Book review by Aarene Storms: Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller  by Joseph Lambert

At the age of 19 months, Helen Keller became sick with an unknown illness (now believed to be scarlet fever) and as a result became blind and deaf.  For several years, her parents tried to teach her at home, but were unable to communicate with the child.  In desperation, they contacted the Perkins Institution for the Blind, the school in Massachussets which had gained fame 40 years earlier for educating Laura Bridgman, another deaf-blind student.  The Perkins Institution sent Annie Sullivan to be a governess to young Helen...and it was Miss Sullivan, called "Teacher" by Helen, who finally broke through Helen's handicap. 

This graphic novel tells the story of the relationship between Teacher and Helen Keller in remarkable pictures.  Many of the panels are narrated by Annie, extracted from letters she wrote to the head of the Perkins Institution.  Annie tells the story of her struggles with Helen, with the Keller family, with the oppressive climate and social conditions of the post-war South, and also flashes-back to her own troubled childhood in Boston, as a sight-impaired but highly-motivated student at Perkins.  The narration also relates a troubled chapter in the relationship between Helen, Annie, and the school, which occured when a charming story written by Helen was revealed to be almost identical to a short story published in 1889 by Margaret Canby.

Engagingly-told, with panels that draw the eye through even the painful bits of the story. A guide to discussion is included at the end of the book.  No cussing, no nekkidness.  Highly recommended for ages 10 to adult. 

Aarene Storms, youth services librarian
Richmond Beach Library, KCLS


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