« Back to National Winners

Letters About Literature National Winners 2017

National Honor Winner, Level 2: Sam Opinsky

Dear Sharon Draper,

A few years ago I read your book Out of My Mind, and it changed my life. I come from a family with what my dad likes to call an “interesting dynamic.” I have an older sister named Lilly. She has a rare X chromosome mutation called Rett Syndrome. She is in a wheelchair, can’t talk, and has very limited motor skills. When she was in third grade she got a machine called a Dynovox. It is an aug-com device, a lot like the one Melody uses. Except, this one is controlled with her eyes. It has a camera on the bottom that tracks her retinas.

Every day, I wake up and I see her doing all she can just to try to get her point across. From the minute she wakes up, I see her work as hard as she can to just sit up or tell us she’s hungry. I can’t even imagine what she has to go through every day, but seeing what Melody has to go through, has given me what might even be a miniscule glimpse into how hard Lilly works, and I thank you for that. The aug-com device I mentioned earlier has gotten an upgrade, it is now a Tobii. I have tried using it, and it is very hard. But, my sister is amazing at it, and your book showed me just why she works so hard to use it. Before Melody gets the speaking device, she has all these words and ideas that she wants to get out, but they are trapped inside her head. If the joy that Melody had when she first got her device is anything close to what my sister experienced, it shows me completely new meaning to her Tobii.

You also showed me a glimpse of just how hard my parents work to give my sister a voice. In Out of My Mind, her parents did so much to give her some basic human experiences. Melody’s parents programmed her device, and helped her live her daily life so it was just like anyone else’s. Amazingly, they did all this while keeping a generally positive outlook on their lives. After reading this book, I can look at what my parents do in a completely new light. My parents also worked really hard to learn how to program Lilly’s Tobii, and they always try to make Lilly really happy. I now see all they do for me, and especially for my sister.

A glimpse into someone else’s life, who has a family a lot like mine, has a lot more impact then I imagined. I mean, I always wanted to read it, but never knew the profound impact it would have on the way I look at my family, and others like mine. The thought that I could find a book that could come so close to explaining what I go through used to be unthinkable. But then I read your book. I have been talking about the impact it had on me, but I have seen it have some other amazing impacts. I have seen people reading your book, and they cannot put it down, much like me. I thought this book would mostly speak to an audience like me, the families who have a similar situation to the family in the book. But, I have seen some of my friends read it, and at the end of the reading time, they are amazed by what the characters go through. They’ll say, “Did you know about this talking device?” or “Oh my gosh, Melody is so amazing.” I have explained to people the condition my sister has, and the Tobii device she uses. They have said, “Like the one in Out of My Mind?” and I have said, “Yes, a lot like that,” and then explain how it is different, and that it tracks her eyes. Your book has shown my friends what it is like to be in a family like mine.

Also, your book has shown me and many of my peers the benefit of what just a little kindness can have, especially towards a person with a disability. When a person says, “Hi” to Melody in the book, it brightens her day. When I see people do this to Lilly, she gets a big smile on her face. This has shown me that just a little kindness can go such a long way. I also think this encourages some of my friends to be extra nice to kids with disabilities. This book has shown people not just how to act around someone with a disability though, but how to be a good person, and I thank you for that.

Your book is life changing. I’m not just saying that because it sounds nice, it is truly changing lives. Not just of the kids who read it, but everyone—the other kids with disabilities that they treat better, and the parents that they respect more. But, most of all, your book has given kids like my sister someone who inspires them, someone who they want to be like, and, most importantly, a reason to be proud of who they are. Thank you, for all you have done for me, personally, and all you have done for the world.

Sam Opinsky