Abeel, S. (2008). My thirteenth winter: a memoir. New York: Scholastic.
My Thirteenth Winter is a memoir written by Samantha Abeel about her lifelong struggle with a learning disability (dyscalculia). She describes initially being a very motivated and outgoing student and realizing, as she got older, that she was different from her classmates. She struggled greatly with simple tasks such as addition and subtraction, counting money, and telling time. She became very withdrawn and focused all of her effort on masking her disability, afraid that her teachers and classmates would find out that she was “stupid.” Abeel began having panic attacks related to her anxiety and embarrassment resulting from her disability. Eventually, she was assessed for special education services and did not qualify because she was so gifted in the subject area of English. Therefore, she did not enter special education mathematics until she was in middle school. Abeel thrived in writing and ended up publishing a book of poems by the time she was in high school. The book touched the lives of many people who were themselves struggling with disabilities or had students or children who were struggling. Abeel was invited to speak to audiences across the country and used her platform for advocacy purposes. The memoir follows Abeel into her college years where she experiences series of highs and lows related to anxiety, depression, and incredibly low self-confidence. Eventually, she is able to find tools and forms of support to help her make it through.
As I was reading this memoir, I could feel my heartstrings being pulled at. I suppose that I am biased, being an Education Specialist, however, I would recommend that all educators read it in order to gain insight into the life of a student who is considered both “special needs” and “gifted and talented.” From this creative work, I learned that for these kinds of students, as important as it is to get them the extra support that they need in the area that they struggle in, it is equally important to give them opportunities to “shine” in the subject area that they excel in. This also reinforced my knowledge of how important it is to reduce the stigma surrounding learning disabilities as much as possible so that students do not feel the need to hide it from their teachers. I find it also important to note that My Thirteenth Winter is a Schneider Family Book Award recipient. In my research, I discovered that his award is presented to an author or illustrator who effectively and artistically depicts the disability experience for child and young adult audiences. I was not aware of this award before, but having discovered it has contributed to my research in that I have now opened the door to an entire selection of powerful texts related to my content area of study.