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Out of My Mind Paperback – May 1, 2012
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Eleven-year-old Melody has a photographic memory. Her head is like a video camera that is always recording. Always. And there's no delete button. She's the smartest kid in her whole school—but no one knows it. Most people--her teachers and doctors included--don't think she's capable of learning, and up until recently her school days consisted of listening to the same preschool-level alphabet lessons again and again and again. If only she could speak up, if only she could tell people what she thinks and knows . . . but she can't, because Melody can't talk. She can't walk. She can't write.
Being stuck inside her head is making Melody go out of her mind--that is, until she discovers something that will allow her to speak for the first time ever. At last Melody has a voice . . . but not everyone around her is ready to hear it.
From multiple Coretta Scott King Award winner Sharon M. Draper comes a story full of heartache and hope. Get ready to meet a girl whose voice you'll never, ever forget.
A Note to Readers from Author Sharon Draper
People often ask me, "What was your inspiration for Out of my Mind?" I reply, "All great stories emerge from deep truths that rest within us." But the real truth of a story often can be found in places that not even the author has dared to explore. I suppose the character of Melody came from my experiences in raising a child with developmental difficulties. But Melody is not my daughter. Melody is pure fiction--a unique little girl who has come into being from a mixture of love and understanding. Out of my Mind is the story of a ten-year-old-girl who cannot walk or talk. She has spirit, determination, intelligence and wit, and no one knows it. But from buildings that are not wheelchair--accessible to classmates who make fun of her she finds a strength within herself she never knew existed.
I was fiercely adamant that nobody feel sorry for Melody. I wanted her to be accepted as a character and as a person, not as a representative for people with disabilities. Melody is a tribute to all the parents of disabled kids who struggle, to all those children who are misunderstood, to all those caregivers who help every step of the way. It's also written for people who look away, who pretend they don't see, or who don't know what to say when they encounter someone who faces life with obvious differences. Just smile and say hello!
--Sharon M. Draper
--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 4–6—Born with cerebral palsy, Melody, 10, has never spoken a word. She is a brilliant fifth grader trapped in an uncontrollable body. Her world is enhanced by insight and intellect, but gypped by physical limitations and misunderstandings. She will never sing or dance, talk on the phone, or whisper secrets to her friends. She's not complaining, though; she's planning and fighting the odds. In her court are family, good neighbors, and an attentive student teacher. Pitted against her is the "normal" world: schools with limited resources, cliquish girls, superficial assumptions, and her own disability. Melody's life is tragically complicated. She is mainly placed in the special-ed classroom where education means being babysat in a room with replayed cartoons and nursery tunes. Her supportive family sets her up with a computer. She learns the strength of thumbs as she taps on a special keyboard that finally lets her "talk." When she is transitioned into the regular classroom, Melody's undeniable contribution enables her class to make it to the national quiz team finals. Then something happens that causes her to miss the finals, and she is devastated by her classmates' actions. Kids will benefit from being introduced to Melody and her gutsy, candid, and compelling story. It speaks volumes and reveals the quiet strength and fortitude it takes to overcome disabilities and the misconceptions that go with them.—Alison Follos, North Country School, Lake Placid, NY
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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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.
Not only did I think of Chloe as I read, but I thought of Kelly, me, and Chloe's teachers and assistants. In Out of My Mind, Melody, the 11-year-old protagonist, has cerebral palsy. Though confined to a wheelchair and unable to speak, her mind is active, brilliant, and and capable of remembering anything she reads, sees, or hears. Much of her school years have been spent in boring, humiliating special ed classes. When she can read thousands of words, of course she gets upset when the teacher is teaching the alphabet. Finally, through her own initiative and the persistence of her assistant and her family, she gets an assistive communication device, giving her a voice for the first time in her life. Finally she can communicate verbally and participate more in school, even helping the school's quiz team qualify for the national finals.
Throughout the story, my heart broke for this precious girl, bringing me to tears on several occasions. How frustrating not to be able to makes oneself understood. How isolating not to be able to interact with people around you. I, of course, kept thinking of Chloe, my smart little girl who has such a hard time communicating. I don't know that she has a photographic memory like Melody, but I know she's always been smarter than we know. What's going on in her mind that we can't see or hear? How many inane, boring lessons has she sat through, thinking "I know all this! Stop with the baby lessons!" And when Chloe watches the other kids run and talk and laugh and play, does she long, like Melody, to be a part? Does Chloe get embarrassed by her difficulty in feeding herself, that she wears diapers at age 9, that she rides the handicapped bus?
I thought of Kelly as much as I thought of Chloe. Melody is a lucky girl in that her mom never gives up believing in her. She has to come to bat for Melody time and again, sometimes in a militant way. In the same way, Kelly has been Chloe's biggest advocate, her momma bear instincts pushing and pushing to make sure Chloe gets services she needs and is in the best placement for her growth. And the link between Melody and her mom could just as well describe Chloe and Kelly. Kelly knows what Chloe's every little gesture means, and usually knows what Chloe's thinking. She can tell by looks if Chloe feels bad, and can smell when she's thirsty. Weird. Melody's dad plays a smaller role, like me; he's not as clued in to his daughter as the mom, but does all he can do to help.
Draper is a long-time teacher--honored as National Teacher of the Year in 1997--and the parent of a child with "developmental difficulties" (her description) so it's no surprise that her classroom scenes and dispatches from the special ed classroom seem so real. And her appreciation for the special ed assistants should be noted; I agree with Draper--those folks do wonderful work for way too little money. I for one am so thankful for the faithful ladies who have fed Chloe, changed her diapers, and invested in her learning and development during her school years.
Out of My Mind gives the reader a believable window into the mind of a disabled individual. But Draper's real target audience is the rest of us. As Draper says on amazon.com, Out of My Mind is "written for people who look away, who pretend they don't see, or who don't know what to say when they encounter someone who faces life with obvious differences. Just smile and say hello!" I may be too honest in this admission, but this book has reminded me to take more time with Chloe, to remember that even when she acts like she's in her own world she is hearing and seeing and taking it all in, and that it's up to me, Kelly, and all of Chloe's support team, to work together to help Chloe take part in her world and to overcome the challenges in her life.
Update, October 2013
On a recent rainy morning, my wife pulled up to drop off Chloe at school. One of Chloe's 5th grade classmates got out of the car behind Kelly's. Kelly recognized her as one of Chloe's friends from class. As Kelly was unloading the wheelchair and getting Chloe into it, the little girl offered to help. Kelly thanked her and they walked into the school together. Chloe's friend said, "Chloe reminds me of a girl in a book I read. Her name was Melody."
As if I needed further convincing, this comment reminded me of what a powerful story Out of My Mind is. This little girl's perception has forever changed, and she has been a friend to Chloe in a way that perhaps she never would have been without the example Draper presents. Thank you Ms. Draper for shaping the attitudes and perceptions of Chloe's friends and so many others.
I'm ordering two more copies now to pass along!