Out Of
My Mind

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Intro, Summary & General Questions

Summary:


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. She 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.

1. Why did you choose to write a work about a disabled child?

What if you were brilliant but could not communicate? I've often wondered about what's really going on in the mind of a person who cannot share their thoughts. I have a pretty good idea, because I have a daughter who is disabled. I'm pretty sure she's really smart, but I'm her mom-of course I'd want to believe that. So I created Melody-not as a portrait of my daughter, but as a character who is truly her own being. Melody has spunk and determination, and a great sense of humor. She has dreams and hopes like we all do.

2. Do you think readers will feel sorry for Melody? What did you do to avoid that?

As I wrote the story, I was fiercely adamant that nobody feel sorry for Melody. So I tried very hard to make her unforgettable-someone you would never dare feel sorry for. Lots of people have worse difficulties in their lives. As readers embrace the story, I hope that they will cheer for her!

3. How do you think Melody's physical limitations affect her outlook on life? The way others see her?

Kids with disabilities are just like their peers. They want to be accepted, to have friends, to be included in the social life of the school. Melody understands the pain of being ignored and overlooked, and I've given her a voice to show her humanity. She represents all those young people, who have feelings as well as dreams. I wanted to give those kids, who are often treated as if they are invisible, a chance to be heard, to be seen as the individuals they are, not the machines they ride in, or the disability that defines them.

4. In Out of my Mind, you address a number of issues such as social bias against disabled individuals, medical difficulties, as well as physical obstacles like stairs and bathrooms and eating. How is Melody a representative of the world of the "differently-abled?"

I think Melody would not like being made the representative of any group. Melody yearns to be recognized and appreciated as an individual. I think that's the whole point of the novel. It's important to remember that each person who has to deal with the world differently is not a group, but a person--just one person, trying to do his or her best in a world that might be very difficult to navigate.

5. What kind of research did you do for this book?

The story of Melody is fictional, of course, but is based on the reality of thousands of intelligent children and adults who are trapped inside uncooperative bodies. I've read dozens of books on disabilities, worked with handicapped children at a local summer camp, and spent untold hours trying to unlock the secrets hidden in my own daughter's mind. When a fictional character is created, the author has the power to allow any dreams to be achieved, and to allow triumphs as well as tragedies to occur. This novel has been carefully edited it for accuracy of fact as well as sincerity of spirit.

6. Why is the character of Mrs. V important to the novel?

Everyone needs a mentor, a life coach, someone to champion them on to success. Mrs. V fills that role in the novel. Sometimes it's hard for parents to give their children everything that is needed in life. Mrs. V is that person who goes above and beyond what is required of her because she sees potential in Melody, and because she loves her. We all could use a Mrs. V in our lives.

7. What is the role of music in Out of my Mind and in Melody's life in particular?

Melody can "hear" colors, and "taste" music. The artistic side of her shows a deep understanding of the necessary mingling of art and music to create words and images and ideas. Melody's love for music helps her, even soothes her when her life gets too overwhelming. Music gives her expression in a world where she is unable to express almost everything.

8. No racial description is given to any character in the novel. Why did you choose not to mention Melody's racial or cultural heritage?

Her race is not important. Melody's difficulties far supersede any racial or cultural problems she might encounter. She is purposely made generic because I wanted the reader to see her as a unique individual that could be anyone's child. Actually, when she first gets the Medi-Talker, and she discovers that it comes in many different languages, she realizes that children like her exist all over the world.

9. Melody's character in Out of my Mind is a survivor in spite of serious difficulties. What do you think readers can learn from Melody's life? What does the novel say about love?

I think Melody's strength comes from love. Even though she is frustrated, silenced, and unable to do the things she longs to do, she has an unbelievably positive spirit. Love gives her the strength to make it though each day, and to look forward to the future.

