If we’re going to talk about books about school, then we’re going to have to talk about middle-grade novels. (Middle-grade, for the non-kids-book people out there, are books for right around the eight- to twelve-year-old age bracket. Think Bridge to Terabithia or Walk Two Moons or whatever book you loved best in fifth grade.) And it’s, like, really really hard to pick just one middle-grade novel to represent all the wealth of awesome schoolish books out there. Ramona the Pest (or pretty much anything else) by Beverly Cleary. Frindle by Andrew Clements. Because of Mr. Terupt by Rod Buyea (not quite a classic, but oh, to have a teacher like Mr. Terupt!). And those are just a few of the realistic ones. There are a ton more that are about, I don’t know, wizards or something.
But the one school book that I really want to put in every single person’s hands is Sharon Draper’s Out of My Mind.
Melody is a brilliant ten-year-old girl. She’s the most brilliant ten-year-old girl in her whole school—only nobody knows it but her. Because she has cerebral palsy, Melody can’t speak, write, or walk; she’s been in a wheelchair her whole life, and she spends every day at school in a special needs classroom, going over the alphabet over and over, unable to tell anyone what’s on her mind. But when she’s in fifth grade, everything changes at once. The school decides to integrate the special-needs kids into the mainstream classroom, so for the first time, Melody is surrounded by new ideas every day. And, best of all, she finally has a way to express those thoughts that have been bouncing around her head her whole life: she gets a MediTalker, a special computer that can speak for her. Now Melody has a voice—and, just like everyone else, she’s got to figure out how to make herself heard.
My favorite thing about this book is the fact that, ultimately, it’s just a story about a fifth-grade girl trying to find her place. Melody has a very serious physical disability, yes, but she also has a sharp mind and a desire to make friends and a competitive spirit and a talent for leadership. School is the central setting of her life, just like it is for so many fifth graders. But for Melody, her school’s choice to support her needs makes it possible for her to live outwardly as the person she’s always been on the inside.