The first time I met Melody Brooks in Out of My Mind, I was so taken with this loquacious, caring 10-year-old girl who struggles to communicate with her family and her teachers, to let them know how smart she is, to express her wishes. She has no friends, but she has lots and lots of hope. “I can’t talk. I can’t walk. I can’t feed myself or take myself to the bathroom. Big bummer.” By the end of that book (no spoilers!), Melody gives her world more possibilities. Working within the confines of cerebral palsy, she does the research that finds tools for her to communicate. It is a book filled with goodness.
Then I read Melody’s next book, Out of My Heart. For readers who fell in love with the first book in 2010, it would be eleven years before they knew what happened next. I read the two books one right after the other. I was privileged to spend that much time with Melody, her family, and her friends. They are such lovely books, buoyant. The author, Sharon M. Draper, wrote “I suppose the character of Melody came from my experiences in raising a child with developmental difficulties. But Melody is not my daughter. Melody is pure fiction–a unique little girl who has come into being from a mixture of love and understanding.”
Ms. Draper continued, “I was fiercely adamant that nobody feel sorry for Melody. I wanted her to be accepted as a character and as a person, not as a representative for people with disabilities. 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.”
She succeeds. In this second book, 12-year-old Melody wants to go to summer camp, a place where there are no parents or caregivers to do things for her. She researches until she finds a camp for differently abled kids. She is scared, but her bravery wins out. Once she’s there, she is challenged by situations and people. How will she make it without calling her parents to come and pick her up? How will she eat? How will she meet the physical challenges of camp activities? How will Melody swim? How will she express her feelings to her first crush?
These books are masterful in their storytelling, their character development, and their ability to make us laugh and cry. I’m confident you’ll fall in love with Melody, too.
Out of My Mind
Sharon M. Draper
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2010
Out of My Heart
Sharon M. Draper
Caitlyn Dlouhy Books / Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2021