Sharon M. Draper, Author
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Fiction, 2010
Suitable for: Ages 10 to Adult
Themes: Cerebral Palsy, Intelligence, Interpersonal Relationships
Opening: “Words. I’m surrounded by thousands of words. Maybe millions. Cathedral. Mayonnaise. Pomegrante…Words have always swirled around me like snowflakes — each one delicate and different, each one melting untouched in my hands. Deep within me, words pile up in huge drifts. Mountains of phrases and sentences and connected ideas. Clever expressions and jokes. Love songs.” Melody’s head is full of words and sentences. She is 11 years old and has never spoken one single word. Melody has cerebral palsy and is trapped in a body that won’t do what she wants it to do. She is confined to a wheel chair, unable to move, walk, talk, feed and care for herself. Melody has a photographic mind, and is a very smart. But no one knows that except Melody. No one knows that her favorite song is “Elvira.”
Draper has written a very compelling novel and has given us a rare glimpse into Melody’s world. She shows Melody’s frustration in having doctors, teachers and people talking about her like she’s “profoundly retarded and unable to understand.” Her frustration and her inability to speak can lead to “tornado explosions,” which only reinforces their beliefs that she’s severely brain-damaged. Melody says, ”I live in a cage with no door and no key.” “And, I have no way to tell someone how to get me out.” Draper has created a very strong protagonist who simply will not give up and fights to find that key to unlock the cage so people will know she is there. She’s tired of going to school and being put in a special education classes and taught the same nursery rhymes and songs year after year. She wants to learn. She’s hurt that no one wants to be a friend and deals with constant bullying when she participates in inclusion classes.
Fortunately for Melody, she has loving parents who advocate for her, and a neighbor who drills Melody every afternoon on words she has written on flash cards to help Melody communicate. Melody is even more determined, and one day she discovers a special computer that can help her speak. Melody world begins to change once she gets her Medi-talker. She is catapulted into some exciting new adventures that are also fraught with disappointment. But this very courageous girl now has a voice, and she’s not afraid to express her feelings. Hooray for Melody!
After reading Draper’s very moving novel, I believe there are very important things Melody would want you to know when meeting or working with a child with special needs. Don’t talk about them as if they are invisible. Don’t assume that they are brain-damaged and aren’t intelligent. Always assume they can hear or understand you even if they can’t communicate. Look directly into their eyes and talk to them as if they understand you. Treat them with respect and dignity. Don’ talk in a loud voice, talk normally. Don’t look away if you feel awkward. Smile and say hello.
Draper is “fiercely adamant that nobody feel sorry for Melody.” “I tried hard to make her unforgettable – someone you would never dare feel sorry for,” says Draper. “I wanted her to be accepted as a person, not as a representative for people with disabilities. Lots of people have worse difficulties in their lives. As readers embrace the story, I hope that they will cheer for her!”
Sharon Draper is a two-time Coretta Scott King Award-winning author, most recently for Copper Sun, and previously for Forged by Fire. Visit this award-winning author, educator, speaker, poet and National Teacher of the Year at her website (click here). Her website contains interviews and information about all of her books.
I also want to say a special thank you to Cathy Mealey for recommending this extraordinary book to me. Out of My Mind is one of my favorite reads this year.