Beginning with one of many well-chosen quotes-"I know that the education of this child will be the distinguishing event of my life, if I have the brains and perseverance to accomplish it."-this is a somber and absorbing biography of Annie Sullivan, who any schoolgirl can tell you was Helen Keller's teacher. There's something so uplifting about their lifelong partnership, even if Helen got most of the glory. The record of Annie's troubled life is a sad one, starting with her terrifying years at the state-run poorhouse in Tewskbury, Massachusetts, where her five-year-old brother Jimmy died. Her story of transformation from "Miss Spitfire," a nickname referring to her firy temper, to the valedictorian at the Perkins Institute at age 20 in 1886 is inspiring until you read Annie's own words about her schooling: "Because I was ignorant, and felt inferior, I pretended that I was scornful and contemptuous of everybody . . . My mind was a question mark, my heart a frustration." Off she went to her first real job, arriving by train in the sleepy Alabama town of Tuscumbia, which Helen Keller described as her "soul's birthday."
Large blow-ups of sepia-toned photos allow readers to examine each face, close up. My favorite photo is of Annie and Helen all dressed up and on the Vaudeville circuit in 1919, when they pulled in a cool $2,000 a week for what Helen called their "dignified act." After their little lecture, the audience would ask questions. When one person asked if she ever thought of marrying, Helen answered, "Yes, are you proposing to me?" Annie played second fiddle to Helen, a role she sometimes resented. Note, though, that Annie died in 1936 at 70, and was buried in the National Cathedral in Washington, the first woman and first teacher so honored. Here's a great quote to discuss. Annie said, about her life with Helen, "We do not, I think, choose our destiny. It chooses us."
You can compare this intelligent nonfiction account of Annie Sullivan's life with Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller, Sarah Elizabeth Miller's insightful novel, told from Annie's point of view. It's based on Annie's early life and of the wild child whose life she upends. You can never have too many Helen Keller books, and this one will be a hit with the I Love Braille crowd. And then there's that memorable 1962 classic movie, "The Miracle Worker." At www.afb.org/annesullivan, you'll find even more information and photographs.
Reviewed by : JF.
Themes : BIOGRAPHY. PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES. TEACHERS. WOMEN.
CRITICS HAVE SAID
- "What makes this oversize book so appealing is the clean design, with a large typeface… Make room for this." – Booklist
IF YOU LOVE THIS BOOK, THEN TRY:
- Cottin, Menena. The Black Book of Colors. Groundwood, 2008.
- Freedman, Russell.Out of Darkness: The Story of Louis Braille. Clarion, 1997.
- Hermann, Spring. Seeing Lessons: The Story of Abigail Carter and America’s First School for Blind People. Henry Holt, 1998.
- Hunter, Edith Fisher. Child of the Silent Night: The Story of Laura Bridgman. Houghton Mifflin, 1963.
- Lawlor, Laurie. Helen Keller: Rebellious Spirit. Holiday House, 2001.
- Little, Jean. Little by Little: A Writer’s Education. Viking, 1987.
- MacLeod, Elizabeth. Helen Keller: A Determined Life. Kids Can, 2004.
- Miller, Sarah Elizabeth. Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller. Atheneum, 2007.
- Sullivan, George. Helen Keller: Her Life in Pictures. Scholastic, 2007.
- Whelan, Gloria. Hannah. Knopf, 1991.