First and foremost, thank you to Maisie for recommending me this book. It was a fascinating read which I would highly recommend to those in Upper KS2 (there is an age suggestion on the back of 10+)
This book is about a girl called Melody who has cerebral palsy. This condition, which she has had from birth, resulted in her having severe physical impairments. It left her unable to walk, talk and have no control over pretty much every part of her body. Doctors and teachers have no idea that she is an extremely intelligent young woman with a photographic memory. In her class at school, her teachers unknowingly patronise her intelligence every day, playing alphabet songs over and over. Children who don’t know her are unkind and make fun of her condition – something that really shocked me in the book. I just couldn’t imagine the unkind things that some children said to her actually happening in real life. I hope that this sort of language isn’t used, that Draper chose that to emphasise how words can hurt people. You can’t help but become emotionally attached to Melody; her entrapment within herself can be quite upsetting.
I was particularly interested in this book, as I myself have a sister who has a neurological condition (a condition to do with her brain) which has resulted in her not being able to communicate through words or signing and she is very dependent on others for daily tasks. It was therefore very emotionally stirring, as I often wonder when we chill out in the holidays and at family events, whether she understands what I’m talking about. I’m pretty sure she does; she has a great sense of humour. I just can’t imagine the frustration of not being able to communicate properly. For people to treat you as if you don’t know anything – it must be really tough.
During the book, Melody gets a machine which helps her communicate by talking for her when she commands it to – a bit like the machine the scientist Stephen Hawking uses. It got me thinking how it is only in recent years that such technology has been created to help people like Melody and Stephen Hawking. For the several thousand years that people have been on the planet, potentially having conditions leaving them unable to talk, many people have never been able to speak. It’s just so sad.
A Growth Mindset quote from Stephen Hawking, who like Melody, also uses technology to communicate.
As Draper mentions in the Youtube clip below, her book doesn’t end in a perfect way for Melody. Draper purposefully chose to do this as it made Melody more memorable. An interesting technique in writing. Sometimes it’s easy to wrap up a story with an ‘and they all lived happily ever after’ vibe I know, but why not give your next piece of writing a twist? I think Draper’s choice of ending does make her book more memorable – I would urge you to read it.
One of the only things I would say about the book which I wasn’t too keen on, is that some of the language used to described people with impairments/disabilities are not what I’d call politically correct and it made me a bit uncomfortable reading them. I guess that this might be because of cultural differences as Draper is American? I suppose that using that sort of language in the book helps us understand what is acceptable and what is not. Last year ,with my previous class, after having the AMAZING paralympian Will Bayley visit our school, we had a long discussion about the word ‘disability’. If you break it down into two parts ‘dis’ and ‘ability’, you can see that the prefix ‘dis’ is being used to create the antonym for ability (the opposite). We challenged ourselves however, and asked if we thought someone like Will Bayley, number 1 paralympic table tennis player, is not-abled. I’m sure you can guess that we concluded that he is extremely able, so should we really used the term disabled? I know that he is far more able than me at many things – particularly table tennis!! Does that make me ‘not-abled’? Is Melody in this book ‘not-able’ just because she has physical impairments? It’s an interesting discussion and an important one, as we need to consider what words mean and how they could/should be used.
Will Bayley, Paralympic table tennis player from Groombridge, winning a silver medal at the London 2012 Paralympics. I was lucky enough to be there! You may very well see him on the TV in the summer when he travels over to Rio! Good luck Will!
You could always check out Sharon Draper’s website below for more information about the author and further questions to make you really think about Melody and her story.