Monday, December 10, 2012

Nonfiction Monday: Annie Sullivan and the trials of Helen Keller by Joseph Lambert

I recently reviewed a picture book biography of Helen and Annie and was bemoaning the fact that their relationship, and Helen's water epiphany, are so overdone - do we really need yet another biography?

If it's this title, we do. This graphic biography, produced by the Center for Cartoon Studies, chooses a different approach, focusing on the life of Annie Sullivan. Starting with her meeting with Helen, it intersperses her own tragic and difficult childhood with her work with Helen, letters home, and interactions with the Perkins Institute. Although the story deals with mature issues, from the abuses at the Tewksbury Almhouse to the inequalities suffered by women and the disabled, they're presented in a way that doesn't negate their impact but is still appropriate for middle grade readers.

The art is presented in a stream of small panels. It's easy to follow the jumps between Annie's childhood and Helen's, since both Annie's wear shades of blue and wear their hair in the same style. The text is written in a variety of fonts, from rough capitals for Helen's changing speech to simple cursive for Annie's letters home. One of the most moving aspects of the art, which gives fresh meaning to a familiar story is the depiction of Helen's world. It starts with her alone in the dark, a formless child figure. As Annie breaks through to her, her world slowly grows until the pivotal moment when it explodes with language and images.

This isn't a title to hand to reluctant readers, just because it's a graphic novel. The text and images are small and precise and the story is complex. To fully grasp the story, readers need to know a little of the historical context of the time, although this story might also inspire them to do some extra research. This is a title for middle school readers, especially those interested in stories of struggle and triumph, history and biography, or  relationships.

Verdict: This is different than any of the other Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan biographies glutting the market. Definitely add these for your more thoughtful middle school students and high school readers.

ISBN: 9781423113362; Published 2012 by Hyperion; Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library


Ms. Yingling said...

I did like this one, but the print was so tiny. The Center for Cartoon Studies always puts out such good books, like the one on Satchel Paige.

Jennifer said...

Yeah, it's not a book for everyone. I think only really strong readers will be interested and the print won't bother them as much.