I am honored to present this interview with Sharon Draper, author of Out of my mind, an inspirational and powerful book about a young girl and her journey with communication. To check out my review and links to teacher lessons and resources, click here.
What inspired you to write the book, Out of my mind?
The simple answer to your question is I wrote the book because it needed to be written. Those kids like Melody needed a voice. It is amazing how many people with a whole array of disabilities have written to me because the book called attention to their particular plight. They simply thanked me for letting the world “see” them as real people. I do have a daughter with a disability, but she is NOT Melody! Not even close. She tells me all the time to make sure people don’t think she is Melody. She thinks it’s funny, and loves the attention it brings her. Bringing up a child with special needs gives one a huge insight into the world of special ed and don’t even get me started on the cruelty that systems like Common Core have inflicted on those kids.
How did the character of Melody develop?
Melody developed gradually, over a two-three year period, becoming a real person as I changed and revised the story. Most of my characters do that—they grow from a seed as I begin writing, then grow to face a challenge, sometimes personal, sometimes social, usually both. The characters then begin to be “real people” for me. I don’t really think about it. I look to their strength, their uniqueness, their power to propel the reader through the story. I’m real proud of how Melody turned out.
Sharon M. Draper is a professional educator as well as an accomplished writer. She has been honored as the National Teacher of the Year, is a five-time winner of the Coretta Scott King Literary Awards, and is a New York Times bestselling author, with Out of my Mind staying on the list for almost two years. To learn more about Sharon and her extensive bio, literacy awards and many other published books, check out her website here.
“Just because I can’t talk, doesn’t mean that I have nothing to say”. This is one of my favorite quotes that I often share with my graduate students.
As a speech language pathologist who specializes in Augmentative and Alternative Communication, Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper is a powerful book that teaches the reader many valuable lessons about individuals with disabilities, specifically those that affect speech. A couple of months ago, my friend’s daughter and I were discussing a recent book that she just read titled Out of My Mind. I was impressed about what the book taught her with respect to communication and how it gave her perceptive of those individuals with complex communication needs. After reading this book myself, I felt Out of my mind truly captures the perspective of a child with limited communication and intact cognition.
Out of My Mind is a chapter book about a young girl named Melody who is diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, which limits her expressive language. Although she can produce vocalizations, she has no functional speech for communication. Although Melody can’t speech, her cognition is not impacted and has a photographic memory. She learns and understands the world like her peers but can’t communicate this knowledge and intelligence due to her inability to speak. The book begins with Melody’s description of being in a self-contained classroom with the inability to communicate. She enjoys her classmates but is challenged by the inexperience of many of her teachers and aides who don’t know how to teach and treat her properly. She is often feels dis-empowered and becomes frustrated due to the simplicity of the content being taught. For example, she knows how to read but is being taught the same letter over and over again. Although her family and special neighbor, Mrs. V understand her intelligence and advocate for her, it’s a special teacher at school that sees the potential in Melody’s intelligence that leads to significant changes. With the joint support of home and school personnel, Melody begins to receive the services she needs with the addition of opportunities to participate in inclusion classrooms. During these inclusion classes, with the help of her one to one aide and her communication board (a board filled with letters and pictures) she begins to participate like other children and build friendships with typical peers. Once her intelligence becomes obvious to more and more people, she receives a high tech communication device called the Medi Talker. With this device, Melody finally has a voice and can participate in classroom activities as well prove herself on the Quiz Team, which becomes an important experience in her life. Out of My Mind is a special book that teaches the reader about the strengths and challenges that a child can face with physical disabilities, specifically when a child cannot communicate via speech.
To learn more about Augmentative and Alternative Communication, check out PrAACtical AAC.
To learn more about encouraging communication with children who are nonverbal, check out this article that I wrote at Friendship Circle of Michigan.
Who is this book for? Although this book is appropriate for grades 3 and up, I find it to be appropriate and important to read for all educators and health care professionals.
I wanted to include a short paragraph written by a 3rd grade book reviewer:
“Out of My Mind is fascinating, but still a very sad story. It represents for the disabled, that you can still do amazing things. Even when people are doubting you, you have to know that there are still people that are encouraging you. For example, Melody, the character with disabilities, has a neighbor Mrs. V who never gave up on her since she was born and Catherine, Melody’s helper at school was the only one that stuck with her and believed in her every single day at school. So anyway, Melody may be different from all of us but she and other kids like her will always be human.”
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