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Sharon Draper is a two-time Coretta Scott King Award-winning author, most recently for Copper Sun, and previously for Forged by Fire. She's also the recipient of the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Author Award for New Talent for Tears of a Tiger and the Coretta Scott King Author Honor for The Battle of Jericho and November Blues. Her other books include Romiette and Julio, Darkness Before Dawn, and Double Dutch. She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she taught high school English for twenty-five years. She's a popular conference speaker, addressing educational and literary groups both nationally and internationally.
A few weeks ago, Kelly wasn't feeling well so I took off work to fill in for her at the kids' Valentine's Day parties at school. First I went to Chloe's second grade class. Chloe is non-verbal and has some physical limitations and development delays due to an unidentified genetic disorder. Prior to this year, she has been in special ed classes, with part of her day spent in regular ed classes. Now she is in a regular ed class all day with a full-time assistant and is the only child in her class with special needs.
As I sat and watched her interact with the other kids at her table, the other kids' interactions with her impressed me. Without fail, they were sweet, helpful, friendly, and even conversational. Chloe will nod in response, but does not speak, and does not make a lot of eye contact. Yet these kids spoke and interacted with her as if nothing was different about her. One of the little girls asked me if I was Chloe's daddy. I told her I was. She said, "Chloe and I are best friends!" I'm telling you I almost lost it there; I had to exercise lots of self-restraint not to cry in front of her. I loved seeing Chloe, who is content to play alone in her room for hours on end, in this setting, with such great support from her peers.
Then I went to help set up for Elliot's 6th grade party and was intercepted by one of his teachers. Almost breathlessly, she said, "I read a book you have to read. It's called Out of My Mind, and I thought of Chloe the whole time I was reading it!" She had told Elliot the same thing, so he read it and told Kelly about it so she read it, and since they liked it so much, I picked it up yesterday. I hardly put it down and finished it in a day.Read more ›
Melody is trapped in her own body. Born with cerebral palsey, she is unable to perform most of the basic physical functions that the rest of us take for granted. But her mind is completely normal - actually, it's significantly above normal. However, almost no one realizes that she has any intellectual capabilities. She attends school as part of the special education program, being partially integrated into the regular classroom, where kids are outright mean or awkwardly nice. When she gets a device that enables her to "speak" for the first time in her 11 years, people are shocked that she is like anyone else. And not ready to accept it.
Melody is a delightful, observant girl. Her physical challenges and pure intellect enhance her other senses - she sees, smells, and hears things that the rest of us don't notice. She also has a real gift for reading people, enhanced unfortunately by people's negative interactions with her. She finds enjoyment in life but also is, understandably, incredibly frustrated. I can almost physically feel Melody's frustration, her "tornadoes", with her. The difficulties of not being able to express yourself are unimaginable.
I think every child should read this book. Preferably with a parent or teacher to discuss as the book goes along. Draper does not sugarcoat Melody's life. She is blessed with parents, a neighbor, and some teachers who love her dearly, understand her, and fight for her. Her mother is a true hero. But she also experiences hate and ignorance that no child should have to go through - from other kids, from doctors, and from teachers. The story is often heartbreaking as Melody is let down repeatedly. But her innate sense of self and her loving family also keeps her strong.Read more ›
I'm writing this review after consulting with my 11-year-old daughter Laurel, who has severe cerebral palsy and can't walk, talk, or do activities of daily living for herself. In other words, she's a lot like Melody, the protagonist of this book. In Laurel's case, she communicates by using eye gaze to indicate yes/no or one of two choices (Laurel very badly wants a communication system similar to Melody's that would work with eye gaze, and we're looking into it now). We read this book together (like Melody, although Laurel can read, her eyes jump around and it's hard for her to follow lines). Laurel gives Out of My Mind five stars. She indicates that she feels that the book is realistic, both in terms of the character of Melody (except for the perfect memory; although perfect memory does exist, it's very, very rare, and Laurel forgets things like the rest of us) and the way people treat Melody. Although Laurel has never been wholly isolated from her peers, she relates to the experiences of being taught the same thing over and over again (in Laurel's case, it was shapes) and of spending large amounts of time in the special education room. Contrary to some comments, she does not feel that having therapists included in the narrative would have significantly changed the arc of the story. Laurel feels that this is an excellent book for people to read if they want to have a better understanding of people like her.
Eleven-year-old Melody is in a wheelchair and she cannot speak; therefore, people have always assumed that she is mentally retarded, although the opposite is true. She has a photographic memory, so her knowledge base is vast. When she is finally given the gift of language through the intervention of her caregiver and a school worker and can express herself, her intelligence is revealed.
I loved Melody's voice and her courage, and her first-hand experience of how difficult it is to be different in middle school. Because the whole story is told "out of her mind," it is very readable (and a little humorous), and didn't feel heavy, though a sympathetic and merciful reader will feel sad for Melody, especially when she experiences a big disappointment -- as my 12-year-old daughter did -- much more so than her tough mom. For me, because I had related to her so much, instead of focusing on the disappointment, I rejoiced with her in her triumphs, and the trial seemed not something that was necessarily a result of her disability, but rather typical middle school posturing.
Highly, highly recommended for both adults and 10 - 13 year old readers.
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