Realistic Fiction

All posts in the Realistic Fiction category

Out of My Mind, by Sharon Draper

Published December 21, 2014 by Dagmar

Of all the books my students read in our 4th and 5th grade book club this fall, Out of My Mind was their favorite.  Sharon Draper, who has a disabled daughter herself, tells a story of a disabled girl who is constantly underestimated and misunderstood but who is extraordinarily smart and determined.

outofmymindMelody is 10 years old and has cerebral palsy.  Her disability affects her in many ways. Melody is unable to walk and cannot balance when she sits up.  She sits, strapped into a wheel chair. She can’t feed herself, cloth herself or go the bathroom by herself.  Sometimes, she can’t control her body movements.  Far more frustrating for Melody, though, is the fact that she can’t talk.  But, don’t feel sorry for Melody.  Melody is brilliant.  In fact, she has a photographic memory.  If people knew how smart she was, they might not underestimate her so much.

Imagine knowing what’s happening around you and wanting to speak, but being unable to speak.  No one around her, not even her parents, fully understand how much Melody knows or what she thinks about.  It might make you go out of your mind, like a fish in a tiny fish bowl who just can’t stand those glass walls anymore.

At school, Melody is placed in a room for children with disabilities.  Unfortunately, there, having disabilities means that people also think you’re stupid and try to teach you the alphabet in third grade.

Luckily, Melody has champions who fight for her.  Her parents are constantly trying to explain that Melody is an intelligent child who needs people to teach her.  Ms. V., Melody’s neighbor who has taken care of her since she was a baby, while Melody’s parents work, needs no convincing about Melody’s intelligence.  She works with Melody, developing word cards so that Melody can communicate.  Catherine, Melody’s aide at school, works with Melody to find a machine that can help her speak.

When Melody gets her machine, she finds her voice.  It is an amazing gift.  Everyone learns just how incredibly bright Melody is.  Melody has opportunities that she couldn’t have dreamed of the year before, including joining mainstream classrooms.

This book does such a wonderful job of explaining Melody’s condition and limitations in away that doesn’t let you feel sorry for Melody.  Draper’s writing gives Melody an authentic voice that really speaks to students.  Melody’s disappointments and frustrations are easy to imagine.  Her victories make you feel great.

With great characters and plot twists right until the end, this book will really draw you in.  Don’t miss it!  For more information, please check out this interview with Sharon Draper about this book on her web-site. http://sharondraper.com/bookdetail.asp?id=35

Touching Spirit Bear

Published October 28, 2013 by Dagmar

TouchingSpiritBearMy son read Touching Spirit Bear for his sixth grade English class.  He loved the book as did many of his classmates.  I took this feedback and put the book on my library shelves in the middle school section.  It was checked out almost immediately by a sixth grader.  He hasn’t given it back to me yet. 🙂  He has renewed it for three weeks and has read the book three times.  I was so impressed with the feedback, I read the book, too.

Touching Spirit Bear is at times brutal, beginning with a frank recounting of Cole Matthew’s violent assault of a fellow classmate, Peter Driscal.  Cole’s attack results in very serious injuries for Peter.  The injuries are so severe that Cole could be tried as an adult and sent to prison.  Cole is given an option by an Indian parole officer named Garvey to take part in Circle Justice, a Native American criminal justice technique where a circle of concerned citizens and those involved in the crime, victims and perpetrators, participate in a circle to decide how best the perpetrator can pay for his or her crime and begin a healing process.  Cole’s circle includes his victim Peter, Peter’s family, Peter’s attorney, Cole and his abusive father and his alcoholic mother, his parole officer Garvey, a Tlingit tribe elder named Edwin, and members of the community join together to find a way for Cole to pay for his crime without going to prison.  They decide to banish Cole to a remote Alaskan island where he will live by himself for a year under the watch of an Tlingit Indian elder.  spirit bear

Garvey tells Cole about the Spirit Bear, a rare American Black Bear that is white and is generally found near British Columbia.  Although it is rare to find a spirit bear as far North as Cole’s island, Cole sees a spirit bear within his first few days on the island.  His encounter with the bear will change the direction of Cole’s life, both physically and mentally.

This book really moved me.  Cole is a hard character to like.  His anger and arrogance are extreme.   I was touched by the dedication and honesty of the two men, Garvey and Edgar, who commit themselves to helping Cole understand the severity of his crime and that the way to rehabilitate himself is through helping his victim recover.  I was also moved by Cole’s connection to the spirit bear, the natural world and the Native American traditions Garvey and Edgar taught him.

I think this is great book for middle school readers.

The author’s note talks about the effectiveness of Circle Justice, now being used in some cities instead of jail time.