Great Illustrated Books

Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller

By Sarah Miller

Atheneum, 2007
Pages : 240
Suggested Ages: 10 and Up
ISBN: 9781416925422

Reading this biographical novel, narrated by Anne Sullivan and based on her many letters, I was reminded once again why I, like so many others, have always been captivated by the story of Anne and Helen Keller, the little girl whose life she transformed. It starts in 1887 with 20-year-old Anne on the train to Alabama to meet her new student. Anne's thoughts drift back to her own traumatic childhood as a blind orphan living at Tewksbury, the Massachusetts state almshouse, losing her beloved little brother, Jimmy, and finally finding acceptance and training at the Perkins Institution for the Blind. Upon meeting her new pupil, the blind and deaf six-year-old Helen, Annie muses, "She seems so utterly alone, her look so familiar, for a moment I imagine I'm seeing the shadow of my own child-soul." Love-starved Annie is every bit as emotionally needy as her charge. Soon, though, the two are locked in battle over Helen's appalling mealtime behavior as Annie struggles to teach the wild child some manners, how to finger spell, and how to obey. You've seen the movie, The Miracle Worker. This is a prose version of it, but from Annie's viewpoint. It's every bit as riveting, especially the final moving chapter when Helen finally makes the connection between the finger-spelled word for water, her remembered word for it—wah-wah, and the water gushing from the pump.

Don't assume your children know this story. Pair it with straightforward biographies including Marfe Ferguson Delano's Helen's Eyes: A Photobiography of Annie Sullivan, Helen Keller's Teacher, Laurie Lawlor's Helen Keller: Rebellious Spirit, and George Sullivan's Helen Keller: Her Life in Pictures. If you can show the video of The Miracle Worker, note that it's what inspired Sarah Miller to write this book. Also read Russell Freedman's fascinating biography Out of Darkness: The Story of Louis Braille. More than half a century earlier, Braille, who spent his formative years at the Royal Institute for Blind Youth in Paris, devised the Braille system of writing. And look in the 419 section of your library for books about American Sign Language.

Reviewed by : JF.


If you love this book, then try:

Davis, Patricia A. Brian's Bird. Albert Whitman, 2000.

Delano, Marfe Ferguson. Helen's Eyes: A Photobiography of Annie Sullivan, Helen Keller's Teacher. National Geographic, 2008.

Freedman, Russell. Out of Darkness: The Story of Louis Braille. Clarion, 1997.

Garfield, James. Follow My Leader. Viking, 1957.

Hermann, Spring. Seeing Lessons: The Story of Abigail Carter and America's First School for Blind People. Henry Holt, 1998.

Hunter, Edith Fisher. Child of the Silent Night: The Story of Laura Bridgman. Houghton Mifflin, 1963.

Lawlor, Laurie. Helen Keller: Rebellious Spirit. Holiday House, 2001.

Little, Jean. Little by Little: A Writer's Education. Viking, 1987.

MacLeod, Elizabeth. Helen Keller: A Determined Life. Kids Can, 2004.

Millman, Isaac. Moses Goes to a Concert. Farrar, 1998.

Sullivan, George. Helen Keller: Her Life in Pictures. Scholastic, 2007.

Whelan, Gloria. Hannah. Knopf, 1991.

Critics have said

In language that often reads like poetry, Miller creates a strong portrait of Sullivan's accomplishments��_ Photos, a chronology, and an extensive bibliography conclude this stirring, fictionalized account.