Why A SMILE AS BIG AS THE MOON and Sharon Draper's OUT OF MY MIND are so inspirational

What, to you, is the definition of inspiration?  A book, a movie, a real-life story?  What about something that's all of the above?  I wasn't expecting much when the Hallmark movie A SMILE AS BIG AS THE MOON aired after ONCE UPON A TIME on Sunday night.  In fact, I hadn't been planning to watch it.  I'd been too lazy to get up off the couch.  One commercial in, and I was a little interested, but also on my way home.  I missed the next chunk of the film, but when I returned home, the TV at my house was playing the movie, begging me to watch.  So I sat down again.  And you know what?  It's incredibly inspirational.  Granted, it is based on a biography by Mike Kersjes and Joe Layden (Goodreads), and as the saying goes, "The movie is never as good as the book."  I haven't seen the book, so I honestly don't know which is better.  I would, however, like to think the people experiencing the events and harboring the memories condensed into a book, and then again into the movie, are the best version of all.  But I have a feeling this movie is pretty faithful to the book, or at the very least, sums it up well.  (Plus, it totally makes me want to read the biography, and I don't read a lot of  non-fiction!)

And even if it isn't 100% faithful, well, that's what the book is for, right?  I was still inspired by the plight of the students in the movie and the love and dedication of their Special Ed teacher, Mike Kersjes.  The students have disabilities that range from autism to dyslexia to ADHD to Tourette's Syndrome.  They're kids that society has written off, in a classroom full of underachievers.  Many of them struggle with classwork and don't do their homework.  They pick fights and leave school trips early because they can't behave.  But when these kids have the chance to go to Space Camp, their lives change forever.  Mike Kersjes jumps through hoops to get his kids this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and finds innovative ways to get them to learn what they need to in order to succeed, from teaching through board games to borrowing the school swimming pool.  Through this experience, the students blossom and discover their own unique, amazing talents.  One student is a fantastic artist, the other is a seasoned model-making pro, a third is an excellent swimmer.  Everyone is continually surprised and amazed by what these kids can do, especially once they take Space Camp by storm in a real-life upset no one saw coming.

Watching this movie reminded me of a middle-grade novel I adore, OUT OF MY MIND by Sharon Draper.  I reviewed it back when it first came out in 2010 and am excited it will find a new audience this May when it re-releases in paperback.  The novel follows the plight of a girl named Melody who has a severe form of Cerebral Palsy.  She can't talk or write.  Everyone thinks she's stupid and she's in a class where she re-learns basic lessons over and over again.  Internally, this is killing her because Melody is actually super-smart with a photographic memory.  When she gets a special computer that allows her to communicate with the world, everyone is stunned by what she can do.  Some people refuse to believe it and think her aide is cheating for her while others are blown away by just what Melody can accomplish.  This book was so inspirational when I read it.  I wish every classroom had a copy, that every teacher taught it, that every student read it.  It breaks the word "prejudice" in two and turns it inside out, making students look twice at the world around them.

I would recommend A SMILE AS BIG AS THE MOON (the movie and/or the book) and OUT OF MY MIND to anyone looking for something inspirational, or for a story about underdogs coming out on top.  These are also great materials for the classroom and can have whole units on tolerance planned around them.  I hope they both continue to flourish as more people discover what it is that makes these stories resonate so deeply.

[And on a semi-unrelated sidenote:  Actress Jessy Schram has tricked me again!  When I saw her as Cinderella in ONCE UPON A TIME, I thought she was Brittany Snow.  I thought she was Brittany Snow AGAIN when I watched A SMILE AS BIG AS THE MOON. How are these two actresses NOT related when they look and sound so much alike!?]