|Out of My Mind|
Chinese Book Cover
ON THE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER LIST FOR NINE WEEKS IN A ROW!
Susan Aikens, Kids Book Buyer from Borders Head Office
I can't remember the last time I was so emotionally overwhelmed by a middle grade novel. Sharon Draper's new novel is the story of Melody, a 10 year old girl with Cerebral Palsy so severe that she can neither speak nor move independently. Trapped inside Melody's uncooperative body is a brilliant mind with a cutting wit.
Melody is relegated to a classroom of special needs kids because she can't communicate what is going on in her head. Her world suddenly opens up when she gets a computer with a voice program that allows her to speak for the first time. Unfortunately, the rest of the school is not ready to accept Melody.
I was silently cheering for Melody while I read this book as I sat at my kitchen table. The conversations she has with her parents and caregivers about being different are gut-wrenching. Melody knows exactly how she is perceived by other kids and adults, including teachers. The conversations between Melody's parents as they contemplate the birth of their second child moved me to tears.
This is more than a book about a girl with special needs. It holds up a mirror for all of us to see how we react to people with disabilities that make us uncomfortable.
I encourage everyone to read this.
January 1, 2010 BOOKLIST STARRED REVIEW
Fifth-grader Melody has cerebral palsy, a condition that affects her body but not her mind. Although she is unable to walk, talk, or feed or care for herself, she can read, think, and feel. A brilliant person is trapped inside her body, determined to make her mark in the world in spite of her physical limitations. Draper knows of what she writes; her daughter, Wendy, has cerebral palsy, too. And although Melody is not Wendy, the authenticity of the story is obvious. Told in Melody's voice, this highly readable, compelling novel quickly establishes her determination and intelligence and the almost insurmountable challenges she faces.
It also reveals her parents' and caretakers' courage in insisting that Melody be treated as the smart, perceptive child she is, and their perceptiveness in understanding how to help her, encourage her, and discourage self-pity from others. Thoughtless teachers, cruel classmates, Melody's unattractive clothes ("Mom seemed to be choosing them by how easy they'd be to get on me"), and bathroom issues threaten her spirit, yet the brave Melody shines through.
Uplifting and upsetting, this is a book that defies age categorization, an easy enough read for upper-elementary students yet also a story that will enlighten and resonate with teens and adults. Similar to yet the antithesis of Terry Trueman's Stuck in Neutral (2000), this moving novel will make activists of us all. - Frances Bradburn
SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL. MARCH 1, 2010 STARRED REVIEW:
"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.
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, 1/1/10, STARRED REVIEW
What would you do if you could not make yourself known, if you had thoughts you could not speak? That is narrator Melody Brooks's plight: "By the time I was two, all my memories had words, and all my words had meanings. But only in my head," she writes. "I have never spoken one single word. I am almost eleven years old." This is her story, and also the story of a loving family and their devoted neighbor, who help Melody along on her path to say what she needs to say.
Sharon Draper (Copper Sun; Forged by Fire), who herself has a child with cerebral palsy--though she explicitly states that this is not her daughter's story--inhabits the brilliant, frustrated mind and unresponsive body of this child. This is the kind of book--like Terry Trueman's Stuck in Neutral or Harriet McBryde Johnson's Accidents of Nature--that makes readers aware of their own biases, and of what a great disservice those biases do to human beings whose outer trappings belie an extraordinary intelligence within. Draper's book is distinctive for the way she traces Melody's journey and her attempts to communicate from as far back as she can remember. In often poetic language, Melody describes how early on she "began to recognize noises and smells and tastes. The whump and whoosh of the furnace coming alive each morning.
The tangy odor of heated dust as the house warmed up." The author smoothly structures the book in a way that builds suspense while also creating a fuller picture of Melody's daily life. One chapter discusses obstacles from the medical community. At age five, Mrs. Brooks takes Melody to a doctor who says that Melody is "severely brain-damaged and profoundly retarded." Mrs. Brooks defends Melody's intelligence to him ("She laughs at jokes... right at the punch line") and, in another chapter describing Melody's life at school, stands up to a teacher who also underestimates her daughter's mental acuity.
A turning point occurs during one of Melody's daily after-school stays with next-door neighbor Mrs. Violet Valencia ("Mrs. V"): she and six-year-old Melody happen upon a documentary about Stephen Hawking.
"Melody, if you had to choose, which would you rather be able to do--walk or talk?" asks Mrs. V. "Talk. Talk. Talk," Melody answers, by repeatedly pointing at the word on her communication board. This begins Melody's quest to find the tools to express herself--first with word cards she makes with Mrs. V, then with phrases and, finally, with an electronic Medi-Talker. Melody takes charge of her own education and her means of communication. She thrives in her "inclusion classes" with the mainstream students academically, but is not accepted by them socially.