10. What statements do you make through the actions of the children at Melody's school?

Melody simply wants a friend. She longs to be like the other kids at her school. She is overjoyed when it looks like Rose will be that friend. It hurts and angers her when kids like Claire and molly make fun of her. And it devastates her when she realizes she'd been left behind on purpose. I think the portrayal of the children, and the teachers in the story as well, give a realistic portrayal of the reality of how people treat the disabled in social situations. From the people in the mall, to the doctors who should know better, human beings are often unkind, sometimes rude, but occasionally just plain wonderful.

11. What would you like your young readers to get out of reading Out of my Mind?

I want them to say, "Wow! That was great! That book made me think, and it made me realize that all human beings are more alike than different. I never knew what is was like to be handicapped-I learned to think differently." I want them to embrace this novel and pass it along to their friends and their parents and teachers

12. What do you want readers to remember about kids like Melody?

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. Say hello!

13. What does this novel say about truth?

I think 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. And sometimes readers can discover some truths about themselves as well. This novel speaks for those who cannot speak. It should remind us of the humanity in us all.

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Reviews & Rewards

On the New York Times Best Seller List for ONE FULLYEAR!!!

Reviews:
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

Horn Book
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.

ngilson@dispatch.co Box Story

Teensreadtoo.com/outofmymindsd.html
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.

Awards
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.
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Study Guides

Study Guide:
Discussion Topics for OUT OF MY MIND
  1. The novel opens with a powerful discussion of the power of words and language. How does this help capture the reader's attention? What predictions can the reader make about the narrator of the story? What inferences can be made about the thought processes of the narrator's mind?

  2. In a world that does not work for her, what seems to cause the biggest frustrations for Melody?

  3. Describe Melody's parents. How do they learn to communicate with Melody and help her to overcome everyday problems? Why are those efforts sometimes a complete failure?

  4. How does Melody feel about school? How does she fit in with her classmates and what makes her different from the rest of the children in H-5? What would be Melody's ideal school situation?

  5. Discuss Melody's teachers since she began going to school. What does this say about her school system, or about attitudes at her school about teaching children with special needs?

  6. Describe Mrs. V. What role does she play in Melody's development? Why is she a necessary addition to Melody's life?

  7. What is significant about the story of Ollie the fish? How does Ollie's life mirror Melody's? Describe Melody's feelings when she is unable to tell her mother what really happened.

  8. Describe how the introduction of Penny as a character changes the family dynamics. Analyze Melody's complicated feelings about her little sister.

  9. How does the inclusion program change Melody's school experiences? Describe both positive and negative results of the program. Describe Melody's deep, unrealized need for a friend.

  10. What does Melody learn about friendship during the trip to the aquarium? Make a comparison between Ollie's life, the life of the fish in the aquarium, and Melody's life.

  11. How does Melody's computer change her life, her outlook on life, and her potential? Why does she name it Elvira?

  12. Why does Melody decide to enter the quiz team competition? What obstacles must she face and overcome just to get on the team?

  13. What does Melody learn about friendship and the relationships of children working together as she practices and competes with the quiz team? What does she learn about herself?

  14. What is ironic about the events at the restaurant after the competition? How does this scene foreshadow the events that led up to the airport fiasco?

  15. Describe Melody's feelings before the trip to the airport, while she is there, and after she gets home. How would you have coped with the same situation?

  16. Describe Melody's extreme range of emotions as she tries to tell her mother that Penny is behind the car. How did the scene make you feel?

  17. Discuss the scene in which Melody confronts the kids on the quiz team. What is satisfying about how she handles the situation? What else might Melody have done?

  18. Why is the first page repeated at the end of the book? How has Melody changed, both personally and socially, from the beginning of the book to the end?

  19. How would this story have been different if it had been written from a third-person point of view; from the point of view of her parents, for example, or simply from the viewpoint of an outside observer?

  20. Explain the title of the novel. Give several possible interpretations.

Activities and Research
  1. Put yourself in Melody's chair. Write a paper that tells what it would be like to be Melody for one day. Write about your feelings and frustrations.

