Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

She touched the world: Laura Bridgman, Deaf-Blind Pioneer

She touched the world: Laura Bridgman, Deaf-Blind Pioneer

Sally Hobart Alexander
Illustrator:  Robert Alexander 
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 9 to 12
Clarion Books, 2008   ISBN: 978-0618852994

Laura was only two years old when her efforts to learn words and to speak were cruelly cut short. Laura and her sisters and her brother all caught scarlet fever. After months of illness Laura finally began to recover but her siblings did not survive. Laura was not untouched by her months of sickness. It was soon discovered that she was almost completely blind and deaf, and ever her senses of smell and taste had been affected by the fever. Laura depended almost exclusively on her sense of touch to explore her world. Over the next few years she managed to get around her home and to help her mother with the chores. She even learned how to knit and to sew, but she could not find a way to communicate with the people around her in a meaningful way, and this frustrated her a great deal.

Then her parents sent her to what would one day be called the Perkins Institute. They hoped that the teachers in this special school for handicapped children would be able to help their little girl. Laura was only eight years old and to make her feel more comfortable and less afraid she lived with the director of the Institute, Samuel Gridley Howe. Howe also had a particular interest in her case and wanted to have her nearby so that he could observe her.

Slowly, and with plenty of praise and encouragement, Howe and his assistants began to teach Laura how to communicated using raised-print words and the manual alphabet, which allowed them to spell words into her hand. Braille and sign language was not in use at this time and would not come into widespread use for years to come.

Word of Laura's achievements spread around the country and around the world. People like Charles Dickens, who met Laura when she was in her early teens, wrote about her with great enthusiasm, and for the rest of her life Laura served as an example of how much a deaf-blind person could do if they were given the chance and the help that they deserved.

This excellent book not only tells the story of the life of a very courageous person, but it also describes the changes that began to take place in the education and care of the handicapped. Thanks to Laura Bridgman, people could no longer say that the deaf-blind were mentally backward. She proved that such people could be taught how to communicate and how to find a place for themselves in the world.

Written with great care and sensitivity and full of annotated illustrations and photographs, this is an excellent biographical title for young people.