by Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara
illustrated by Sam Rudd
a Little People, BIG DREAMS book
We all began life as children, often with a dream we hoped to achieve. Some people overcome monumental challenges to achieve their dream and Helen Keller was one of them.
This children’s book from Quarto Publishing Group-Frances Lincoln Children’s Books tells her story differently from what you have heard before.
I reviewed a complimentary advance digital copy of this book from the publisher and NetGalley. I’m using affiliate links in this post to help fund this blog.
Helen Keller, the disabled child
Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara begins Helen’s story with her childhood in Alabama, raised by loving parents, facing the challenge of raising a child rendered deaf and blind from a serious illness as an infant. Despite their attention and her own innate resourcefulness to cope with this devastating disability, she remained isolated and frustrated-that is until Annie Sullivan, a teacher for the blind, came into her life.
With Annie’s help, and eventual friendship, Helen learned to understand words and to read Braille. She also learned to speak from a teacher of deaf persons. With these skills, she went to college, becoming the first deafblind person to earn a college degree and wrote a book about her life.
Helen Keller, the advocate
But Helen’s remarkable life did not stop there and neither does this story. Ms. Vegara chronicles Helen’s life as an activist and advocate for other people with disabilities, for women’s right to vote, and for African Americans’ civil rights. She travelled the world giving speeches, met United States presidents and other famous people.
The pictures are attractive to children without looking childish. Mr. Rudd’s colorful illustrations capture Helen’s personality and interactions with various people who played important roles in her life- her Black childhood playmate who was the daughter of the family’s cook, and adult friends Mark Twain and Alexander Graham Bell.
Parents will find this book a valuable resource to introduce this remarkable woman to their children. The author tells Helen’s story tastefully, never minimizing the severity of her condition but not emphasizing it over her achievements.
Helen Keller’s complex life
Reading this children’s book prompted me to reflect on what I already knew about Helen Keller. I was in high school when Keller died in 1968 and despite the lack of streaming television, internet, and social media I was familiar with her as a famous living person.
Even if you’re younger, you may know of Helen Keller from the movie, The Miracle Worker. The 1962 original version starred Patty Duke as Helen and Anne Bancroft as Annie Sullivan, both won Academy Awards for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress.
Ms. Duke also acted in a TV movie version in 1979; in it she played Annie and Helen was portrayed by Melissa Gilbert. (Depending on your age, you may remember her from the TV show Little House on the Prairie; she later portrayed Anne in The Diary of Anne Frank.)
But still some things in the book surprised me. I didn’t know that Helen, born in 1880, grew up in the American south, Alabama. This was barely 20 years after the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, which supported the Southern economy. Her father, a newspaper editor, was a captain in the Confederate Army. Her mother’s father was a Confederate general. “The family lost most of its wealth during the Civil War and lived modestly.”
Keller is remembered for her advocacy for persons with blindness and other physical disabilities. But her social and political advocacy may not be so well known. In politics, she could be considered an early progressive, having joined the Socialist Party of America. She was a founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union.
On social issues, she favored women, African Americans, workers, and the poor. She was a suffragist and pacifist, and supported civil rights and the NAACP.
Helen Keller wrote her own life story as well as other books, essays, and magazine articles. Her autobiography, The Story of My Life, was published in 1903. It has been translated into 50 languages..
Helen’s other published works include Optimism, an essay; The World I Live In; The Song of the Stone Wall; Out of the Dark; My Religion; Midstream—My Later Life; Peace at Eventide; Helen Keller in Scotland; Helen Keller’s Journal; Let Us Have Faith; Teacher, Anne Sullivan Macy; and The Open Door. In addition, she was a frequent contributor to magazines and newspapers.
“The Helen Keller Archives contain over 475 speeches and essays that she wrote on topics such as faith, blindness prevention, birth control, the rise of fascism in Europe, and atomic energy. Helen used a braille typewriter to prepare her manuscripts and then copied them on a regular typewriter.”
Helen Keller’s legacy shines through her work with the blind; she worked for the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) from 1924 until 1968. During this time, she toured the United States and traveled to 35 countries around the globe advocating for those with vision loss and raising funds for the organization.
source: Helen Keller archives
For this post I used information from The Helen Keller Archival Collection at the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), the world’s largest collection of writings, letters, speeches, photographs, artifacts, audio-video, and other materials relating to Helen Keller.
Little People, BIG DREAMS is a best-selling series of books and educational games that explore the lives of outstanding people-designers, artists,scientists and activists. They all achieved incredible things, yet each began life as a child with a dream.
This empowering series of 101 books offers inspiring messages to children of all ages, in a range of formats. The board books use simple sentences, perfect for reading aloud to babies and toddlers. The hardback versions present expanded stories for beginning readers.
Parents and grandparents can create a collection of the books by theme. Matching games and other fun learning tools provide other ways to make the lives of these role models accessible to children.
Inspire the next generation of outstanding people who will change the world with Little People, BIG DREAMS!
exploring the HEART of health through inspiring people
Thank you for reading this post about Helen Keller’s challenging life, information that can inspire you to turn your health challenges into health opportunities. If you are a parent or grandparent, introduce your kids to her and other people like her. Who knows, they may be the next world changers.
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