Miss Spitfire – Reaching Helen Keller
by Sarah Miller
published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers in 2007
I grappled with this book targeted at Middle years readers- as much as I appreciate the authors dedication to the subject and her passion to helping the blind- I must say I would not recommend this book to young readers- although I would happily recommend to adults and older teenagers. Sarah Miller- admirably tackles the incredible and inspirational story of Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller’s relationship.
Helen Keller lost the ability to see and hear when she was a toddler after an acute illness. She was thrust into a wilderness of loneliness and isolation because of her physical disabilities. Because of her loving family’s perseverance to help their daughter – they were able to secure the placement of a young teacher- Annie Sullivan who came to live with them in their home in Alabama in 1887. This story has been documented many times- most notably in the film and play- The Miracle Worker- and there are many children’s biographies of Helen Keller- this book is unique in bringing Annie’s voice and the frustrations she faced to the forefront. Miss Sullivan was only 21 years old when she arrived at the Keller home. She had endured physical hardships – including sight impairment and due to her families poverty was forced to grow up in a children’s home where her younger brother tragically perished.
Through the lens of her own desperate circumstances- Annie desperately searches for a way to reach the unruly, and tempestuous young 7 year old Helen. Because of her own tragic losses – Annie is deeply emotionally scarred and starved for affection. She intensely craves love and attention. This book vividly depicts the desperate longing she feels for connection- and this is where I become uncomfortable in recommending this book for children- while not dishonest…. this book has too much feeling, too much emotion, and is very, very tough. My purpose is not to discredit the author- but rather to encourage parents and librarians and teachers to carefully select books which are appropriate for the maturity level of their young charges.