Even the most compassionate classmate can fall to peer pressure, as Melody learns on the brink of her greatest achievement on the Whiz Kids quiz team. Melody sees clearly the challenges before her, and it is the source of her greatest heartbreak but also her greatest inspiration.
It's impossible to close this book without thinking about the world differently.--Jennifer M. Brown
Narrator Melody is a fifth grader with cerebral palsy, but she is much more than that. Like her hero Stephen Hawking, Melody is damaged on the outside and brilliant within. It takes awhile for the adults in her life, especially her teachers, to see just how much life there is behind those stiff arms and hands, wobbling head, and "slightly out of whack" dark brown eyes. While her parents and babysitter know that Melody has a rich intellect, few people realize just how bright she is until she receives "Elvira," her Medi-Talker computer. Claire, a classmate in Melody's inclusion class, says what many of us think when we see a person with cerebral palsy, "I'm not trying to be mean-honest-but it just never occurred to me that Melody had thoughts in her head." Draper paints the picture of a real fifth grader, a girl with tantrums and attitude, problems with mean girls and oafish adults. Hearts will soar when Melody makes the quiz team and plummet when her classmates end up leaving her behind at the airport. When Melody sees danger and cannot get others to understand, we feel her frustration and terror. This is a powerfully eye-opening book with both an unforgettable protagonist and a rich cast of fully realized, complicated background characters.
KIRKUS. STARRED REVIEW. FEB/2010
"Melody, diagnosed with cerebral palsy, cannot walk or talk. Despite her parents' best efforts, the outside world has defined her by her condition. Melody's life changes when inclusion classrooms are introduced in her school, and she interacts with children other than those in her special-needs unit. To these children, Melody is "other," and they are mostly uncomfortable with her sounds and jerky movements. Normal problems of school friendships are magnified. Preparation for a trivia competition and acquisition of a computer that lets her communicate her thoughts reveal Melody's intelligence to the world. Melody is an entirely complete character, who gives a compelling view from inside her mind. Draper never shies away from the difficulties Melody and her family face. Descriptions of both Melody's challenges-"Going to the bathroom at school just plain sucks"-and the insensitivities of some are unflinching and realistic. Realistically, Melody's resilient spirit cannot keep her from experiencing heartbreak and disappointment even after she has demonstrated her intellect. This book is rich in detail of both the essential normalcy and the difficulties of a young person with cerebral palsy."
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH (OHIO)
PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE (PENNSYLVANIA)
Those who read Sharon Draper's most recent novel probably will never again look at a child using a wheelchair the same way.
Out of My Mind captures the thoughts of 10-year-old Melody, incapable of controlling her body or speaking her mind because of cerebral palsy.
Told in first person by the remarkably intelligent girl, the story is a realistic and compassionate window into the life of one considered "disabled" by the world around her.
To the fifth-graders with whom she shares an "inclusion" class, disabled might as well mean retarded.
When Melody flails her arms and legs or drools, the other students either look away in embarrassment or make jokes. But she has a few secret weapons.
Her loving parents, especially her mother, are her champions. When a dim special-needs teacher insists on playing nursery-rhyme songs and reteaching the class the alphabet (which they know but might not be able to speak), Melody's mother charges into the class, reams out the teacher and breaks the Twinkle Twinkle disc (reimbursing the teacher for its cost).
Midway through the tale, Melody acquires a "Medi-Talker" computer, finally enabling her to express her thoughts and participate in a regular class, including a Whiz Kids competition.
Years of watching the Discovery Channel and her photographic memory help boost Melody's scores so that she makes the team.
Draper, a former high-school English teacher who lives in Cincinnati, has crafted a realistic, fast-paced plot laced with humor. But she's not writing a fairy tale: Melody can't break through the stereotypical thinking of students and teachers. "They think my brain is messed up like the rest of me," she types to the college student who serves as her classroom aide. And, during a critical moment in the competition, even Rose, the team member who was kindest to Melody, betrays her. Draper surprises readers by giving Melody a victory where they least expect it. Like Stephen Hawking, who becomes her hero, Melody discovers that her inner strength and intelligence are more reliable than most of the humans around her. She becomes an activist for herself, even as Draper challenges those who read her story to become activists for those who are different.
firstname.lastname@example.org Box Story
Sharon M. Draper is one of my favorite authors. Her books usually focus on high school characters living through high school problems. OUT OF MY MIND heads in a different direction. The main character is faced with the daily struggle of living with severe cerebral palsy. Draper takes readers into a world most can't even come close to imagining.