  2. Investigate the problems of children with cerebral palsy, especially those that are of school age. How does it affect the child socially, academically, and personally?

  3. Investigate the possible causes of cerebral palsy, and what preventative measures, if any, can be taken by the mother.

  4. Research current laws for inclusion of children with disabilities into classrooms. What effect, if any, do such things have on a school community?

  5. Research current treatment options or communication devices for young people like Melody.

  6. Write a letter to one of the characters in the book explaining your feelings about the events in the story. What advice would you give Melody, Rose, Mr. D or Mrs. V?
  7. Describe the relationship between the able-bodied children and Melody. Would you describe it as a true friendship? When situations become monumental and overwhelming to young people, what is likely to happen? Explain.

  8. Imagine it is the last day of fifth grade. Write a letter or create a conversation between one of the following pairs of characters:
    • Rose and Melody
    • Melody and Mrs. V
    • Melody and Catherine
    • Mr. D and Melody
    • Melody and Claire


  9. Trace the story of one of the following characters. Imagine you are a reporter doing a story on one of their lives. Write everything you know, as well as whatever you can infer about the character in order to write your magazine article.
    • Claire
    • Mrs. V
    • Mr. Dimming
    • Rose
    • Penny


  10. You are a reporter at one of the following scenes. Write the story for your newspaper.
    • Student with Disabilities makes Quiz Team
    • Child Struck by Family Car
    • Big Storm Grounds Air Traffic
    • Local Quiz Team Wins Big


WRITING ACTIVITIES

Read the quotes, then write the essay that follows.

  1. COMPARISON/CONTRAST PAPER

    (a) "Mrs. Billups replied, with that superior tone that teachers dressed in nice red business suits use when they're talking to mothers with dirty shirts on, "We were reviewing the alphabet, of course. The sound of the letter B, if I recall. I always start with the basics. These children need constant review because they don't retain information like the rest of us."

    (b) Mrs. Shannon told us on the first day, "I'm gonna bust a gut makin' sure y'all get all you can out of this school year, you hear? We're gonna read, and learn, and grow. I believe every one of y'all got potential all stuffed inside, and together we're gonna try to make some of that stuff shine."

    Compare and/or contrast the characters of the two teachers, Mrs. Shannon and Mrs. Billups. Discuss their effectiveness at teaching their subjects, as well as how they relate to students. Use specific examples from the book to support your statements.

  2. DESCRIPTIVE PAPER

    " I 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 feel of a sneeze in the back of my throat. And music. Songs floated through me and stayed. Lullabies, mixed with the soft smells of bedtime, slept with me. Harmonies made me smile. It's like I've always had a painted musical soundtrack playing background to my life. I can almost hear colors and smell images when music is played. Mom loves classical. Big, booming Beethoven symphonies blast from her CD player all day long. Those pieces always seem to be bright blue as I listen, and they smell like fresh paint. Dad is partial to jazz, and every chance he gets he winks at me, takes out Mom's Mozart disc, then pops in a CD of Miles Davis or Woody Herman. Jazz to me sounds brown and tan and it smells like wet dirt."

    Write a descriptive paper that uses sensory imagery. Describe a specific scene and bring it to life with your words. Use vivid verbs and powerful adjectives and adverbs as you write. Use as many of the senses as you can. (sight, sound, smell, touch, taste)

  3. NARRATIVE PAPER

    "From the very beginning Mrs. Valencia gave me no sympathy. Instead of sitting me in the special little chair my parents had bought for me, she plopped me on my back in the middle of the floor on a large, soft quilt. The first time she did that, I looked up at her like she was crazy. I cried. I screeched. She ignored me, walked away, and flipped on her CD player. Loud marching band music blared through the room. I liked it. Then she came back and put my favorite toy-a rubber monkey-a few inches from my head. I wanted that monkey.

