Friday, November 2, 2012

Book Review: Annie and Helen, by Deborah Hopkinson and Raul Colon (Schwartz & Wade Books, 2012)

Recommended for ages 6-12.  

While there are many, many books about Helen Keller targeted at young readers, Deborah Hopkinson and Raul Colon have added to these riches with a lovely picture book biography that focuses on the intense relationship between Helen Keller and her teacher, Annie Sullivan.

Hopkins intersperses her narrative, which begins on the day when Annie Sullivan came into Helen Keller's life, with excerpts from Annie's own letters to her friend and former teacher, Sophia Hopkins.  We see Helen throwing a violent tantrum, her dog running away from her:  "Helen was like a small, wild bird, throwing herself against the bars of a dark and silent cage."  But Annie, who fought her own battle against blindness, understood that Helen needed discipline, and "prepared for battle."  She and Helen moved into a small house on the family's property, and Annie helped Helen accept rules and teaching.  But how could she teach her language?  Hopkinson explains the manual finger alphabet used by Annie, and provides drawings of the hand positions for each letter in the text as well as explaining how Annie tried to teach Helen the names of familiar objects.  When Helen finally grasps the concept of words at the water pump, as cool water splashed on her hand, the world of language quickly opened up to her.  Sullivan writes about Helen on April 5, 1887:  "A new light came into her face."

Hopkinson shows us Helen as a very bright child, giving many examples of how she put together words.  We even see Helen running and jumping with joy on their walks.  Annie also taught Helen to read using Braille and how to write using a special braille typewriter.  The book concludes with a letter written to her mother on a short trip with her father.

The book is beautifully illustrated by award-winning artist Raul Colon, whose gentle, water-colored earth-toned illustrations capture the special relationship between these two remarkable women.  Back matter includes a few suggestions for further reading and a selection of websites to learn more about Annie and Helen.  Endpapers feature some of the many photographs of Helen and Annie.  The author also includes an author's note, which provides some basic biographical information on both women.

I would highly recommend this picture book to share in a classroom or at home; it only covers a brief period in the relationship between Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan, but this book could easily be supplemented with other volumes for those young people who want to learn more about this famous teacher-pupil relationship.

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