Even though my two boys are getting older, I still love reading out loud to them and, miraculously, they still let me. I’ve read the entire Harry Potter series, almost every Percy Jackson and a smattering of old favorites like Mrs. Piggle Wiggle and Superfudge. But it wasn’t until one particular book came along that it became less about wanting to read to them and needing to read to them. I draw the distinction because this book, one of the most beautiful, heartbreaking books to come out in recent history, must be read by every family. It is necessary and gorgeous and devastating and I cannot recommend it highly enough. This book is Out of my Mind by award-winning author Sharon Draper. And I encourage you to run out right now and purchase it for your entire family.
Draper is no stranger to excellent, groundbreaking children’s books. She is a two-time Coretta Scott King award winner and a favorite of mine. And while all of her books are truly exceptional, this book captures something truly unique in the voice of Melody, its main character. Melody is ten years old and a fifth grader at Spaulding Street Elementary School. She has the thoughts and feelings of a brilliant young girl and yet cannot speak or walk due to her cerebral palsy. Trapped within the confines of her own body, Melody’s poetic spirit is unknown to most people around her, particularly the other students in her school. And her academic prowess (she is gifted beyond her years) is invisible to the teachers at her school. Melody longs to make herself heard and understood and when she acquires a speech board (much like Stephen Hawking) the thoughts that have been heretofore trapped inside of her are finally heard. But all is not easy for her even with the gift of speech. There are still teachers who underestimate her skills, fellow students who taunt and tease. But despite it all, Melody rises to the surface, intent upon becoming visible to the world around her.
This is a story of perseverance, pain and triumph and one of the best, most beautifully written portrayals of a child with disabilities that I have ever read. It is as beautiful as Wonder (please read that too, if you haven’t already) but has its own angle, its own way of telling Melody’s story that has the reader laughing one minute and crying the next. This is a book that every child should read or be read for it speaks to a common kindness and a need for every child and adult to see the best in one another, no matter the ability or disability. Please make this book part of your summer reading list – it is a book that could very well teach your child to be a little kinder, a little more sensitive and a little more able to look beyond the surface and see the beauty underneath.