Friday, April 2, 2010

Out of My Mind

Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper is a breathtaking book. I actually read it yesterday afternoon, and have already gone back and reread it. I read it on my Kindle (which normally I love), but for a book as amazing as this one, a book I want to leaf through the book over and over, I can't wait to go buy an actual copy of the book.

The story revolves around Melody, a child who has cerebral palsy. Melody is the narrator of the story which makes it even more powerful. My Kindle only has the actual text and doesn't include any flap jacket information, so I'm not sure if one of my questions will be answered once I buy the book. However, I am very curious to know how Draper did her research into children like Melody -- their actions, their thoughts, and their feelings.

The first part of the story deals with Melody's life before she gets to fifth grade. It deals with the specialist who tests her, and then tells her parents she will be retarded for life and maybe institutionalizing Melody would be the easiest thing for them. Luckily, Melody has parents that see beyond the surface (her wheelchair, her inability to talk or take care of herself, very limited body movement) and know that her eyes are bright and show understanding of what goes on around her. It talks about her different special ed teachers once she gets to school (Melody is in a total pull-out program and not included in anything with her typical peers), both the good and the bad. It made me sad and proud of my profession -- sad, because I know teachers like the ones who weren't kind or tolerant of Melody's special needs, and proud because I know many, many teachers who go more than the extra mile to help meet students at their level.

As an aside, there is one point where Melody gets mad and starts screaming and making noises when her special ed teacher in third grade is trying to teach her the ABCs and is only on the letter B half-way through the school year, even though her teacher in 2nd grade realized that Melody could listen to audio books of chapter books and answer comprehension questions about them using her voice board. Turns out the 3rd grade teacher never took the time to read all the information the 2nd grade teacher had left for her, because she didn't want to be influenced by what the teacher the year before had to say. I cringed when I read that part and thought shame on me for voicing those same thoughts for many years. It made me realize yet again how important it is to put all the pieces of the puzzle together when learning about our students each year, and we need to find that critical information in whatever places it might live.

The majority of the book deals with Melody's life in 5th grade, and the exciting changes that happened at her school that year. It was decided to have special ed students included into some of the other classes. In related arts, the music teacher had said she would be glad to have Melody and the other special ed students participate in her class. She went out of her way to have music that these new classmates would respond to. Melody came to love the day of the week she had music more than any other day. After that experience was such a success, they moved on including Melody in language arts and social studies as well.

As you can tell, Out of My Mind struck many chords with me. Instead of waxing on and on about it, I do want to leave you with a few very key points in the book:
  • Many people thought Melody had no vocabulary. Quite the opposite was true. She remembered all words she heard; she just didn't have the ability to speak. Can you imagine how frustrating it would be to take in all around you, but not be able to communicate with the people you love? Having Melody be the narrator of her story with all the words she does know makes this this discrepancy even more powerful.
  • I loved how Melody's parents read aloud to her every day. Taking care of Melody's physical needs was a big job, but that never stopped them from trying to enrich her life even further with books.
  • Melody's mom becomes pregnant during the story. Melody's parents fears of what will happen with this baby are real, as well as the fear Melody has herself. When Melody's new sister, Penny, is born, she is a very energetic, and moves through the typical child milestones with great ease. Melody both loves that about her, and is a little envious as well.
  • There are 2 people that absolutely have to be noticed in this story. The first, is Mrs. V, who early on realizes that Melody has untapped potential and capabilities. Mrs. V is Melody's neighbor who watches her for a few hours each day. She is responsible for Melody learning to roll over and scoot to get something she wants. Mrs. V is also the one who realized all the language that was locked up inside Melody's head. She was the first one to start doing language flashcards with Melody and then putting them on her communication board to point to.
  • The other person is Catherine, a college student who comes to school to be with Melody when she attends her inclusion classes and to help her at lunchtime. She is amazing because she can look past Melody's wheelchair, her lack of body motion, and her lack of oral language and see the wonderful person Melody is.
  • A turning point in the book is when Melody gets a computer that allows her to have a voice. She names the computer Elvira. She is able to program in some phrases and words she uses over and over, as well as type in other words. When Melody would hit a certain key, the computer would respond with a voice of Melody's choice saying Melody's words. Talk about your breakthoughs!!
  • Soon after Melody got Elvira, there were tryouts for the Whiz Kids team. Melody got 100% correct in both the preliminary rounds as well as the round to decide who would be on the team to represent their school. Mrs. V was the first one to realize that not only did Melody have language locked up in her head, she also had a photographic memory. Melody made the team and was an integral part in helping them go to the national championship in Washington, D.C.
The final point I'd like to address are the reactions of the other students to Melody. There were a few exceptions, but for the most part there was very little tolerance for, or acceptance of, Melody by her "typical" peers. These peers play a pretty large role in what I think of as the climax of the story. I was so mad my entire body tensed up as I read this part. And, unfortunately, though it was very dissatisfying to me, I have to give kudos to Draper for keeping it realistic, and not making it a happily ever after ending.

I loved Out of My Mind as much as I loved When You Reach Me, and we all know how that turned out!! :) My hope is that however I decide to share it with my class (whole class read aloud, parent/student book discussion, student Book Clubs), that it will help promote understanding of children like Penny. For the final time, I will say that this was an amazing book!!!

Finally, my friend Franki at A Year of Reading, just sent me this link to an interview with Sharon Draper. It is most definitely worth checking out.


  1. I started this one yesterday and had a very hard time putting it down so I could sleep last night! (Melody just made the Whiz Kids team - I need to know what happens next!) I absolutely love Melody's observations, which sometimes threaten to make me cry (there were definitely tears when she first used Elvira to speak to her parents - and her dad was there with his trusty video camera). Beautiful so far.

  2. Angela - the first "I love you" most definitely brought me to tears! And, after having Penny's milestones being recorded all the time, this was a perfect milestone for Melody to be recorded.

  3. I'm hooked Karen! I've got it in my shopping cart ready for ordering.

  4. This sounds like a great read..I'm ordering it right now!

  5. I wish I was spending my days with older students. This sounds like a must read to promote understanding and broader thinking. I will share this with my girls.

  6. Just finished this book and can't wait to share it with others. So glad Amazon delivered it during my spring break. I teach a 5th grade inclusion class and definitely needed to hear Melody's point of view-it is easy to forget the power of our position this time of year

  7. I was disappointed with the ending of the story. Why did they have to include the unlikely twist with the mother and the sister? It just threw me out of the story. Without that twist the book would have been much more powerful. I hope I manage to forget that bit and just remember the rest of the story, which I thought was wonderful.

  8. The book was a real eye opener!

  9. Love the book....where does melody live? Does Draper mention it? I just want to know.

    Great story again!