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Author Deborah Hopkinson and illustrator Raul Colon present the story of Helen Keller in a fresh and original way that is perfect for young children. Focusing on the relationship between Helen and her teacher, Annie Sullivan, the book is interspersed with excerpts of Annie's letters home, written as she struggled with her angry, wild pupil. But slowly, with devotion and determination, Annie teaches Helen finger spelling and braille, letters, and sentences. As Helen comes to understand language and starts to communicate, she connects for the first time with her family and the world around her. The lyrical text and exquisite art will make this fascinating story a favorite with young readers. Children will also enjoy learning the Braille alphabet, which is embossed on the back cover of the jacket.
- ISBN-13: 9780375857065
- ISBN-10: 0375857060
- Publisher: Schwartz & Wade Books
- Publish Date: September 2012
- Page Count: 40
- Reading Level: Ages 4-8
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2012-08-27
- Reviewer: Staff
Combining short excerpts from Annie Sullivan's letters with lyrical prose, Hopkinson (A Boy Called Dickens) succeeds in making the early years of the relationship between Helen Keller and the woman she called Teacher feel newly remarkable. Hopkinson is especially good at bringing alive for younger audiences the complexity of language acquisition and the ingenuity and indomitable will that drove Sullivan's teaching methods. "Mothers and fathers don't give babies vocabulary lessons or worry about teaching grammar—they just talk," Hopkinson points out after Helen and Annie have their famous breakthrough at the pump. How do you teach someone who neither sees nor hears the concept of "very"? How do you explain the workings of a preposition? The book could actually prompt a lively discussion among audiences wading into the thick of language arts. While Colón's (Alicia Alonso: Prima Ballerina) crisply inked, sepia-toned watercolors take readers back in time and echo the mood of the archival photos shown on the endpapers, they provide less of a sense of the deep emotional connection between these two extraordinary people. Ages 4–8. Agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. Illustrator's agent: Morgan Gaynin. (Sept.)
A kind teacher and her student
Do children really need another story about Helen Keller and her teacher, Annie Sullivan? If it’s Deborah Hopkinson’s enthralling picture-book biography, then the answer is an overwhelming yes. Blending riveting narration with portions of actual letters Sullivan wrote to her own teacher at the Perkins Institution for the Blind, the author begins with the arrival of 20-year-old Sullivan and her first charge, six-year-old Helen, who “was like a small, wild bird, throwing herself against the bars of a dark and silent cage.”
While the book does feature such famous scenes as Helen’s dinner disaster and her breakthrough at the water pump, the focus is on Helen’s need for language and how Sullivan taught her to communicate. Using the world as Helen’s classroom, Sullivan helped her understand sound by placing frogs and crickets in her hands, which allowed her to feel them vibrate as they croaked and chirped. The teacher even found ways to teach abstract concepts like thinking.
Readers may associate Helen’s learning with sign language, but Sullivan also showed her pupil how to read with raised alphabet letters and Braille. On her first trip away from home in 1887, Helen was able to write a letter home to her mother. Illustrated with award winner Raul Colón’s muted watercolors, the book also includes numerous black-and-white photographs, a copy of Helen’s letter to her mother and a Braille alphabet on the back cover for young readers to practice Helen’s skills. Most importantly, Hopkinson shows how in the process of learning to communicate Helen also learned to be a girl again.