I started reading this book simply because I was looking for a realistic (i.e. not fantasy/sci-fi/horror like I typically read), and it won the Volunteer State Book Award in the Intermediate division. I didn’t know what to expect as I’ve never read anything by this author before, and I didn’t even read what it was about. I liked the cover and the title, so I checked it out, and read the first few pages at work. Just to see what it was about. And I fell in love.
Out of My Mind tells the story of Melody, an eleven-year-old with a photographic memory, but she cannot speak, walk, or feed herself. Melody has cerebral palsy and is in special education classes at her local public school. Melody is a bright girl with big dream, ambitions, and problems like any other eleven-year-old. Melody’s school begins an inclusion program for the special education students and this is where the book gets really interesting. I won’t give away the ending, but it equal parts heartbreaking and uplifting. Melody encounters the struggles one would expect of a girl in a wheelchair who can’t speak when put into a group of fifth graders.
This book is phenomenal. This needs to be required reading for parents, students, administrators, teachers, everyone. There has always been a special section in my heart for those that get labeled as “special needs” or “intellectually disabled” or whatever term one wishes to put on it. I was a peer tutor in a special education classroom my last semester of my senior year of high school where several of the students, one of whom I was closet too, were non-verbal like Melody. I did wonder what when on in their heads, if sometimes they threw fits because they had so much to say and couldn’t say it like I could, like Melody can’t.
There are so many important aspects and parts of this book that I don’t know where to start. One of the greatest aspects is that variety of students Melody shows in her special education classroom. Just like a traditional classroom, the students are all at different learning levels (granted, there may be a bit more of a gap than a traditional classroom), but this digs at the idea and theme that differently abled individuals are just as varied as everyone else. There aren’t generalizations that can or should be applied to people with “special needs” just as they shouldn’t be applied to any sort of group. Melody’s character shows that she wants what everyone wants–to be accepted, to find her place in the world, and to make it through the school year. She is constantly underestimated by everyone–her classmates, teachers, doctors–but she never quits.
During my time as a peer tutor, and before I was a peer tutor in the special education classroom, their teacher said something that stuck with me. Well, she actually said several things that have stuck with me, but one of them is also said in the book. I can remember hearing her speak about the peer tutor program as sophomore in high school (I’m 23 to help put this context) and talking about her students and saying how if we passed them in the hallways, there was something incredibly simple we could do to make their day. You know what that was? Smile and say “hi.” That was all it would take to make any of them have a better day. It’s so simple we probably don’t give it much thought, and it may not seem huge, but to smile and say hi, or even just smile, at a student who, at best gets overlooked, and at worst gets sneered at by the general population of the school, can mean the world. A smile and a greeting means that you see that individual. You see them as you might see anyone else and you treat them as you would as anyone else. You treat them like the person they are.
In the book, Melody is discussing seeing the regular kids, as she calls them, playing recess and how no one invites any of her classmates to play foursquare. Melody knows she and the others can’t play foursquare, “but it would be nice if somebody would say “Hi.” I guess the four-square players think we’re all so backward that we don’t care that we get treated like we’re invisible” (28-29). That is one powerful sentence and one important thought we should all be more aware of. People like Melody do get overlooked, do get treated like they’re invisible, but they’re not. They are people, just like you me, with many of the same desires, and the only true “special need” they have is what everyone has: the need to be loved.
As Melody says, “We all have disabilities. What’s yours?”
Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine (Aspergers)
Wonder by R.J. Palacio (no disability, but a craniofacial abnormality that prevented him from attending mainstream school until middle school)
Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork (for the YA group. Some type of unspecified autism spectrum disorder)
Stuck in Neutral by Terry Trueman (older middle school/YA. It’s harder to find, and it’s been years since I’ve read it, but it’s fantastic).
Joey Pigza series by Jack Gantos (ADHD)
Beehive Book Award, 2012 Winner Children’s Fiction Utah
Black-Eyed Susan Book Award, 2011-2012 Winner Grades 6-9 Maryland
Bluestem Award, 2013 Winner United States
Buckeye Children’s Book Award, 2011 Winner 6-8 Ohio
California Young Reader Medal, 2012-2013 Winner Middle School California
Great Lakes Great Books Award, 2011-2012 Honor Book Grades 4-5 Michigan
Indies Choice Book Award, 2011 Honor Book Young Adult United States
Josette Frank Award, 2011 Winner
Lamplighter Award, 2012-2013 Winner Grades 6-8 United States
Land of Enchantment Book Award, 2012-2013 Winner Young Adult New Mexico
Maine Student Book Award, 2012 Second Place Maine
Mark Twain Award, 2012-2013 Winner Missouri
Mitten Award, 2011 Honor Book Michigan, United States
Parents’ Choice Award, 2010 Silver Fiction United States
Pennsylvania Young Readers’ Choice Award, 2012-2013 Winner Grades 6-8 Pennsylvania
Prairie Pasque Award, 2012-2013 Winner Grades 4-6 South Dakota
Rebecca Caudill Young Readers’ Book Award, 2013 2nd Place Illinois
Sasquatch Reading Award, 2013 Winner Washington
Sunshine State Young Reader’s Award, 2011-2012 Winner Grades 3-5 Florida
Virginia Readers’ Choice Award, 2011-2012 Winner Middle Virginia
Volunteer State Book Award, 2012-2013 Winner Grades 3-5 Tennessee
Young Hoosier Book Award, 2012-2013 Winner Middle Grades Indiana
Draper, Sharon M. Out of My Mind. New York: Atheneum for Young Readers, 2010. Print.