Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Blog 2010: Digital Nativity

We have had a lovely holiday, and hope that you all have as well.

Here is a video I plan to use in Sunday School tomorrow (if we don't get snowed out).  My theme is that different cultures have told the Nativity story in their own way, regardless of what the "truth" is about the actual event.  But this video tells the story for our YouTube/Twitter/Google (etc.) generation.

Again, best wishes to all, and I hope you enjoy this new take on an ancient story.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas 2010 Blog: Make Your Own Sugarplums

My earlier blog post today that mentioned s'mores made me think of another Christmas confection--sugarplums.  A couple of weeks ago, we had our traditional Christmas visit by our homeschool group to an assisted living facility where the children read Christmas stories to the elderly, and my son helped read the classic "The Night Before Christmas" by Clement Moore.  But on the way home, my son asked, "What IS a sugarplum?"  

Thank goodness there is a Google--how did parents survive before it?  Anyway, Wikipedia (another parental blessing) says that in olden days, "plums" referred to any dried fruit, not just plums (of course, we know dried plums as prunes).  So sugarplums were candied fruit, sometimes finely minced and combined with nuts or seeds, and molded into a round or oval shape.  However, apparently the traditional approach to do that produced a very sweet and intensely-flavored candy.  And, of course, until the last century or so, sugar was so expensive that making such a confection would have been limited to the wealthy and/or as a VERY special treat.

If you are interested in making your own sugarplums, here is a traditional recipe.  Or if you are looking for a more contemporary approach, here is one by Alton Brown.

Christmas 2010 Blog: Win a Free Curriculum Package!

While, of course, I always try to emphasize the spiritual qualities of Hanukkah and Christmas, I have to admit that I like the presents as well.  And now I have the opportunity to pass on a present to one lucky reader to this blog, thanks to a blogging giveaway program being offered by In the Hands of a Child, a renowned lapbook curriculum developer.  HOAC will give a free bundle pack (which includes a printed project pack, kit pack, and answer key if available, and is valued at $40) to a randomly-selected person who enters their HOAC wish list below.

In the Hands of a Child is a partnership between a few homeschooling families who have turned unit studies they developed for their own children or homeschooling communities into complete lapbook curriculum packages.  If you are not familiar with lapbooks, they are a hands-on way to record information on any topic.  Students complete "mini-books" on various aspects of that topic and paste them all into a framework made by pasting two or more file folders together.  It usually depicts information in a visual way, with space for students to write relevant information, in small chunks on papers that fold or flap or open up or are enclosed in a small envelope, etc.  This makes it a great tool for visual and/or kinesthetic learners, as well as for students who get overwhelmed by a large topic and prefer working on manageable bits within the larger subject matter.

I have used a number of their packages, and can attest to their high quality.  To be honest, we usually don't do the entire lapbook, but I often use some of their mini-books for a hands-on activity to accompany a topic we are studying.  So while they are designed to be stand-alone studies, they can also be useful for supplemental materials to accompany another curriculum you might be using.  And, particularly for older students, they also offer much of their curriculum in a notebooking (that is, doing a lot of guided writing on designated notebook pages for specific items within the topic) format as well as for creating a lapbook.  Finally, their prices are reasonable, their customer service is good, and they are generous to the educational community.  They are often giving things away (like this promotion), and always have at least one unit on their site available for free download (right now it is "Study Any Great Painter")at:  Finally, their materials cover the gamut of disciplines and age ranges.  While they have hundreds of units at the elementary level, they have 250 items that are suitable for middle schoolers, 128 for early high school, and 80 for upper high school.

So for a chance to win a free printed lapbook/notebook package (NOT just a downloadable ebook, which is what I usually get), what you have to do is to visit the website of In the Hands of a Child and/or to download their 2010 catalog at  .  

Then chose five HOAC units for your wishlist and enter them using the link below by December 31, 2010.  I will randomly select one name and forward it to HOAC, who will mail that person their bundle pack the first week of January.

HOAC is having this giveway in honor of the fast-approaching release of their 400th curriculum package in early 2011.   There will be even more prizes during that event, so you might want to get on their email list to catch all the buzz at that time.

Enter your wishlist and contact information below by December 31, 2010, and good luck to all contestants!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Christmas 2010 Blog: Angels

So even with my belief about lighting up the darkness...It's now Christmas week, so maybe it is time to do some seasonal blog posts.  So today's topic is Angels.

