Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Out of My Mind, Sharon M. Draper

Title:  Out of My Mind
Author:  Sharon Draper
Publisher:  Atheneum
Pages:  295
Genre:  Realistic Fiction
Age Level:  5th-8th Grade

Melody is 11 years old, and she has never said a word.  Born with cerebral palsy that has left her unable to walk, speak, or control her limbs, she has lived her entire life unable to communicate with her parents or teachers.  But that doesn't mean that she doesn't have plenty to say.  Her physical limitations hide mind with a photographic memory, the mind of an extremely smart girl frustrated by people's perceptions of her as retarded.  Finally, in fifth grade, she gets a classroom aide who sees past her disability, and together they get her the technology she needs to communicate.  To everyone's surprise but her own, Melody qualifies for her school's academic bowl team.  But what should feel like the answer to all of her prayers for recognition and acceptance is just the start of the battle to show the world who she is inside.

This book was recommended to me by a very dear friend with excellent taste in young adult literature, so it is no real surprise to me that I enjoyed this book.  But really, enjoyment does not begin to describe how I feel about this book.  As a special educator, I have constantly fought to get my students recognized for what they can do, rather than always focusing on what they can't.  Melody's story is like the fulfillment of every dream I have ever had for my students.

I literally read this book in one sitting.  As Melody described her challenges, I felt her frustration.  When she described her family, it was with a clear understanding that they were flawed, but doing the best they could.  When her mother tells off the doctors and teachers who underestimate Melody, I cheered, even though she herself underestimated her brilliant daughter.  When Melody "speaks" to her parents for the first time, I cried.  And when she in confronted by students and teachers at school who see only her physical limitations, I had a sudden urge to punch something.  

This is no after-school special, however.  There is no heart-warming moment where suddenly everyone has an epiphany about how special Melody is.  The kids don't suddenly start inviting her to sleep-overs or making play dates.  Things do not turn out perfectly for Melody, but that is part of what makes this book so powerful.  It is about more than just gaining the acceptance of others-it is about learning to accept yourself.  Part of the lesson that Melody has to learn is how to deal with her loneliness and frustration, and not let it turn into self-pity and self-loathing.  Draper's portrayal of Melody and her experiences feels all the more authentic for not turning out picture perfect.  And all children, regardless of the challenges they face in their lives, need to see that failure, or exclusion, does not have to mean the end of your hopes and dreams.

Teaching Resources:
Sharon M. Draper's Website 
Lessons on Teaching Acceptance of Disabilities  

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