I spent a lot of time reading biographies of prominent Americans when I was in third grade. The biography I liked most was that of Helen Keller. I admired her determination and courage. Therefore I read her biography over and over again since I was fascinated with her life.
I don’t remember the title, author, or the series of the Helen Keller biography I read so many times that year, but I do know that I have a new favorite book about Helen Keller whose title I will be sure to remember for years to come. Annie and Helen , written by Deborah Hopkinson and illustrated by Raul Colon.
Annie and Helen, which is her newest book, is an informative picture book about the relationship between Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan. This student-teacher bond lasted long after Annie helped Helen communicate with the world. Annie was by her side when Helen attended college. In fact, Annie worked with Helen until her passing in 1936. Annie and Helen is more than a story about their relationship and accomplishments. It also includes Annie’s letters to her friend and former teacher, Sophia C. Hopkins. Hence, the structure of this text is worthy of study since it is set up differently from most of the other picture books I’ve read.
It’s an honor to be one of the stops on Deborah Hopkinson‘s Annie and Helen Blog Tour. I met Deborah at NCTE in 2008 when she was signing Sky Boys: How They Built the Empire State Building. She was warm and gracious. Therefore, I was not in the least bit surprised when she offered to write a guest blog post that focuses on writing for this stop of the Annie and Helen Blog Tour.
Without further ado, here is Deborah’s guest blog post:
At author visits, one of the most common questions I get is, “Where do you get your ideas?” I often tell students that “readers make writers.” And I don’t say that just to encourage reading. As someone who is especially interested in history, I actually do get most of my ideas through what I read.
My newest picture book, Annie and Helen, illustrated by Raul Colon, is no exception. I remember being in Tucson, Arizona in 2008 for a young author’s conference and seeing small news item on the Internet as I was getting ready for the day. The New England Historic Genealogical Society had received a gift of papers and photographs. And researchers there had made an unexpected discovery: in the collection was a rare photograph from July 1888 of Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller, with Helen holding her doll. (Thanks to NEHGS, we have included the photo on the endpapers of the book.)
Reading about the discovery of the photo prompted me to remember that my editor, Anne Schwartz, had once mentioned her own fascination with Helen Keller. As I sent her a link to the news story I wondered: “What do I really know about Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan, beyond the famous moment by the water pump?” I decided to explore.
As I researched, I became almost as intrigued by Annie Sullivan’s story as with Helen herself. My first drafts of the manuscript focused more on the hardships Annie had faced as a girl. After her mother’s death, Annie and her brother were sent to an almshouse in Tewksbury, Massachusetts (which coincidentally was the town where I lived until I was four.) Her brother died there. Annie herself had become almost totally blind from trachoma, and at fourteen, begging for a chance to go to school, she was sent to the Perkins School for the Blind. Operations partially restored her sight and she graduated in 1886 at the top of her class.
Annie Sullivan had never traveled far from home when she set out, at the age of 20, to teach Helen in Tuscumbia, Alabama. Her innovative methods of teaching are as impressive as Helen Keller’s extraordinary progress that first spring. I decided to use excerpts from Annie’s letters to her friend and former house mother, Mrs. Sophia Hopkins, to illustrate Annie’s innovative methods of teaching.
It’s actually mind-boggling to think about. When Annie arrived in early March 1887, Helen, almost seven, had lost a connection to the world through language. By July, the brilliant, determined Helen had made so much progress she was able to write a simple letter.
I hope young readers will be as amazed as I was to go beyond the famous moment at the water pump and see how this remarkable relationship began – how Annie showed Helen what plurals were by putting her hand over one puppy, and then several puppies; how she spelled into her hand in complete sentences, the way we talk to a baby, even if Helen only knew a few of the words; and how Annie found ways to teach Helen about things she could not touch or smell.
Annie once called her experience of teaching Helen, “a rare privilege.” And it was a privilege for me to be able to tell this story again for young readers.
This giveaway is for a copy of Annie and Helen for one of our readers. Many for thanks to Random House Kids for sponsoring this giveaway. To enter for a chance to win a copy of Annie and Helen each reader may leave one comment about this post in the comments section of this post.
All comments left on or before Wednesday, September 12th at 11:59 p.m. EDT will be entered into a random drawing using a random number generator on Thursday, September 13th. I will announce the winner’s name at the bottom of this post on September 13th. Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address and have my contact at Random House send the book out to you. Please note: Your e-mail address will not be published online.
Comments are now closed. Thank you to everyone who left a comment on this post. Miss Moyer’s comment was selected using the random number generator. Here’s what she said.
I too remember being introduced to Helen Keller during late elementary grades.
I can still finger spell in sign language from memorizing the pages in the back of a particular book!
This book sounds wonderful.
Check out the other stops on the Annie and Helen Blog Tour.
September 1st: Watch. Connect. Read
September 1st: SharpRead
September 2nd: Nerdy Book Club
September 3rd: Bakers and Astronauts
September 5th: Cracking the Cover
September 6th: Teach Mentor Texts
September 7th: Nonfiction Detectives
September 8th: Booking Mama
September 9th: Children’s Book Review
September 10th: Random Acts of Reading
September 11th: 7 Impossible Things Before Breakfast
Literacy Consultant. Author. Former 4th and 5th Grade Classroom Teacher.