    Mrs. V sat down on the quilt. "Turn over, Melody," she said quietly. Sometimes she can make her voice really soft. I was so shocked I stopped yelling. I couldn't turn over. Didn't she know that? Was she nuts? She wiped my nose with a tissue. "You can turn yourself over, Melody. I know you understand every word I say to you, and I know you can do this. Now roll!" Actually, I'd never bothered to try very hard to roll anywhere. I'd fallen off the sofa a couple of times, and it hurt, so I usually just waited for Mom or Dad to move me to a comfortable position.

    "Look at how you're laying. You're already on your side--halfway there. Use all that screaming and hollering energy you've got to take you to another position. Toss your right arm over and concentrate!" So I did. I strained. I reached. I tried so hard I farted! Mrs. V cracked up. But slowly, slowly, I felt my body rolling to the right. And them unbelievably, plop! I was on my stomach. I was so proud of myself--I screeched.

    "I told you so," Mrs. V said, victory in her voice. "Now go get that monkey!"

    Write a narrative paper from the point of view of Mrs. V. Tell what kind of life she must have lived to become the person that she is. Discuss her hidden strengths and her attitude toward Melody.

  4. EXPOSITORY PAPER

    (a) " I had to blink a little to figure it all out. Everything you see on TV is fake. I saw the place where they film the news. When I watch it on television at home, it looks like the reporters are sitting in front of a huge window that shows all of downtown. But it's just a painting, and it's pretty small. So is the desk where the reporters sit. It seems so much bigger from home.

    I recognized a couple of the reporters who I watched every day. I couldn't believe how skinny the morning lady was. On TV she looks normal sized. I'm going to look like a huge balloon when the cameras show me.

    Speaking of cameras, they were huge-like giant black mechanical space beings on wheels. Guys with headphones and women with clipboards ran around checking stuff. The back part of the studio was dark, but the place where the contest would take place was lit brightly. I could see the place where the teams would stand, and the big red buttons they would push for the answers.

    Write an expository (explanatory) paper that describes a room at your school, a building, or any other specialized room such as a computer lab. Tell what is unusual or unexpected about the place. Use as many specifics as possible.

  5. PERSUASIVE PAPER

    " Fifth grade is probably pretty rocky for lots of kids. Homework. Never being quite sure if you're cool enough. Clothes. Video games. Parents. Wanting to play with toys, and wanting to be grown up all at the same time. Underarm odor. I guess I have all that, plus about a million different layers of other stuff to deal with. Making people understand what I want. Worrying about what I look like. Fitting in. Will a boy ever like me? Maybe I'm not so different from everyone else after all.

    It's like somebody gave me a puzzle, but I don't have the box with the picture on it. So I don't know what the final thing is supposed to look like. I'm not even sure if I have all the pieces. That's probably not a good comparison, since I couldn't put a puzzle together if I wanted to. Even though I usually know the answers to most of the questions at school, lots of stuff still puzzles me."

    Write a persuasive paper that discusses one of the following options: (a) "Melody is just like every other fifth grader." (b) "Melody is very different from the rest of the world." (c) Melody is unique in that she is very much like other children, yet not like them at all." Be sure to use specifics to support your answer.

  6. POINT OF VIEW PAPER

    " The windows were almost completely fogged up, and got even worse as I continued to act like I'd been possessed by demons. Mom looked at me as if I had lost my mind. She screamed at me, "Stop it! Are you crazy?"

    But I wouldn't stop. I couldn't. I banged on the car window, pulled Mom's shirt, hit her head. I pinched her, or at least tried to.

    "I can't take any more, Melody!" Mom screamed over the thunder. "I hate it when you get like this. You've got to learn to control yourself! Now QUIT!" She put her hand on the keys to start the car.

    I screamed, reached over, and tried to pull the keys from her. I scratched the back of Mom's hand.

