There are dozens of books about Helen Keller. And her life deserves to be told dozens more times, because it was a truly extraordinary life full of lessons for every age of reader.
No less extraordinary is her teacher, Annie Sullivan Macy. This story serves as a fantastic introduction for young readers (recommended age is 4-8, but I think 6-8 is more realistic due to the content and length of this book) to these two great women, and what they accomplished together.
I suspect you already know the basic story about Helen Keller, but I was surprised to learn about Annie Sullivan, mostly in the author’s note that aptly sets the scene for Annie and Helen’s meeting in March of 1887.
Annie’s mother died when she was eight, and two years later she and her brother were sent to a poorhouse to live. Her brother died soon after, and she remained, alone, until she was fourteen, when she was sent to study at the Perkins Institution for the Blind in Boston. Having contracted trachoma, a painful eye disease, as a child, she was blind in one eye. Upon graduation, her first job as a teacher was to teach Helen Keller.
Helen, left blind and deaf at 19 months, was a wild child with too many privileges and too few rules, the result of parents who, like all of us parents, want to do the best for their child but sometimes don’t have the right answer. Luckily for them, Annie Sullivan was their right answer.
Through strict rules, high expectations, and more patience than I will ever have, Annie taught Helen how to act properly. Helen began to trust Annie’s guidance, and allowed Annie to teach her not just civility but also how to communicate, learn, and live.
Sprinkled throughout the book are Annie’s real journal entries that describe in her own words her work, her feelings, and their progress together. To be honest, I don’t think they are necessary, and they interrupt the flow of the story for younger readers.
I do like, however, the addition of Helen’s first letter home during a trip with her father. It is an appropriate end to the book, proof positive of the accomplishments of Helen and Annie. Helen has left home to experience and become part of the world, and she has something to say about it.
My two older children—ages 6 and 4 ½–had strong reactions to this book. Both were floored that a child could be blind or deaf—or blind and deaf. We had really good conversations about communication, and how people communicate.
We took turns tapping on each other’s hand, writing letters out on our backs, trying to feel the letters and guess what they were. They were impressed with Helen’s heightened senses of smell and touch. As we talked about Annie and Helen, I could see their minds being stretched in that great way that great books enable.
The book wouldn’t be a success without the careful, detailed cross-hatched watercolors of Raul Colón. Included in the front and back flaps of the book are dozens of photographs of Helen and Annie, and on the back cover is the Braille Alphabet—itself a tiny gift to my kids as they ran their fingers over it and gained respect for people who read with their fingers.
Throughout the pages of this book, Deborah Hopkinson seems to have been whispering to my two kids: There are other ways of doing things! Be open to not-so-normal ways of living! Accept people who, at first glance, might seem very different from you! These are wonderful, invaluable lessons.
Annie and Helen
By Deborah Hopkinson and Raul Colón
Random House http://www.randomhouse.com/kids
Price: Available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Books a Million! for approximately $14
|Easy to Read||4|
|Quality of Illustrations
|Appealed to Both Boys and Girls||3|
|Kept My Child(ren)’s interest||5|
|I Would Purchase This For My Family||yes|
|I would Purchase This As A Gift||yes
| Overall Rating
All ratings on a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being highest.
Meet the Reviewer!
Kate Schwarz is a full-time mom
and wife living in Great Falls, VA.
In addition to reading to her three
small hildren, Kate runs marathons,
Crossfits, and blogs about raising
kids with books at