My Thirteenth Winter by Samantha Abeel

my thirteenth winter

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 She became very withdrawn and focused all of her effort on masking her disability, afraid that her teachers and classmates would find out that she was “stupid.”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.

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“Unwritten” by Natasha Bedingfield

Here’s the link to the music video: “Unwritten” by Natasha Bedingfield

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Bedingfield, N., Brisebois, D., & Rodrigues, W. (2004). [Recorded by N. Bedingfield]. Unwritten [CD]. BMG Music.

“Unwritten” by English singer and songwriter, Natasha Bedingfield was the most played song on U.S. radio during the year 2006. It has been used as the theme song for The Hills, a reality television series and made it to number five on the Billlboard Hot 100, earning Bedingfield a Grammy nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. “Unwritten” is a very popular song from my childhood/ early adolescent years, and one that I always felt was very empowering. However, being only about twelve when this song reached it’s peak, I never delved into why I felt it was so powerful. It isn’t until now that I listen to the song and examine it’s lyrics:

I am unwritten, can’t read my mind, I’m undefined
I’m just beginning, the pen’s in my hand, ending unplanned

Staring at the blank page before you
Open up the dirty window
Let the sun illuminate the words that you could not find

Reaching for something in the distance
So close you can almost taste it
Release your inhibitions
Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten

Oh, oh, oh

I break tradition, sometimes my tries, are outside the lines
We’ve been conditioned to not make mistakes, but I can’t live that way

Staring at the blank page before you
Open up the dirty window
Let the sun illuminate the words that you could not find

Reaching for something in the distance
So close you can almost taste it
Release your inhibitions
Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins

Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten

Staring at the blank page before you
Open up the dirty window
Let the sun illuminate the words that you could not find

Reaching for something in the distance
So close you can almost taste it
Release your inhibitions
Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins

Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten
The rest is still unwritten
The rest is still unwritten

Oh, yeah, yeah

During this process, I learned that there is not a lot of information as to what inspired Bedingfield to write this song and what specific meaning she was trying to convey to her listeners. This leads me to assume that the artist wanted the meaning to be left up to interpretation. In my own interpretation of the song, I learned that it can be used to empower young people to take control of their own lives and take action in standing up for themselves and what they believe is right. It can be understood to mean that the spirit of life is to embrace your ability to create your own path. This resource has helped me to understand how music can be used to spark enthusiasm for self-advocacy.