Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Annie and Helen

Annie and Helen

Deborah Hopkinson
Illustrator:  Raul Colon 
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 6 to 9
Random House, 2012   ISBN: 978-0375857065

When Annie Sullivan came to live with Helen Keller and her family, Helen was almost seven years old and she was often out of control. Helen was a little over two years of age when she got sick and became both blind and deaf. By the time Annie came to be her teacher, spoiled little Helen was an angry and frustrated little girl who did not have the tools she needed to make herself understood. She lived in a “dark silent cage.” 

With determination and patience, Annie set about making the little girl understand that tantrums were not acceptable. If Helen wanted to eat she had to eat properly with utensils, and she couldn’t lose her temper when she did not get exactly what she wanted. 

More than anything, Annie wanted to give Helen the gift of language so that she could communicate and thus better understand the world. She taught Helen two-handed sign language, and Helen quickly learned how to spell words into Annie’s hands, but the child did not know that she was spelling words, and that the words were the names for things. 

Then one day Helen made the magical connection between the sign for w-a-t-e-r and the water that was splashed on her hand. At that moment “A new light came into her face,” and Helen wanted to learn the words for everything around her. She “began to devour words,” and Annie “made the world their classroom,” so that Helen could connect with her environment.

Helen took too learning as a duck takes to water. As her vocabulary grew, she began to ask questions. A lot of questions. 

In just four months, Helen went from being a difficult frustrated little girl into a child who was excited by the world around her, a child who wanted to know everything about everything. Annie taught Helen how to count, how to read, and then how to write. Everyone was delighted with Helen’s progress, but even they could not imagine how high Helen, with Annie at her side, would fly in the years to come. 

In this remarkable picture book, Deborah Hopkinson describes the first few months that Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan spent together. Those were months that would change the lives of both Helen and Annie, and launch Helen on an adventure that would make her a household name.

Throughout the book the author’s narrative is accompanied by excerpts from letters that Annie wrote to her friend. There are also beautifully evocative illustrations that capture moments from Helen’s life that give the narrative an added dimension.