Melody Brooks relates to the fireflies trapped in jars in “Out of My Heart,” a new middle-grade novel by Sharon Draper.
Like the small, glimmering creatures, she wants to be free, not trapped and confined, said Draper about her 12-year-old main character.
Melody’s loving family watches over and protects her. Because Melody was born with cerebral palsy, they worry about her getting hurt. Cerebral palsy is caused by damage to the brain, and it affects how people move and speak. Melody can’t walk or talk. But she gets around in a wheelchair, and she communicates with a special device called a Medi-Talker.
And she’s tired of being hovered over by her family! Melody wants to do more for herself and explore a wider world. She yearns for a summer camp experience like that of other kids, with forest treks, bonfires, zip-lining and late-night chats with bunkmates.
So Melody does some research. And she discovers Camp Green Glades, a place for differently abled kids. Best part: She can go without family members.
When she gets there, though, Melody confronts challenges she’s not sure that she can handle, such as swimming (she tends to sink) and horseback riding. What if the horse runs off? What if she falls?
“I did everything Melody did at camp, so I could write about the experience and have it ring true,” Draper said. She even rode a horse, which made her very nervous, as it does her main character.
Draper’s years as a teen counselor at a camp in Ohio for kids with special needs also helped her depict the lively relationships between the campers and their counselors. Like campers everywhere, those at Camp Green Glades play pranks and try to bend the rules.
“Out of My Heart” is the second book about funny, smart Melody, but it isn’t necessary to have read the first novel, “Out of My Mind,” to enjoy this new story.
“I was so glad Melody had more to say,” Draper told KidsPost by phone from her home near Daytona Beach, Florida. After publication of the first book in 2010, “there were so many kids and teachers – thousands! – who wrote asking what happens next for Melody,” she said.
Draper also mentioned hearing from people with physical challenges or in wheelchairs, like Melody. One disability activist recently told her that Melody was so believable that she didn’t want the new book to end.
This accuracy is important to Draper because she has a family member with cerebral palsy, and as a teacher for 25 years, she had students with various disabilities.
“I wanted Melody to be a character they could relate to,” she said.
As a kid, Draper was drawn to female characters with spunk and determination, like Melody. Her favorite book was “Mary Jane,” by Dorothy Sterling.
“It was the first book I had ever seen with a Black female on the cover, and that was so significant for me,” she said.
Draper, author of more than 30 novels, is already at work on new projects. Asked whether she plans a third book about Melody, since the character is so popular, Draper replied with a laugh: “Probably not soon – but I never say never.”
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