Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Mini-review of Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller by Sarah Miller

Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller by Sarah Miller (Atheneum, 2007)

This book astonished me with its intense depiction of Annie Sullivan as a flawed but persistent teacher with a tragic past. She was only 20 years old and fresh out of Perkins Institution for the Blind when she arrived at the Keller household, so it’s no wonder that she was not a calm and competent model of serenity. In fact, Miller’s portrayal of her as a person starved for affection and sparking with pent-up anger makes total sense considering Annie Sullivan’s early years in the Tewksbury State Almshouse.

The intensity of Annie’s focus on the violent and animal-like young Helen made me feel almost claustrophobic. Just getting Helen to stop acting wild and learn to obey was a huge struggle, both mental and physical, and Miller makes the reader feel every sweaty, wrenching moment of it. Annie’s frustrating efforts to get Helen to understand the concept of language is a bit less successful in that it’s an abstract concept that young readers may not quite grasp. After all, we’ve all been using language since we can remember, and so it’s hard to understand what Helen could possibly be thinking – or feeling, rather, since how can you “think” without language, hearing, or sight?

Fascinating and startling. Highly recommended for grades 5 and up.

1 comment:

  1. This is my favorite book in the whole world.