Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Out of My Mind - Sharon Draper

The wonderful Sharon Draper visited us today to share her wisdom and love of books. Below is her latest novel.

Out of My Mind
Eleven-year-old Melody has a photographic memory. Her head is like a video camera that is always recording. Always. And there’s no delete button. She’s the smartest kid in her whole school—but NO ONE knows it.

Most people—her teachers and doctors included—don’t think she’s capable of learning, and up until recently her school days consisted of listening to the same preschool-level alphabet lessons again and again and again. If only she could speak up, if only she could tell people what she thinks and knows. But she can’t. She can’t talk. She can’t walk. She can’t write.

Being stuck inside her head is making Melody go out of her mind—that is, until she discovers something that will allow her to speak for the first time ever. At last Melody has a voice . . . but not everyone around her is ready to hear it.

From multiple Coretta Scott King Award winner Sharon M. Draper comes a story full of heartache and hope. Get ready to meet a girl whose voice you’ll never, ever forget.

1. Why did you choose to write a work about a disabled child?
What if you were brilliant but could not communicate? I've often wondered about what's really going on in the mind of a person who cannot share their thoughts. I have a pretty good idea, because I have a daughter who is disabled. I'm pretty sure she's really smart, but I'm her mom-of course I'd want to believe that. So I created Melody-not as a portrait of my daughter, but as a character who is truly her own being. Melody has spunk and determination, and a great sense of humor. She has dreams and hopes like we all do.

2. Do you think readers will feel sorry for Melody? What did you do to avoid that?
As I wrote the story, I was fiercely adamant that nobody feel sorry for Melody. So I tried very hard to make her unforgettable-someone you would never dare feel sorry for. Lots of people have worse difficulties in their lives. As readers embrace the story, I hope that they will cheer for her!

3. How do you think Melody's physical limitations affect her outlook on life? The way others see her?
Kids with disabilities are just like their peers. They want to be accepted, to have friends, to be included in the social life of the school. Melody understands the pain of being ignored and overlooked, and I've given her a voice to show her humanity. She represents all those young people, who have feelings as well as dreams. I wanted to give those kids, who are often treated as if they are invisible, a chance to be heard, to be seen as the individuals they are, not the machines they ride in, or the disability that defines them.

4. In Out of my Mind, you address a number of issues such as social bias against disabled individuals, medical difficulties, as well as physical obstacles like stairs and bathrooms and eating. How is Melody a representative of the world of the "differently-abled?"
I think Melody would not like being made the representative of any group. Melody yearns to be recognized and appreciated as an individual. I think that's the whole point of the novel. It's important to remember that each person who has to deal with the world differently is not a group, but a person--just one person, trying to do his or her best in a world that might be very difficult to navigate.

5. What kind of research did you do for this book?
The story of Melody is fictional, of course, but is based on the reality of thousands of intelligent children and adults who are trapped inside uncooperative bodies. I've read dozens of books on disabilities, worked with handicapped children at a local summer camp, and spent untold hours trying to unlock the secrets hidden in my own daughter's mind. When a fictional character is created, the author has the power to allow any dreams to be achieved, and to allow triumphs as well as tragedies to occur. This novel has been carefully edited it for accuracy of fact as well as sincerity of spirit.

6. Why is the character of Mrs. V important to the novel?
Everyone needs a mentor, a life coach, someone to champion them on to success. Mrs. V fills that role in the novel. Sometimes it's hard for parents to give their children everything that is needed in life. Mrs. V is that person who goes above and beyond what is required of her because she sees potential in Melody, and because she loves her. We all could use a Mrs. V in our lives.

7. What is the role of music in Out of my Mind and in Melody's life in particular? 
Melody can "hear" colors, and "taste" music. The artistic side of her shows a deep understanding of the necessary mingling of art and music to create words and images and ideas. Melody's love for music helps her, even soothes her when her life gets too overwhelming. Music gives her expression in a world where she is unable to express almost everything.

8. No racial description is given to any character in the novel. Why did you choose not to mention Melody's racial or cultural heritage?
Her race is not important. Melody's difficulties far supersede any racial or cultural problems she might encounter. She is purposely made generic because I wanted the reader to see her as a unique individual that could be anyone's child. Actually, when she first gets the Medi-Talker, and she discovers that it comes in many different languages, she realizes that children like her exist all over the world.

9. Melody's character in Out of my Mind is a survivor in spite of serious difficulties. What do you think readers can learn from Melody's life? What does the novel say about love?
I think Melody's strength comes from love. Even though she is frustrated, silenced, and unable to do the things she longs to do, she has an unbelievably positive spirit. Love gives her the strength to make it though each day, and to look forward to the future.

10. What statements do you make through the actions of the children at Melody's school? 
Melody simply wants a friend. She longs to be like the other kids at her school. She is overjoyed when it looks like Rose will be that friend. It hurts and angers her when kids like Claire and molly make fun of her. And it devastates her when she realizes she'd been left behind on purpose. I think the portrayal of the children, and the teachers in the story as well, give a realistic portrayal of the reality of how people treat the disabled in social situations. From the people in the mall, to the doctors who should know better, human beings are often unkind, sometimes rude, but occasionally just plain wonderful.

11. What would you like your young readers to get out of reading Out of my Mind?
I want them to say, "Wow! That was great! That book made me think, and it made me realize that all human beings are more alike than different. I never knew what is was like to be handicapped-I learned to think differently." I want them to embrace this novel and pass it along to their friends and their parents and teachers

12. What do you want readers to remember about kids like Melody?
Melody is a tribute to all the parents of disabled kids who struggle, to all those children who are misunderstood, to all those caregivers who help every step of the way. It's also written for people who look away, who pretend they don't see, or who don't know what to say when they encounter someone who faces life with obvious differences. Say hello!

13. What does this novel say about truth?
I think all great stories emerge from deep truths that rest within us. But the real truth of a story often can be found in places that not even the author has dared to explore. And sometimes readers can discover some truths about themselves as well. This novel speaks for those who cannot speak. It should remind us of the humanity in us all.
Out of My Mind
Hardback   $16.99
Paperback   $6.99
Chapter 1:
    I'm surrounded by thousands of words. Maybe millions.
    Cathedral. Mayonnaise. Pomegranate.
    Mississippi. Neapolitan. Hippopotamus.
    Silky. Terrifying. Iridescent.
    Tickle. Sneeze. Wish. Worry.

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. Jokes. Love songs.

From the time I was really little-maybe just a few months old--words were like sweet, liquid gifts, and I drank them like lemonade. I could almost taste them. They made my jumbled thoughts and feelings have substance. My parents have always blanketed me with conversation. They chattered and babbled. They verbalized and vocalized. My father sang to me. My mother whispered her strength into my ear.

Every word my parents spoke to me or about me I absorbed and kept and remembered. All of them.

I have no idea how I untangled the complicated process of words and thought, but it happened quickly and naturally. By the time I was two, all my memories had words, and all my words had meanings.

But only in my head.

I have never spoken one single word. I am almost eleven years old.

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