Most children and adults are scared of the severely handicapped. We feel awkward, we don’t know what to say. We may assume a person is not intelligent because of their appearance.
Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper is another book that encourages children to empathize with others. (See Empathy and Reading) Both Absolutely Almost and Rain Reign are about children with learning problems. Children like Albie and Rose could be among your child’s classmates.
Melody is severely disabled. She is unable to walk, talk or feed herself. She has spent most of her time in special education class. Most people have trouble seeing beyond her twisted body and involuntary movements to recognize that she is very intelligent and full of personality. We see the world through Melody’s eyes. .
Melody has struggled with limited communication. For most of her life, she had many things she wanted to say but no way to say them. When Melody accidently knocked over the goldfish bowl, she was helpless to let anyone know that her pet is in trouble.
A new computer with special features begins to change that. She is able to store more vocabulary and express herself through the computer’s voice. She can now have conversations with other students. But it’s the school quiz bowl that allows her to shine.
There are children who make fun of Melody. They don’t seem to understand that she understands them completely. Other classmates, Rose and Connor, are friendly but awkward. When she goes to a celebration dinner for the quiz bowl team, she still has to be fed by her parents.
Students on the Quiz Bowl team become envious when a TV News Station focuses its interview on Melody. She encounters major disappointment when she is not notified of a last minute flight change and gets left behind in the national competition.
This is a powerful book. Melody deals with each day’s problems, rarely expressing self pity. She doesn’t compare her life to her classmates. She experiences sadness and rejection but that never defines her. She deals with her disappointment with her teammates in ways that earn their respect.
This book is so well written that it is difficult to do it justice in a review. Sharon Draper, the author, also has a severely handicapped daughter. She did not base Melody’s character on her daughter, instead she creates a unique individual.
Draper talks more about her novel on her website: Sharon Draper on “Out of My Mind”