January 28, 2013
Annie and Helen by Deborah Hopkinson and Raul Colon
Annie and Helen
by Deborah Hopkinson
illustrated by Raul Colon
Schwartz and Wade
When Annie Sullivan came to the Keller home, young Helen reigned in terror. If someone didn’t give her what she wanted or couldn’t understand, she would throw a tantrum although she was almost 7 years-old.
But Annie understood. Annie had suffered from a painful eye disease and even had to have surgery. She knew what it was like to be limited.
Helen might have been a healthy baby but then she had a terrible fever. Afterwards, she was both blind and deaf. She could nod her head and tug her father’s hand. When she was hungry, she would pretend to butter bread, but that was all. No wonder she was angry.
When Annie came, she set to work. First, she taught Helen how to behave. No more sticking her hands in other people’s plates. No more tantrums. It only took a few weeks for Helen to become a much calmer child but Annie still needed a way to talk to her.
At school, Annie had learned to sign individual letters with one hand. She started spelling out words in the palm of Helen’s hand. She would give Helen her doll and then spell the word. D-O-L-L. Helen learned to copy the letters but she still didn’t understand until one day at the pump. Annie pumped water onto one hand and spelled the word into Helen’s other hand. Something clicked. Helen understood.
Immediately she dropped down and patted the ground. Word after word, Helen added to her vocabulary. Soon Annie was teaching her not only nouns but verbs. Helen could put together crude sentences. For the first time, she could talk to other people.
In just a few months, Helen learned to type on a special type writer that printed the letters in Braille, an alphabet of raised dots used by people who cannot see. The Helen learned to use a special template to write the letters that sighted people could read. Just a few months after Annie came, Helen and Annie went on a trip with Helen’s father. Helen was able to write her mother a letter telling her about all that she had done.
Although this is a fairly long picture book, over 2000 words, it feels much shorter. The story moves along quickly because readers want to know — does Helen learn to speak? Can she tell other people what she wants? What she’s thinking?
Young readers will identify with Helen. They all know the frustration of not being understood.
Writers will love that part of this story is told through the letters that Annie wrote home and also through the letter than Helen wrote her mother. A book about learning to communicate told through letters. Perfect!
Colon’s watercolor paintings will help young readers see and understand when they hear about the typewriter that Helen used or the template that allowed her to write to others.
People who know a lot about Helen Keller or Annie Sullivan probably won’t learn anything knew but this book is an excellent introduction to two brilliant women for young readers who do not know who they are. It will also make an excellent point of discussion concerning how life has changed for those with special needs.