I love walking into a classroom and hearing an educator share an engaging read aloud with their class. Last month, when I visited Kim Anderson’s grade 6 room, she was reading a chapter from Sharon Draper’s novel, Out of my Mind. Her students were enthralled and hanging on her every word. As the time ticked on and the bell rang for their nutrition break, the students begged her to continue to read more. In seeing that reaction, I knew that I needed to get a copy and read it. So, off to Indigo/Chapters to find the blue covered novel with the jumping fish and this snowy Saturday was the perfect day to curl up and crack the spine. I ended up reading it cover to cover within a matter of hours.
The first person narrative provides the reader with an emotional and honest glimpse into the world of Melody, an 11 year old with cerebral palsy. I was captured within the first few pages as Melody recounts her frustration of not being able to share her thoughts, ideas and feelings with others. What would that be like? How would my world be different if everything was locked inside, without any keys in sight?
As the narrative continues, Melody takes her audience through her first 11 years, revealing each milestone, each disappointment, each challenge and each triumph. As readers, we are invited to get on this rollercoaster of experiences and emotions. The joys of Butterscotch, the frustration of the self-contained classroom and some of the educators, the pain of being excluded, the elation of using an augmentative communication device for the first time, the elation of the contest and the agony of Penny’s accident.
Then all of a sudden, as Melody is recounting her experiences of integration with “normal” kids and the heartache at wanting to fit in and be accepted, I was immediately transported back to 1977 when I was a grade 8 student at Byron Southwood Public School. I can recall vividly when Debbie Willows, a fellow student, who had cerebral palsy joined Mrs. Posno’s class. That year, we also welcomed another student, who used a wheelchair for mobility purposes ~ I’m embarrassed to say that I do not recall his physical ailment. One must remember that back in the late ‘70s integration was not common practice. At that time, our school was not completely wheelchair accessible. It was a single floor layout, but one needed to use the stairs to enter the gym. In rereading her biography, Living Beyond My Circumstances, Debbie recounts the challenges of registering at a “regular” school and the mistakes that many of us made ~ not through malice but through misunderstanding. I can recall watching her use a pencil on a keyboard as the vehicle to release her thoughts, ideas and images and having to listen intently whenever she presented to the class.
Oh how I wish I could go back in time. I was never unkind or mean to Debbie, like Claire or Molly, but I didn’t step up and take the time to get to know her like I wish I had. Could I have helped her share her ideas more effectively? Could I have offered to help her navigate in the hallways more often?
Debbie went on to have an amazing life filled with outstanding accomplishments ~ Paralympic goal medals, inspirational speaker, author, Canadian Cerebral Palsy Sports Association Hall of Fame recipient to name but a few. I have such admiration for her determination and persistence and her subsequent accomplishments. I can’t help but wonder if would have learned so much from her, if I had only overcome my fear of the unknown ~ my fear of doing/saying the wrong thing.
Today’s journey took me “out of my mind” and deep into my memory bank.
When was the last time a book triggered such a memory?
Come write with me….