Out of My Mind, or Best Book of the Summer

9781416971719_p0_v1_s260x420Even 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.

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Wonder, or A Book Everyone Should Read

wonderOver the holiday break, I made a point of reading a few books (children’s and otherwise) that have long been on my to-do list. These included You Know When the Men are Gone (Siobhan Fallon’s utterly remarkable and heartbreaking collection of short stories centered around the military wives of Fort Hood) and Mrs. Dalloway (which I read every year just to be inspired). Also on that list was R.J. Palacio’s debut novel for young adults, Wonder. I’d seen this book on a number of “Best of 2012” lists for both children and adults and am always impressed when a writer can span the two audiences. Kathryn Erskine’s mockingbird is another of these books that speaks to any age – a brilliant, lovely piece which I hope to review soon. Wonder tells the story of young August Pullman, a ten-year old boy born with a severe facial deformity.  Homeschooled until this story takes place, Auggie has been protected by his lovable parents and sister with a fierceness and loyalty that any parent would exhibit in such a situation. Now, in an attempt to bring him out into the world and mainstream his education (both academically and socially), Auggie will take on new challenges as a 5th grader at an elite private school in his neighborhood. What unfolds is a story so universal in its pain and joy that every child and adult can relate. Auggie’s challenges, his ups and downs are, indeed, magnified by the extreme physicality of his differentiation, but the heart with which Palacio tells his story, makes Auggie an everyman…everyboy. Friends come and go, cafeteria seats are saved, then not saved, then pulled out from under him, until ultimately, kindness wins. This is an important book. One that every child and parent should read, even together as a means of opening up necessary discussions about interaction with one another. And in an era of bullying and teasing and taunting the likes of which we have not seen before, Auggie’s story is not only a beautiful example of the resilience of the human spirit, it is a reminder that there is always kindness in the world. It may take a while a find it, but it’s there, waiting with wonder.