When I was working on a lesson plan this past week for our World Religions class, I did some research on the topic of Angels.  I was amazed to find that numerous polls by different organizations (news, university research, and religious organizations) over the past two decades reported that the majority of Americans believe in angels, particularly guardian angels.  The data shows that this majority (generally ranging from 55% to 72%) is consistent within different Christian or Jewish religions or political persuasions.  Actually, studies among adult Americans in the past few years say that more people believe in angels (55%) than believe in evolution (39%), human-created global warming (36%), or either ghosts of UFOs (each had 34% believing in them).

The believe in angels among adolescents is even stronger.  It has grown steadily from 1978, when only 64% of the 13-17 year olds polled said they believed in angels, to 76% angelic believers in 1994.  Belief in angles outstrips those among teenagers who reported believing in other supernatural people or activities, beating belief in astrology, ESP, mind reading, witchcraft, ghosts, Bigfoot, or vampires.

So it seems that for the majority among us, no longer do we need to sing only about "Angels We Have Heard on High."  Most of us, particularly among perhaps not middle schoolers, but certainly high schoolers, believe that angels play a role in our personal lives, protecting us from harm or conveying important spiritual messages to us.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Curriculum Resource: They Called Themselves the K.K.K.

If you are looking for a terrific resource on a difficult subject--racism, Reconstruction, and the history of American hate groups--I wholeheartedly recommend Susan Campbell Bartoletti's new book, They Called Themselves the K.K.K: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group.  Bartoletti is no stranger to substantive non-fiction books for adolescents; she won a Newbery Honor for her 2005 publication of Hitler Youth:  Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow.  But she has done such a great job on this book,  it is no wonder that it is also on many people's short list for another potential Newbery Award.

According to the author, the inspiration for the book came when she saw a statue of the renowned Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, who was also supposedly the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, and wondered to herself, "Where are the memorials for the victims of KKK violence?"  After finding out from the Southern Poverty Law Center that there were no such memorials, Bertoletti knew that she had to write this book.

However, what is great about this book is that Bertoletti tries to understand the complex history of  this paramilitary white suprematist group from both sides.  Her book explores how common, ordinary, usually decent people could get involved in such a violent group, and even believe that they were doing God's work.  It also demonstrates the strength and courage of common, ordinary people, both black and white, who stood up against the Klan.  Her work contains much more information about the politics behind Reconstruction than is usually available for middle school or high school history.  And the work is all the more effective by the even-handed way she approaches the topic, allowing young people to draw their own conclusions rather than preaching to them.

One way Bertoletti achieves this is by relying heavily on first-hand accounts and primary source materials.  She uses quotes from both proponents and victims of the Klan in a masterful way.  And while she doesn't gloss over the violence and death of this terrible time in our history, she also doesn't focus on it so much that it becomes too intense for a middle school audience.

Bertoletti's book is a much-needed addition to the middle school or high school history curriculum about the aftermath of the Civil War.  But it is also a valuable resource for talking about current events.  I love that she identifies the KKK as "an American terrorist group"--a great wake-up call for our post 9/11 youth who think all terrorists come from outside our borders.  The book also contains a Civil Rights Timeline and a comprehensive Bibliography and Notes section that is also useful in extending the dialogue.

So this may not seem like the kind of book you want to be reading during our holly, jolly holidays.  But the author, who besides writing about the Klan and Hitler's youth has also tackled such difficult topics as famine, youth labor rights, and working in a coal mine, says that the only way she knows to deal with the dark is to try to shine a light on it.  As we approach the winter solstice, it's great to know that we have this outstanding reference to help shine some light on some of our nation's darkest hours.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Public Education in California: The Good, the Bad, and the Intriguing

As we debate what to do about the public school, either here in North Carolina or where ever it may be that you live, it can be instructive to keep an eye on what is going on in California.  Not only is that the most populated US state, but it has a history of innovation and experimentation that has swung between the left/liberal and right/conservative perspectives from not quite year to year, but certainly decade to decade.

Let's start with the Bad (I always like to get that out of the way):  California, strapped for revenue due to the  bust in the real estate market and the infamous Proposition 13 that limits their ability to tax, needs to cut $25 BILLION from its state budget.  So Governor-elect Jerry Brown warned the schools that they should expect a reduction of 20-25% in next year's funds.  This year, California spent $49.6 billion on K-12 schools and community colleges, so that could mean a cut of over $12 billion--and that is on top of the $7 billion less they spent this year compared to three years ago.

