Monday, February 25, 2013

Helen's Big World The Life of Helen Keller

Horn Book (September/October, 2012)

Though different in scope, these picture book biographies both give powerful introductory looks at the huge challenges Helen Keller and her teacher, Annie Sullivan, faced and surmounted. Beginning with an excerpt from one of Annie’s letters to a former teacher about first meeting Helen, Annie and Helen provides a more detailed look at Helen and her teacher’s early years together. The text considers Annie’s point of view as much as Helen’s, and Annie’s strength of character is highlighted. Peppered with excerpts from Annie’s letters, the book comes full circle by concluding with the first letter Helen writes home on her own. Meanwhile, Helen’s Big World covers the whole span of Helen’s life from birth through her many years with Annie and after. Rappaport characteristically uses quotes to extend and heighten the emotion. A timeline at the end helps put important dates in perspective. Though this book focuses more on Helen than on Annie, readers get a more acute awareness of how much Annie sacrificed for Helen: "Teacher read many books to me. In spite of repeated warnings from oculists, she has always abused her eyes for my sake." In contrast to Col√≥n’s rather too-sedate line and watercolor pictures for Annie and Helen, Tavares’s illustrations (ink, watercolor, and gouache) for Helen’s Big World are, per the title, big and bold and often in intense close-up. Stirring and awe-inspiring, both books are appended with acknowledgments and further reading and include a chart of the finger alphabet Annie used. In addition, Annie and Helen’s endpapers provide real photographs, and the back cover has a raised Braille alphabet; the cover of Helen’s Big World includes the title in Braille. julie roach

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