Melody is trapped not only in a wheelchair but also in her own body. She has very little control over her physical functions. She can't walk, can't feed herself, but the worst thing is she can't communicate beyond grunts, squeals, and unreliable facial expressions.
People might think her biggest problems are her obvious physical disabilities, but if Melody could speak, she would reveal that she is actually a very smart young girl. She has a photographic memory, and from as early as she can remember, she has been learning words and storing them away. She learned her alphabet, how to count, and gained early reading skills just like every other youngster whose parents sat them in front of the TV to watch Sesame Street. Melody even has a fairly decent command of a second language, Spanish, thanks to the cultural diversity of preschool TV programming. The fact remains, no one knows because Melody can't tell them.
Fortunately, Melody's parents sense that their child is intelligent and capable of learning just like every other child, maybe even more so. They speak for Melody and insist she attend public school. It hasn't always been successful, because school officials place Melody in a special education room where the teachers haven't always given her the attention she deserves. With the help of one devoted teacher, a college teacher's aide, and a loving neighbor, Melody is given a chance to learn - and also a chance to speak in her own unique way.
Melody's world opens even more when she is mainstreamed into several regular classrooms. She gains confidence and the knowledge that she is as smart as or smarter than many kids her age. With the academic playing field on the level with her peers, she is able to show off her skills and make some friends. However, even though fitting in and being "normal" may be her greatest desire, it might prove to be an impossible dream.
My heart went out to Melody as she struggled to communicate with those around her. Sharon M. Draper captures the frustration Melody faces every moment of every day. Even though Draper provides a supportive family for Melody, she also shows the frustration of raising a child like Melody. With a direct and frank approach, Draper reveals the ups and downs of dealing with cerebral palsy. Draper covers everything from the physical challenges to the crushing guilt associated with having and raising a child with the condition in her trademark style.
THE DENVER POST
Out of My Mind, by Sharon M. Draper, $16.99. This extraordinary novel is a fantastic glimpse of what life is like for a profoundly disabled girl whose body constantly betrays her fine mind. Melody, 11, has spastic bilateral quadriplegia (cerebal palsy) that silences her voice and puts her in a wheelchair. She communicates with a word board, but it's a conscious effort to summon her arms and hands to do her will.
Melody wishes she could control her body when it spasms, wishes she were normal like the kids who ignore her at school, and wishes she could talk.
One wish comes true in this affecting novel. A type-and-speak computer allows Melody to talk for the first time in her life, and she has a lot to say. Her prowess at knowledge quizzes leaves teachers and classmates stunned.
This powerful story by a two-time Coretta Scott King winner offers a wrenching insight into so many vital lives that the able-bodied overlook. If there's only one book teens and parents (and everyone else) can read this year, "Out of My Mind" should be it. Ages 9 and up.
Mary Quattlebaum WASHINGTON POST
Melody cannot speak. For almost 11 years, cerebral palsy has trapped her in an awkward body and other people's condescension. Only her supportive parents and neighbor Mrs. V seem aware of her intelligence and spunk. Then one day, a special machine arrives through which Melody can voice the feelings and thoughts swirling inside her. She begins to excel in her fifth-grade inclusion classes and even qualifies for the school's Whiz Kids quiz team. Melody wants "to be like all the other girls" on the team -- until the national competition goes painfully awry. In Melody, author Sharon Draper creates an authentic character who insists, through her lively voice and indomitable will, that the reader become fully involved with the girl in the pink wheelchair. Details such as the messy particulars of Melody's daily routine, her anger over being babied intellectually and the arguments between her loving but strained parents add verisimilitude to this important novel.
Out of my Mind, a New York Times Bestselling novel for NINE weeks, received the Josette Frank Award by the Children's Book Committee of the Bank Street College of Education. This award for fiction honors a book of outstanding literary merit in which young people deal in a positive and realistic way with difficulties in their world and grow emotionally and morally. Out of my Mind was also chosen as a 2011 IRA Teachers' Choice Book and a 2011 IRA Young Adult's Choice, as well as the Best Book of the Year from KIRKUS. It was named as one of the Outstanding Children's book of 2011 by Bank Street College, as well as a 2011 Notable Children's Books in the Language Arts. It has won the Buckeye Children's Book Award from Ohio, the Sunshine State Young Reader's Award in both the middle school and elementary categories, the Black-Eyed Susan Book Award from Maryland, the Beehive Book Award from Utah, and the Virginia Reader's Choice Award. It was also featured in the July 9 issue of Time Magazine, and the July issue of Ladies'Home Journal. It was also on the Indie National Bestseller List and received the SAKURA Award from the children of Japan.