Problems of that scale help us keep our $3 billion deficit in North Carolina, and warnings of a 5-10% cut in education funds, in perspective. &nbsp;California's <b>reductions</b> in education spending could amount to more money then North Carolina spent in FY 2009-2010 on NC public K-12 schools, community colleges, and the state university system combined.

So that is a major amount of money to have to cut from the education budget.

But now for the Good: &nbsp;the incoming Governor, Jerry Brown (yes, the same one who served as Governor in 1975-1983, when he dated Linda Ronstadt and opposed the passage of Proposition 13), seems to have a good head on his shoulders when it comes to education (translation: &nbsp;it looks like he agrees with me!). &nbsp;In general, he seems to impose the national trend towards standardization, an emphasis on test scores, and the liberal bias I discussed in <a href="">yesterday's post</a> towards systematic solutions that derive from data instead of human flexibility, creativity, and differentiation. &nbsp;Let me quote just a bit from comments he sent to US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan:
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<span class="Apple-style-span" style="font-family: Times, 'Times New Roman', serif;"><span class="Apple-style-span" style="font-size: small;"><i>What we have at stake are the impressionable minds of the children of America. You are not collecting data or devising standards for operating machines or establishing a credit score. You are funding teaching interventions or changes to the learning environment that promise to make public education better, i.e. greater mastery of what it takes to become an effective citizen and a productive member of society. In the draft you have circulated, I sense a pervasive technocratic bias and an uncritical faith in the power of social science.</i></span></span></div>

I read his comments, and just thought, "You go, Jerry!" &nbsp;To see his complete statement, read <a href="">this blog post</a> from Teacher Magazine.

And finally, the Intriguing: &nbsp;one of the things that outgoing California Governor Arnold Schwarzeneggar touts as a major achievement in improving public education is the passage of the so-called "parent trigger" law, which allows a majority of parents in the district of a "failing school" (once again, as determined by test scores) to demand changes in that school. &nbsp;The parental options include firing the principal and top administrators, converting to a charter school, or even shutting the school down.

On December 7, 2010, the first group of parents activated this new law. &nbsp;Petitions signed by 62% of parents requested that McKinley Elementary School be converted to a charter school that will be run by Celerity Educational Group, a private company that is running three other schools in California.  As can be expected, there is a lot of controversy about this event.  The state is investigating charges of harassment and misrepresentation on the part of the petition organizers, the state educators are protesting uninformed intrusion into their long-range plans, and liberals see this as another conservative ploy to turn public schools over to private management.  But Schwarzeneggar and other proponents argue that legislation like this is the only way to address the problems of "drop out factories" and a lack of educational alternatives for the urban poor as demonstrated in documentaries such as "Waiting for Superman" (see <a href="">my blog post</a> for a review of that movie, or read <a href="">this blog post</a> from The Huffington Post for more info on the parent trigger law).

I have mixed feeling about this law.  I think I need to see how it plays out before I can decide if I think it is a good idea or not.  But I do believe it is something worth keeping our eyes on as our national debates about what to do with public education continue to dominate much of our civic discussions.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Do We Need to Be More Conservative in Our Teaching?

I'm always on the look-out for ideas about how we can improve teaching (rather than test scores).  A new idea has popped up for me about incorporating more conservative techniques in teaching, sparked by an intriguing new book by David M. Ricci, a professor of politics and American studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.  However, before this becomes a political debate, let me say I'm not talking about incorporating more conservative beliefs in teaching; I'm talking about including more of the conservative reliance on selling ideas through great stories.

Ricci's book is entitled Why Conservatives Tell Stories and Liberals Don't:  Rhetoric, Faith, and Vision on the American Right.  This book answers the puzzle posed by New York Times colonist and author of The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman, who stated just before the recent elections "The thing that baffles me about Mr. Obama is how a politician who speaks so well, and is trying to do so many worthy things, can't come up with a clear, simple, repeatable narrative to explain his politics."  It also explains why conservative leaders whom those with left-wing leanings find to be, at best, simple, and at worse, let's call it "intellectually challenged," keep winning elections.  These Conservatives may not have the Ivy League degree or the facts and figures at their fingertips.  But they tell a great tale about America's glorious possibilities, and sometimes those stories triumph--even if they turn out to be fantasies, or even worse, lies.

