Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

I Am Helen Keller

I Am Helen Keller

Grace Norwich
Illustrator:  Mark Elliot 
For ages 8 to 10
Scholastic , 2012   ISBN: 978-0545447799

Helen Keller is often presented as being an angelic, “sweet and earnest” person who lived in a “dark, soundless prison.” This is not what the real Helen Keller was like. Like everyone, Helen had flaws; she had a dreadful temper and was not always sensible about how she spent her money. Her world was not a dark and grim place because Helen made up for her blindness and deafness by having a highly sensitive sense of smell and touch. She could pick up the slightest vibrations and could identify people by their smell.

   When she first met Annie Sullivan, the teacher who helped Helen communicate and interact with the world, Helen was an out-of-control seven-year-old. Afraid of their little daughter’s temper tantrums, her parents let Helen do whatever she wanted, and as a result she was spoiled and very difficult to deal with. She was also very stubborn.

   Helen had always been able to bend people to her will. Until she met Annie Sullivan. Annie had had a hard childhood and she was just as stubborn as Helen was. Slowly and determinedly, Annie ‘tamed’ Helen, showing her to behave properly. Then she began to work with Helen to help her understand the world. Helen had to learn that everything had a name, and that she could learn those names. After Helen made the connection between an object and the name that Annie spelled into Helen’s hand, Helen became an eager and excited student.

  At the time, in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, deaf and blind people did not have many people to advocate for them, and they certainly did not have many opportunities to get an education. Helen was lucky enough to have some powerful friends and with their help she was able to go to school, and then to university. She became the first American deaf-blind person to get a Bachelor of Arts degree, and she was catapulted into the limelight, becoming a national hero.

   In this excellent biography the author tells the story of Helen Keller, making sure that she is honest in her account. She does not add a layer of glitter to a story is that is remarkable without embellishment, and she provides her readers with background information about Helen’s world and the people who influenced her.