“The mother of a child with disabilities is a powerful person. She doesn’t know what she is until it’s what she becomes.”
Sharon Draper, author of Out of My Mind
Sharon Draper’s latest book for middle graders, Out of My Mind, has remained on the New York Times Best Sellers List for more than a year because it’s one of those books that forces us to feel our world in new ways. Our heroine, Medody, is a brilliant 11 years old who’s trapped in a body that won’t allow her to talk or move independently.
“Melody represents all of us and any child who has no voice–who is different and isn’t heard,” says the author. Melody is “the voice for the voiceless.”
Born with Cerebral Palsy, her world opens when she gets a computer with a voice program that allows her to speak and share her wit with the world–for the first time.
Although Dr. Hughly advised her mother to consider sending her “away”, Melody’s caring parents make sure she enrolled in the local elementary school. However, she was always kept in “special” classes–as if she wasn’t the smartest kid in school–like she is!
With the help of ever-caring mom who “becomes more powerful than she ever knew she could be,” according to the author, Melody has been able to learn lots. Another miracle-maker of the story is neighbor and retired teacher, Violet.
“Violet Vallencia is a big hero, the example of Tough Love that pushes Melody to the max–and helps her to become what she can,” says Sharon Draper–who doesn’t worry about pushing a child too far. “She always gave her dessert first,” Draper says–and lots of love.
The real problem is not expecting enough, Draper wants to emphasize.
The book also has its villains because it’s true of life: Eleven-year-olds can be mean, and Clarie and her sidekick are actually jealous of Melody! Especially when Melody makes the Quiz Team–and even after she is responsible for getting her team to nationals–those girls with pretty teeth and a body that can blow bubbles are jealous!
Another important character of Draper’s 29th book is Ollie the goldfish. Rather early in the book, Melody is left alone in her chair with the goldfish in the living room. Her mother is elsewhere in the house when Ollie jumps out of his bowl. Melody is worried he will die without water but is helpless. She can’t call her mother and can’t move, so she finally makes herself fall over so the bowl will fall to the floor and, maybe, some of the water will keep her fish-friend alive.
“Why would you do that?” her mother shouts when she enters the room and finds the broken bowl and water all over the carpet. “A fish can’t live out of water!” Melody is super-frustrated: She has no way to tell her mom what really happened, to explain that she was trying to save the fish. She realizes, too, that she is a lot like Ollie–trapped in the bowl, wanting to get out.
Though this child isn’t her own, Sharon Draper has a child with Cerebral Palsy. Certainly her own experience helps her to write so compassionately–and fiercely. She, certainly, wants us to face our own biases: We all have them, and we never know how we might act in any given situation. Reading this book for kids had me thinking about people I’ve known–and how I didn’t always do what I now wish I had.
At times I had to set Out of My Mind down on the couch. It was so painful to witness this girl’s suffering, and the hardest was to imagine witness her loneliness.
I highly recommend this short read. It was on my list for a while. Maybe I resisted because I knew it was no Mary Poppins. Sharon Draper often visits 7th and 8th graders and asks them, “What would it be like to know all you know but not be able to say a word? What would it be like if you couldn’t get your thoughts out of your mind?”
This book is a life-giver. It’s a call to kids and to each of us to open our minds and hearts. It had me reflecting. I could’ve slowed down, could’ve been more patient, and I probably would’ve learned a lot that added to my life.
Links You Might Like:
Interview with Sharon Draper on UNC TV’s Book Watch, Host D.G. Martin. 9.14.2012.