Ricci argues that it is in the very nature of liberalism to eschew storytelling over data.   He traces the liberal movement from the Enlightenment, and shows how they have consistently relied on science, theories, and facts to convince the population to abandon long-held policies or behaviors.  Conservatives, on the other hand, promote traditional values, conveyed through uplifting stories about such qualities as courage, decency, authenticity, and the democratic virtues of freedom and justice.  So you have President Obama trying to teach people about his national health care legislation, which was more than 2,300 pages long, while Sarah Palin talks about her mama grizzlies and tea parties.  And we all saw which approach tended to be most convincing to voters in the 2010 elections.

But leaving politics aside--I think this is a valuable insight for us to consider in education.  How many of us are liberal thinkers, and so think the most important thing is to teach our students the facts and figures of what ever subject we are teaching?  If we are, how powerful would it be NOT to abandon facts, but to combine it with the more conservative bent towards storytelling?  Because when I think back to the best teachers I've ever had, they weren't the ones who necessarily fed me the most theories and data.  The best ones, for me at least, were those who brought the subject alive through their passion for and, yes, stories about their subject matter.  

Of course, it may seem that storytelling lends itself more to some disciplines than others.  Literature, of course, is all about stories, and history can easily be taught (although, unfortunately, too often is not) as a series of narratives about historical dates, facts, and figures--tales of the who and why that enliven the when and what.  But how about math?  For many of us, that is one of the most fixed, inflexible, and uninteresting (and, unfortunately, for some incomprehensible) subjects.  However, you only need to meet a master math teacher like my friend, Maria Droujkova of Natural Math, to learn otherwise.   No matter what topic she is teaching, Maria is always conveying a story of math as a fun, creative, flexible, beautiful, and personal medium through which each student can express him- or herself and make life better.  Maria changes people's stories about math, and that can make all the difference in their ability to learn math.  

Or how about science?  There has been an intense discussion lately on the Natural Math e-loop on how science differs from math in regards to storytelling (which, unfortunately, has gone over my head, or at least over my ability to devote the time and attention to comprehend all the posts and links that have been exchanged by people with much more specialized knowledge in those fields).  But I still believe that there is a place for storytelling in science and that science, too, in the end tells different stories about the world.  If you have read Thomas Kuhn's classic work, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, major shifts in the fundamental theories in science, like moving from the Ptolemy to the Copernican astronomy or from mechanical to quantum physics, also change our story of who we are and how our worlds operate.

Once again, I haven't actually read the book, so I'm not sure that I completely buy Ricci's argument.  But I think he raises a fascinating point to consider, and shines a light on something that may be a bit of a blind spot for some of us.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

'Tis the Season to be Grateful that We Don't Live in Juarez

In 2007, when Bill Gates (Harvard's most famous drop-out) was receiving an honorary degree from his could-have-been alma mater and giving the graduation speech, the beginning of his talk addressed his failure to graduate with the stereotypical break-up line:  It's not you, it's me.   But then he segued into an issue with his Harvard education, although he still presented it as a personal failing.  His great admission was:

But taking a serious look back...I do have one big regret.

I left Harvard with no real awareness of the awful inequities in the world - the appalling disparities of health, and wealth, and opportunity that condemn millions of people to lives of despair.

I think that problem is true for most of us who were born in the United States.  Even the most progressive among us can't imagine how good we've really got it unless we've spent some time in some of the other countries that are less privileged.   

This was brought home to me again today with an article in today's local newspaper about the school systems in Juarez, Mexico.  It seems that gangsters are now targeting school teachers for extortion, because the teachers get a Christmas bonus of up to a month's salary (which, down there, apparently average about $650--and this is for the month).  The mobsters are not only threatening the safety of the teachers; they are also threatening violence towards the children they teach.  And their threats have not been all talk.  Last week, they torched a preschool, which, while it seems injuries were avoided, left the administration offices in ruin.

I know I can be rough on my local school system (although I try not to be rough on the teachers, most of whom I think are doing a hero's job under difficult and demanding circumstances).  But I know that, every now and then, I need a wake-up call about how good we've got things.  I may not like the emphasis on testing, I may not like school board policies, I may not agree with curriculum approaches.  But thank goodness that we can send our children to school without thinking they might be targets for criminals who want to shake down teachers, of all people, for their Christmas bonuses.  

