Friday, October 26, 2012
Annie and Helen, written by Deborah Hhopkinson and illustrated by Raul Colon. Schwartz & Wade, Random House. 2012. $20.99 all ages
It is a remarkable story that weds determination, a bright and eager mind, patience and triumph. It is a yearlong struggle; their path is not smooth. A teacher who has been blind (and healed), a young girl who is blinded (not to mention her deafness and mutism) by illness as an almost two-year-old are brought together in an effort to unlock the mystery that is Helen:
"Helen was like a small, wild bird,
throwing herself against the bars of
a dark and silent cage."
In expressive, yet simple, language Deborah Hopkinson brings to a new audience of young readers the story of Helen Keller and her amazing teacher, Annie Sullivan. She uses excerpts from Annie's personal letters to let us in on the thinking, the events and the concerns of that first year. What unbelievable success they achieved in such a short time!
I love Ms. Hopkinson's description of Annie's perseverance in trying to help Helen understand the skill of finger spelling in order to introduce her to the world around her;
"Helen still needed the key to language.
Annie spelled into Helen's palm all day long.
Like someone on a windy peak
trying to kindle a fire for warmth,
Annie kept hoping for a spark to catch."
And her understanding of all that was happening as her student begins to flourish:
"Annie realized that Helen was learning language just as a baby does.
Mothers and fathers don't give babies vocabulary lessons
or worry about teaching grammar - they just talk.
All on her own, young Annie invented a brilliant new way to teach:
she would talk into Helen's hand
the way people talk into a baby's ears!"
The warm, gentle tone of the story is mirrored in Raul Colon's muted watercolors. The texture in the lines made me think of all that Helen was touching and feeling in her new world. A double page where Helen delights in the movement words she is learning as she walks, leaps, jumps across the spread is definitely my favorite scene. The archival photos of Helen as a child and young woman add a graceful charm to their story.
The feel of the Braille alphabet on the back cover is evidence that this is a publishing house that wanted to make its book the best it could be. Bravo! Young listeners and readers will be intrigued to the very end.