Book tells story of teacher’s quest to help Helen KellerEarly on, Annie realizes she must help Helen “find a way to express her needs, her thoughts, her feelings.”
By: Jean Patrick, Republic Book Columnist
… Her hands are in everything; but nothing holds her attention for long. Dear child, her restless spirit gropes in the dark.
The writer of this passage is 20-year-old Annie Sullivan. The girl she describes is 6-year-old Helen Keller, who cannot see or hear.
“Annie and Helen,” by Deborah Hopkinson, is the story of the early relationship between these two extraordinary people.
Early on, Annie realizes she must help Helen “find a way to express her needs, her thoughts, her feelings.”
So Annie teaches Helen language with a manual finger alphabet. The “eureka” moment occurs when Helen connects the language she feels in her hand to the water coming out of the pump. Many people know this part of Helen’s story. But Hopkins takes “Annie and Helen” in a new direction by focusing on Annie’s teaching techniques. Annie realizes that Helen is learning language as a baby learns language. So, Annie speaks constantly, “spelling rich, wonderful sentences into her palm.” Using excerpts from letters that Annie wrote in 1887, Hopkinson shows how Annie teaches the intricacies of language, such as plurals (using puppies) and abstract words such as “think.”
Annie also attempts to teach the concept of sound, allowing Helen to feel the vibrations of frogs, crickets and newborn chicks.
More breakthroughs occur as Helen begins to read (using raised letters and Braille) and write (using a grooved letter board and Braille typewriter).
As the story continues, Helen’s brilliance and questions begin to jump off the page, culminating with her desire to share her heart.
Raul Colon’s gentle illustrations are sometimes static, yet they show the deep teacher-student connection.
However, the “illustration” that captures the essence of the book is a reproduction of Helen’s first letter to her mother.
This remarkable book also includes photographs of Helen as a child and teenager, a raised Braille alphabet on the dust jacket, and a detailed author’s note about Helen’s life.
“Annie and Helen.” By Deborah Hopkinson. Illustrated by Raul Colon. Schwartz and Wade, 2012. 48 pp.