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Is Studying a Foreign Language Still Important?

Every year, we are advised about all the additional stuff we need to be teaching our middle schoolers and high schoolers.  We are told they need more science and math, more computers and technology, more business and finance work, more arts and music, more writing, more more more.  But how can we fit it all in?  If we are adding in additional years in traditional subjects, or including new subjects like information technology, what do we let fall by the wayside in a school day that only has so many hours?

One area I haven't heard as much about lately is foreign languages.  On one hand, with all the emphasis on the globalization of our modern world, it seems it would be important to communicate to at least some section of the planet that doesn't speak English.  On the other hand, are we just assuming that everyone else will continue to learn English, so there is no need for us to learn one of their languages?

However, at least on the college level, it seems that foreign language instruction has been growing steadily for at least the last decade.  The Modern Language Association has just released the results of its 2009 comprehensive survey of enrollments in languages other than English among 2,514 US undergraduate and graduate institutions.  It shows that foreign language enrollments in 2009 were at an all-time high of 1,682,627 students, having grown by 6.6% between 2006-2009 and by nearly 13% from 2002-2006.  

The most popular language by far (it enrolls more students than all other foreign languages combined) is Spanish, which has long held the #1 position in foreign language studies with 864,986 students.  The second most popular language is French, with 216,419 students, and followed by German with 96,349 enrolled.  These languages, along with what has traditionally been the fourth-ranked language, Italian, continue to grow, but by relatively small percentages (from 2-5%).  

The great leaps in enrollments, however, have come from what the MLA calls "less commonly taught languages" or LCTLs, which grew by 31.2% from 2002-2006, then by an additional 20.8% from 2005-2009.  The biggest percentage gains were registered among the Arabic languages, where enrollments raised by 126.5% from 2002-2006, then by another 46.3% in 2006-2009.  Any guesses about what the most popular LCTL is?  Actually, it is American Sign Language (ASL), which was up by 16.4% to a total of 91,763 students and supplanting Italian as the fourth most popular language.  Japanese, with 73,434 enrollments, was the most popular Asian language and was the 6th most popular language overall, followed by Chinese in 7th place with 60,976 students.  The top ten list was rounded out with Arabic in 8th place (35,083 students), Latin in 9th (32,606), and Russian in 10th (26,883).  The only languages among the top 15 that reported losing students were Ancient Greek (although some of that was explained by some schools that have reclassified their Greek classes) and Hebrew, both Modern and Biblical.

The good news, according to experts, is that language studies seem to be more stable now then they were in the 1980s and 1990s.  So if your children are interested in pursuing a LCTL, there's a good chance they can find a college that will enable them to continue their studies at the postsecondary level.  Overall, US colleges and universities reported offering a total of 217 LCTLs, which is 35 more languages than were available in 2006.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Book Review: Mockingbird by Katherine Erskine

For the second night of Hanukkah, I thought I would review the book that recently won the 2010 National Book Award for Young People's Literature and is on most people's short list for the 2011 Newbery Awards--Mockingbirdby Kathryn Erskine.

If yesterday's The Thirteenth Princess was based on a fairy tale, then Mockingbird was inspired by a nightmare--namely, the shooting of 33 people at Virginia Polytechnic University in Blacksburg, VA, close to where the author lives.  In this book, Erskine looks at how someone can pick up the pieces if his or her family have been the victims of such senseless violence.  But the protagonist and narrator of the book is not just your average "someone"--she's a 5th grader with Asperger's syndrome who not only lost her beloved older brother who helped her navigate the world, but whose mother has died from cancer, leaving her with only her grieving and just-barely-functioning father in the home.

This is a rough set-up for a story--but also, I think, a brilliant one.  Most of us can't even begin to imagine what it would be like to lose a loved one in something like 9/11 or Columbine or the VPI tragedy.  But imagine trying to deal with it compounded by the issues related to Asperger's, an autistic spectrum disorder that is usually not associated with a lack of cognitive or "academic" understanding, but with poor social skills, the inability to pick up on non-verbal or non-literal cues, and a lack of empathy or understanding of the feeling with other.  As I said, I think this was a brilliant concept of Erskine's.

