Some Stories Are Meant to Be Heard: Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie

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Usually, when an author's book is nominated for an award it is cause for celebration, but for author and eighth-grade English teacher Jordan Sonnenblick -- whose book, Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie, was nominated in July 2004 for the Young Adult Library Services Association's (YALSA, a division of the American Library Association) 2005 Bests Books for Young Adults -- it was cause for panic.

Not that Sonnenblick wasn't honored to be nominated -- he was. The problem was, the book's original publisher, Day Bue Publishers, went out of business four weeks after the book was published. This meant his debut novel -- about a boy whose younger brother has cancer -- could very well go out of print, and as a result, lose its eligibility for the YALSA nomination.

Luckily for Sonnenblick, fate played a hand: Not only was the book nominated for the Best Books for Young Adults award, it was an Autumn 2004 Book Sense Children's Pick. After receiving recognition from both librarians and independent booksellers, Sonnenblick decided to self-publish the book, and it was picked up for distribution by Scholastic, which recently agreed to republish Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie in fall 2005 and to publish Sonnenblick's second novel as well.

"It's such a wacky story," Sonnenblick told BTW in a recent phone interview from his home in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. After he wrote the book and shopped it to publishers, he had to choose between a "huge publisher and a small publisher. I chose [the smaller] Day Bue because they loved it the way I loved it. And they did an amazingly beautiful job."

Day Bue printed 5,000 copies of Drums, Girls, & Dangerous Pie, but at the end of June, the company went under. Soon after, Sonnenblick asked Day Bue's owners if they might donate the 4,000 remaining copies of the book to Super Sibs, an Illinois-based organization that seeks to "honor, support, and recognize brothers and sisters of children with cancer."

"My publisher, as a last act of kindness, agreed to donate [the 4,000 books] to Super Sibs," Sonnenblick said. "If the book wasn't going to be in print, [we] wanted to get it in the hands of [children whose siblings have cancer]."

While Sonnenblick was pleased that his book -- which was inspired by one of his students whose brother had cancer -- would give much needed support to kids whose brothers and sisters have cancer, at the same time, he assumed his book was "done."

However, soon after Day Bue went out of business, in July 2004, Sonnenblick was informed that Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie had been nominated for the ALA award. At the time, Sonnenblick wasn't even sure he had enough copies to send to the nominating committee. "I had a minor heart attack," he said. Fortunately, his former publisher was able to provide ALA's nominating committee with copies, and Sonnenblick kept the book from going out of print by self-publishing it under the Turning Tide Press imprint. The book will be available in October 2004.

In what were, at first, unrelated events, in late fall and early spring, two local newspapers, the Easton, Pennsylvania, Express-Times and Bethlehem's Morning Call, each profiled Sonnenblick and his forthcoming book. In a fortuitous turn of events, the publicity was brought to the attention of the editor of Scholastic's Scope. "The head of [Scope] grew up in Bethlehem and [her mother] lives here," he explained. "Her mom saw the news article about me and conveyed it warmly to the editorial side of Scholastic," explained Sonnenblick.

All told, it seems that the fates converged to ensure that Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie would remain in print. "It was all incredible luck," Sonnenblick summed up. --David Grogan