The uniquely remarkable life of Helen Keller

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, it wasn’t to me. 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.

Helen Keller

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.

From an early age, she championed the rights of the underdog and used her skills as a writer to speak truth to power. 

AFB website

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

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.

Please follow Watercress Words for more information and inspiration to nourish your HEART of health.

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Explore dyslexia, multiple sclerosis, and books

KNEES shows us what it is like to live with dyslexia, how it makes life difficult, especially reading and writing, even talking. Fortunately Louis has parents, a teacher, and friends who understand and support him in his quest to overcome what can be a significant obstacle.

I have been a reviewer for NetGalley for several years, but only recently reviewed any children’s books. I received a digital PDF copy of this book provided by the publisher and NetGalley. This post also uses affiliate links that can help support this blog. Now, let’s learn about…

KNEES

the mixed-up world of a boy with dyslexia

by Vanita Oelschlager , illustrated by Joe Rossi

KNEES is a book about a boy, Louis the Third, who is in the 4th grade. It is not about his knees but about his dyslexia which he describes as a “mix up between eyes and brain” such that his words come out backwards, like this-

SDRAWKCAB.

Except that not only are the letters in reverse order, but the letters are also backward. When you see a “b”, he sees a “d”.

KNEES shows us what it is like to live with dyslexia, how it makes life difficult, especially reading and writing, even talking. Fortunately Louis has parents, a teacher, and friends who understand and support him in his quest to overcome what can be a significant obstacle.

Louis learns the key to living with dyslexia is finding an activity he is good at. After trying, and failing, at several different ones, he eventually excels at a skill that surprises us.

The author tells us about super achievers who also have dyslexia; Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Walt Disney and others are mentioned in the book.

The illustrator, Joe Rossi, used simple pencil sketches that portray Louis somewhat as a comic strip character; I think it was a wise choice. The strong clean lines make Louis the star of this book and kept him from getting lost in detailed color pictures.  This is Mr. Rossi’s first illustration of a children’s book . A note explained that hard copies are printed on cream colored paper to be easier for people with dyslexia to read.

This book is fun, entertaining, educational, and inviting to kids and adults; I enjoyed it and recommend it for your kids.

About the author of KNEES

Vanita Oelschlager is a wife, mother, grandmother, philanthropist,  former teacher, current caregiver, author, and poet. She graduated from Mt. Union College in Alliance, Ohio, where she serves as a Trustee. She is  Writer In Residence for the Literacy Program at The University of Akron.

Her first book, My Grampy Can’t Walk, was widely praised. It’s an uplifting story about the wonderful relationship between her husband Jim, who has multiple sclerosis, and their grandchildren.

Mrs. Oelschlager is a publisher as well as an author. Her company, VanitaBooks, is an independent publisher with “a large heart for children with life problems”.

VanitaBooks help children through those life experiences adults call ‘growing up.’ In her books she explores of history, folklore, origin traditions, poetry, grammar fun, pets, family and more. She also tackles difficult topics like disabilities, childhood fears, family life: adoption, fostering, loss, non-traditional, military and more.

Through her company VanitaBooksLLC, she dedicated the book KNEES to Lawrence School in Ohio and donated the book’s net profits.  

After creating VanitaBooks, her successful children’s book publishing company, Vanita launched Newburn Drive Press for adult books. Titles include her first novel, Silent is the Magpie, and her first poetry book, Air Mask.

About Air Mask:Poems of Passion, Love, Life & Survival

MS is hard on everyone–the person who lives with the disease and those who live with the person with the disease. Its toll on family caregivers can be especially hard. As a wife and caregiver, Vanita knows exactly how hard it can be. She’s captured those experiences and emotions in Air Mask, her first book of poetry.


Air Mask is a record of trial and triumph, both Vanita’s and her husband’s. It reaches out to those who have been tested by the daily struggles of living with multiple sclerosis and other chronic diseases.

Newburn Drive.com

VanitaBooks and Newburn Drive Press donate all net profits to the Oak Clinic for Multiple Sclerosis and other selected charities.

Jim & Vanita Oelschlager

2016 Bert A. Polsky Humanitarian Award Recipients

Jim Oelschlager founded Oak Associates, Ltd., an investment firm in Bath Township, (Ohio) and the Oak Clinic, a nonprofit facility in Uniontown that treats patients with multiple sclerosis, regardless of their ability to pay. 

Jim was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1973. He founded the clinic in 2001 as a comprehensive resource for multiple sclerosis patients’ nursing and medical care, social services, education, rehabilitation and social enrichment.

The Oelschlagers remain the Oak Clinic’s primary funders. Vanita donates a percentage of her revenue from writing to the clinic and other related charities.

The Oelschlagers’ philanthropy has benefited health care organizations throughout the region where they live, including Akron Children’s Hospital. Over three decades, they donated more than $12 million and created three charitable funds at the hospital: the Oelschlager Center for Child Advocacy Endowment Fund, the Adoption Advocacy Center Fund, and the Global Health Fund, which provides health care resources to children in disadvantaged locations throughout the world.

Read more about multiple sclerosis and find links to other resources at this link from the National Institutes of Health

NINDS– Multiple Sclerosis

exploring, and sharing, the HEART of health

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. What I thought would be a review of a cute children’s book, turned into an opportunity to meet a talented author and illustrator, and a couple who share my passion for sharing the heart of health.

While not all of us have the resources the Oelschlagers have, anyone can donate time or talent to help someone else. I hope this post prompts you to find a way to share the heart of health with someone soon.

Please subscribe and you’ll know when I post another new article.

Here is another review of a children’s book

Kids with migraine-a book review

Ms. Stein introduces her book by explaining it is fiction based on personal experience, so when she describes the migraine “aura” she understands what that means. (Aura is the intial sign of an impending migraine headache, usually visual changes.)

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Please follow Watercress Words by using the link above.

I welcome support of any size , all of which go to fund this blog and help me share the HEART of health all over the world.

I appreciate your time and hope you’ll visit regularly.

Dr Aletha

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

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