So much of the book deals with the main character, Caitlin, trying to develop empathy for other with the help of a committed school counselor and a few off-beat, maybe/could-be friends.  But, of course, that is just the ploy; the real business of the book is for us, the readers, to develop empathy for people like Caitlin. Erskine puts us inside Caitlin's head, who dictates the whole book in first person, explaining not only what she says or does, but why she is saying or doing it.  It takes a little while to get into the thinking pattern, especially the verbal cues Caitlin thinks to herself to behave as she knows she is expected by the world to behave.  But it is definitely worth the effort, for once you figure out her system, it is a wonderful way to see why people that the world thinks act "crazy" are really behaving quite logically-within their own system.

There are a few other things that I appreciate about the book.  I love that it has an important tie-in with To Kill A Mockingbird, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.  I like the ending, which is hopefully without a "happily ever after" context that doesn't fit the situation.  I like seeing schools making a difference to kids like Caitlin, and even overwhelmed teachers who might act like dunderheads, but can realize their mistakes, apologize, and try to do better.  The characters in this book are all quite easy to relate to:  flawed people doing their best under a bad situation.  They are people in progress, just as we all are, and they are at least moving in the right direction.

My one reservation, at least in terms of this blog, is the question, "Is this really a middle schoolers book?"  Again, I'm not sure.  But I'm inclined to think not, at least for the younger end of the spectrum.  Once again, the reading level is appropriate, especially since it is being narrated by a 5th grader, and middle schoolers can definitely relate to the context if not the specific situation.  On the other hand, it is a grim situation to pick up and read about.  I'll confess that I didn't want to read it, although now I'm so glad that I did.   And it does take a while to get inside Caitlin's world and understand what is going on through her perspective.  So maybe it will work for 13 or 14 year olds, but I think it is a bit mature for the 10-12 crowd.  My son read it, and he thought it was pretty good, although sad and sometimes confusing.  And since it is such a wonderful book, if the reader can really get into it, I would advise holding off with your children until you think they are ready to really benefit from it.

But as an adult, I found it a very powerful, enlightening, and uplifting book.  There is kind of a mantra in the book about making something "good and strong and beautiful."  I think that is exactly what Erskine has done with this book.

Book Review: Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper

As I said in yesterday's post,  while I loved Mockingbird, my one complaint might be that I think it may be more of a critics' (and parents') choice than one of young adolescents.   There is another book that covers some of the same themes that appears to be more popular with the tweens I know from our local Mock Newbery Club and some other online clubs (at least, according to their blogs).  That book, Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper, is the subject of today's special Hanukkah book review.

Like the protagonist in Mockingbird, the narrator of Out of My Mind has some special challenges that make other students in her school dismiss her, unaware of the incredible gifts she holds inside.  In the case of ten-year-old Melody, she has a photography memory and is probably the smartest child in the school.  Unfortunately, due to her severe Cerebral Palsy, which has rendered her incapable of speech or writing,  Melody has never been able to communicate her inner brilliance to anyone else.  So instead of winning praise for her outstanding memory, she is shunted into Special Education classes that some years can be valuable, but other years nothing but a boring waste of time--depending on the attitude of her teacher.  She also sometimes attends part of a regular classroom, where the other students tend to either shun or mock her.  But despite the difficulties and frustrations, Melody searches for a way to prove herself to the world around her.

This is another good book.  Some of the passages are quite poetic, especially when Melody describes how words feel to her, or how she associates music with different colors (which is a real condition, called synethesia, that many musical talents, including Leonard Berstein, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, and Duke Ellington, apparently share).  Of course, since it is told in the first person, we readers get to hear what is going on in Melody's head, which is much more fluid language than the more silted conversations Mockingbird's Caitlin carries on with herself.  And it covers many the same themes about about not underestimating either oneself or others, being less judgmental about people with differences, and the difficulty in status and relationships that is so prevalent in middle school, obvious disability or not.

And I'm suspecting that it is easier for middle schoolers to learn those lessons from Melody rather than the more-difficult-to-get-in-synch-with Caitlin, even those Melody's handicap is more extreme.  I'm thinking that is why most of the middle schoolers I know prefer this book to Mockingbird.  I don't know whether that kind of thing figures into the Newbery committee or not.  But my personal advice, as a parent, is to give Out of My Mind to your tweens, and save Mockingbird for your teens.