The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Book Review: Out Of My Mind

I acquire a lot of new books each year. I try to keep up with them. I want to read all of those books, but I don’t always get around to it. As I acquire more books, my “To Be Read” list grows longer and longer. Like many bibliophile teachers who are lifelong members of the Nerdy Book Club (even if they don’t know they are members), I have tumbling stacks of books in my classroom, in my office at home, and by my nightstand that are all waiting for me to read them.

 

One of the books that I have had in my classroom for three years now is Out Of My Mind by Sharon Draper. Students in my class read this book for the Battle of the Books one year, but I didn’t read it. I had a reading group read it last year, but I didn’t actually read it. (I trusted the advice of several former students to have a group read the book together.) So I realised that the best way to force me to read the book would be to select it as a read aloud for this year.

 

This is the story of an eleven-year-old girl, Melody Brooks, with cerebral palsy that has rendered her unable to talk, walk, or even move much more than her thumbs. She is also brilliant. She has nearly perfect recall, but has no way to communicate it with others. Because of her medical condition, she is diagnosed by a developmental psychologist as being severely retarded (his words). Melody’s mother, fortunately, knows better and refuses to accept the doctor’s diagnosis. Instead, she enrolls her daughter in the local elementary school.

For the next several years, Melody spends her days at school in a self-contained special education room, being bored to tears with the same lessons day after day, year after year. Then Spaulding Street Elementary School starts an inclusion program, bringing students in the special education room into general education classroom settings. Then a miracle happens: Melody learns about augmentative alternative communication devices, such as those used by Dr. Stephen Hawking. She is able to work with her teachers, her parents, and her doctors to put in an application to get a device that would let her talk to others for the first time in her life.

Then she waits.

And waits.

And waits.

And then the day arrives. And everything changes.

I love this book. It is nearly 300 pages long, yet I was able to read the entire book to my class in just a few weeks. My students begged for me to read more. Several borrowed copies from my classroom and from the library. At least one bought it at a book fair. We didn’t have many deep conversations as we read. I didn’t pause to have discussions. I just wanted them to experience the story with me. And they did.

The best thing about Out Of My Mind is that the main character is never someone you feel pity for. She is smart. She is determined. She is amazing. And even when she kicks and screams when she can’t communicate in any other way, you still just want to cheer for her and yell at those who treat her poorly because of her physical disability. This book also makes you think deeply about the assumptions you make about those who are different. I am going to have my students write letters to their pen pals tomorrow to tell them about this book and what they thought and whether or not they would recommend it to others. I know I certainly will!

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