    "She smacked me on the leg. She'd never raised a hand to me before. Never. I still didn't stop screaming and kicking and jerking. I had to tell her. I had to tell her that Penny was out there! Never had I wanted words more. I was going out of my mind."

    Read the passage above and explain how the point of view of the character who makes the observation influences the description. Discuss the scene through Melody's eyes, then tell how it looks from her mother's point of view.

  7. POETRY

    Write a poem about one of the following topics:
    • The Girl on the Inside
    • When Friends Betray Us
    • A Fish out of Water
    • Sisters
    • The Power of Words
    • Courage


  8. CHARACTER SKETCH PAPER

    "But Penny! Penny really was a perfect kid. After just a few months she was sleeping through the night and smiling through each day. She sat up exactly when babies are supposed to do that, rolled over right on schedule, and crawled on cue. Amazing. And it seemed so easy! Sure, she fell on her face a few times, but once she got it, she was off! Penny zoomed like a little wind-up toy. She learned the toilet was fun to splash in, and that lamps will fall if you grab the cord. She learned that Golden Retrievers are not ponies, peas taste funny, dead flies on the floor are a no-no, but candy is really good. She laughed all the time. She learned her sister Melody couldn't do what she could do, but she didn't seem to care. So I tried not to care either.

    Dad and his camcorder followed Penny around like the paparazzi follow a rock star! We have hundreds of hours of Penny being cute and doing adorable things. And, well, I admit it, sometimes I got kinda sick of watching a new video every time she learned something new. It sorta sucks to watch a baby do what you wish you could do.

    Penny holding her own bottle.

    Penny feeding herself teeny tiny Cheerios from her high chair tray.

    Penny saying "ma-ma" and "da-da" just like the babies on Sesame Street.

    Penny crawling on the floor and chasing Butterscotch.

    Penny clapping her hands.

    How did her little brain know how to tell her to pull herself up to a standing position? To hold onto the sofa for balance? How did she know how to stand on her own? Sometimes she'd fall over, but then she'd pop right back up. Never ever did she lie there, stuck like a turtle on its shell...

    Write a character sketch of a family member, a friend, or a relative. Use strong verbs and adjectives, lots of specifics, as well as sensory imagery.

  9. PERSONAL ESSAY
    " I squeezed my eyes shut. Stupid elevator music floated from the tinny airport speakers. I heard no beautiful colors. I smelled no lovely aromas. All I could see was the darkness behind my eyeballs. . . .

    The woman typed and clicked for what seemed like hours. Finally, she looked up. "There are no other flights to DC on any other carrier, sir. That weather system has grounded everything. There will be nothing until later this evening. I'm so sorry," she whispered. . . .

    I opened my eyes because they were filling with tears. . . .

    I still had not breathed out real good. . . .

    The entire airport felt like a vacuum. No sound. No voices. No air. . . .

    I just sat there. The morning had started out like crystal, but the day had turned to broken glass."

    Write a personal essay that describes a special memory or event. Or on a particular loss in your life. Explain why it is meaningful to you. Be sure to include sensory imagery--sights, smells, touches, tastes, sounds.

  10. LANGUAGE ANALYSIS PAPER "From the time I was really little-maybe just a few months old-words were like sweet, liquid gifts, and I drank them like lemonade. I could almost taste them. They made my jumbled thoughts and feelings have substance. My parents have always blanketed me with conversation. They chattered and babbled. They verbalized and vocalized. My father sang to me. My mother whispered her strength into my ear. Every word my parents spoke to me or about me I absorbed and kept and remembered. All of them. I have no idea how I untangled the complicated process of words and thought, but it happened quickly and naturally. By the time I was two, all my memories had words, and all my words had meanings. But only in my head."

    Think about how a child learns language, learns to understand words, and learns how to speak. Write a paper, using library or Internet resources, that traces language development in humans. Then analyze Melody's abilities to do interpret language without the means of a voice.