Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller

Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller

Sarah Miller
Historical Fiction
For ages 10 to 12
Atheneum, 2010   ISBN: 978-1442408517

Annie Sullivan is not sure how she is going to manage in her new job, in her first job. She has been hired by Mr. and Mrs. Keller to teach their six-year-old daughter Helen. When Helen was only two years old, she got dangerously ill. Though she survived the ordeal, when it was all over Helen had lost her sight and her ability to hear. Full of self-doubt, Annie wonders how she is going “to teach Helen what language is, when words themselves have no scent, taste, or texture.”

When Annie meets Helen, she finds that the little girl is trapped inside dark and silent world. More often than not Helen reacts to people and situations by having a tantrum, frightening those around her into giving her whatever she wants. Annie quickly realizes that her teaching cannot begin until Helen is taught to behave in a civilized manner. Having once been a “spitfire” herself, Annie understands what Helen is doing, and she stands her ground, even when Helen screams, bites, pinches, and kicks. Struggling with her own inner pain and memories of her terrible childhood, Annie battles with the six-year-old, refusing to give up. Day after day, she forces Helen to eat properly, to brush her hair, and to wash herself. Day after day Annie uses sign language on Helen’s hands to give her the names of objects, hoping that one day Helen will understand that W-A-T-E-R is the name of the wet stuff that comes out of the pump outside.

This incredibly powerful book explores the world of Annie Sullivan, the teacher who gave Helen Keller the ability to communicate with the people around her. All too often Annie’s achievements are overshadowed by Helen Keller’s fame. Many people have no idea how Annie Sullivan came to be Helen’s teacher, and how much Annie suffered when she was a child. This book takes readers into the early years of Annie’s life, allowing them to appreciate what a courageous and remarkable person she was.