This summer I am finally getting around to reading the huge stack of books that has been sitting on my bedside table for the last few months. I finally read The Hunger Games, blew through Close to Shore (an account of the real life shark attacks that inspired Peter Benchley to write Jaws), and have started Incendiary by Chris Cleve (author of Little Bee). I have loved them all so far, but perhaps no summer read has thrilled me more than Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper.
Draper is a Coretta Scott King award-winning author and a former English teacher so it is no mystery why she is so masterful at writing about life in the classroom. This book-given to me by a school administrator at a conference a few years ago-is the story of a young woman with physical disabilities who longs to be heard, to have a voice, and to be included.
This is my second reading of the book and I am even more impressed this time around. I can’t think of another work of fiction for children or young adults that discusses inclusive education, augmentative communication and self-advocacy. In fact, I am hard pressed to think of any book for young people that takes on the idea of inclusive schooling from the perspective of the child.
I have raved about this book to many educators and students in the last few years, but I have not suggested it as an activity for School Inclusion Week or directly recommended it as a whole-school read even though it would be perfect for both. In part, I think I am always reluctant to suggest fictional works about disability (e.g. The Running Dream, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) to learn about living with autism or cerebral palsy or mental illness because I don’t want teachers and their students to overlook the fantastic autobiographies available. When teachers tell me they want their students to learn about autism and are, therefore, teaching The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, I often suggest Luke Jackson’s Freaks, Geeks and Asperger Syndrome instead. It isn’t that I dislike Haddon’s book, I just feel we should learn from the experts themselves (those living the disability or difference) before getting another second-hand account. Having shared that, I do feel literature offers a unique lens on any subject matter and should absolutely be one way that we explore issues of diversity with our students and our children—especially when the writing is as top-notch as Draper’s in Out of My Mind.
How about you? Are any of you using this book? Reading this book? Teaching this book? I would love to know if any schools are using Out of My Mind as a whole-school book club. It would be an excellent choice for students of many different ages.
If you have read it, what are your ideas for using this text to teach about inequity, exclusion, inclusion, human rights, dis/ability, technology/assistive technology, prejudice, or peers and relationships?