s completely changed how I interact with people who have disabilities and how I taught my daughters to interact with people who have disabilities.”

“Writing this has been a delightful journey,” says Draper, “for Melody and for me as well, as she and I trekked through the woods together to discover the mystery of a green forest, the power of friendship, and the magic of a bright orange campfire.”

Making Waves: Spotlight on Kim Dwinell

In Kim Dwinell’s latest installment in the beloved Surfside Girls graphic novel series, The Science of Surfing: A Surfside Girls Guide to the Ocean, popular protagonists and best friends Sam and Jade are back at the beach, but this time they have a different mission: exploring the world of ocean science.

Following Surfside Girls: The Secret of Danger Point, which introduced readers to Sam and Jade as they worked to save their town and solve an otherworldly mystery, and Surfside Girls: The Mystery at the Old Rancho, in which the duo returned to unravel another spooky mystery during the annual surf competition, The Science of Surfing explores everything from physics to marine biology and ecology, while answering questions like: Why does the ocean have waves? Why do the tides change with the moon? Can dolphins really see using sound? How does surfing actually work? And what can we do to protect the ocean?

The Science of Surfing, out in July from Top Shelf Productions, is drawing early praise from both literary and scientific circles. Christopher G. Lowe, a professor of marine biology and director of the Shark Lab at California State University, Long Beach, hails
it as a “fun book [that] contains lots of cool marine biology and oceanography tidbits for budding surfers... and future scientists! Surfing is an amazing way to enjoy the ocean, and the more you know, the better a guest you’ll be to the wonderful creatures that live there.”

Dwinell, an illustrator, animator, and graphic novelist who also teaches classes at California State University, Long Beach, says she’s always felt at home in the ocean but struggled with math and science as a child.

“I love physics and biology—physics is a huge part of my work in animation!—but growing up, I was one of the kids who struggled with math, and sometimes that scared me away from science,” says Dwinell, whose first job was as a beach lifeguard. “Over time, I understood that science is part of us and our surroundings on a daily basis—like recognizing what stage the moon is in, and how that affects the tides, and how a storm way out to sea generates waves, which we surf at our beaches. Recently, I realized I had a great opportunity to introduce some key science concepts in an accessible, kid-friendly way with Sam and Jade, the endlessly curious 12-year-olds from my graphic novel series Surfside Girls. I’d love for my book to inspire young readers to pursue science for the betterment
of the planet.”

A Bestselling Author’s New Debut: Spotlight on Gayle Forman

Gayle Forman, journalist and award-winning author of the Just One series, I Was Here, Where She Went, and the #1 New York Times–bestselling If I Stay—which was adapted for film in 2014—will make her middle grade fiction debut in October with Frankie & Bug, from Simon & Schuster’s Aladdin imprint.

The novel, set in 1980s California, follows two friends: Bug, a 10-year-old girl from Venice Beach who feels abandoned when her older brother, Danny, who doesn’t want to hang out anymore; and Frankie, an 11-year-old trans boy who arrives from Ohio to spend the summer with his gay uncle—and who really just wants to be who he is. Together, they set out to hunt down the Midnight Marauder, a criminal on the loose in the Los Angeles area.

And much like Forman’s other work, the novel is already drawing praise. Newberry Award–winner Rebecca Stead calls Frankie & Bug a “beautiful and tender story about the discovery of a powerful friendship, starring two fantastic kids and one extraordinary family.” And bestselling author R. J. Palacio says, “I knew I would like Frankie & Bug from the moment I started reading it. What I didn’t know is how much I would end up loving it. This joyful, occasionally heartbreaking, deeply moving thrill ride through the ’80s has it all: a mystery to solve, boy bands, and the tender surprise of new friendships. I didn’t want it to end.”

Forman, whose work has been translated into more than 40 languages, says she started Frankie & Bug in 2013, partly to show young people who feel they don’t fit in that things can change. “I put the novel aside for several years and when I returned to it, I understood it was first and foremost a book about allyship: how we show up for one another, how we stand in solidarity to create that space where everyone has a place,” Forman says. “What makes Frankie and Bug so endearing to me is how they embody this: supporting each other, stumbling along the way, but learning from those mistakes—because that’s how we learn!—and developing a beautiful and life changing friendship.”

Being the Best Version of Herself: Spotlight on Bonhyung Jeong

In BonHyung Jeong’s debut graphic novel, Kyle’s Little Sister, middle school student Grace is fed up with always being compared to her more extroverted and popular older brother, Kyle. As she looks for ways to step out from behind his shadow, she ultimately learns more about being the best version of herself.

Writer and illustrator Jeong studied cartooning at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. Originally from Korea, where she currently lives, draws, and writes, Jeong says she drew upon the experience of living in the shadow of an older sibling when writing Kyle’s Little Sister. “I have an older sibling,” she says. “An older brother! We didn’t grow up quite like Kyle and Grace, but my experience with him was definitely the reason why I came up with the brother and sister characters in Kyle’s Little Sister.”

The graphic novel publishes in June from JY, the graphic novel imprint of Yen Press. JuYoun Lee, the deputy publisher and editor-in-chief of Yen Press, who founded JY, knew immediately that she wanted to publish Jeong’s work. “I fell in love with Bon’s art the moment I saw it,” Lee said in a statement, also praising “the raw emotions and easy-to-miss moments [Jeong] captured on the page.”

When asked what readers should know about Grace, Jeong says that her protagonist is imperfect—just like all of us. Grace is a character who just got into middle school and is trying to fit into her new environment,” Jeong says. “Like all of the characters in Kyle’s Little Sister, she is far from perfect and is in the process of growing up.”