Saturday, April 27, 2019

Helen Keller's Teacher by Margaret Davidson #1965Club

This is my final entry in the #1965Club, which collected reviews of books published in 1965.
Who else remembers this iconic cover?
Title: Helen Keller’s Teacher
Author: Margaret Davidson
Publication: 1965, Scholastic paperback
Genre: Juvenile Biography
Plot: Annie Sullivan (born 1866), who became Helen Keller's legendary teacher, had a lonely childhood as a virtually blind orphan in a poorhouse in Tewksbury*, Massachusetts. Her life was transformed when she became a student at the Perkins School for the Blind. There, she learned how to read and to control her temper, and graduated as Valedictorian of her class. When she was asked to become the governess of 6-year-old Helen Keller, a deaf and blind girl in Alabama, Annie was daunted but took on the challenge with determination, and was able to teach Helen how to communicate and thus free her from a world of isolation.

Audience: Young readers, 8-10.

My Impressions: This is an extremely memorable book that was very popular in its Scholastic paperback format when I was growing up.   I am sure I found it at the John Ward School library and I hope the author got royalties - my copy is the 18th printing. Annie Sullivan’s story – an intelligent but headstrong orphan – is vividly told from Annie’s misery in the poorhouse in northern Massachusetts when she loses her brother, her difficult but ultimately rewarding time at the Perkins School for the Blind (a mile from my old home in Watertown), and the fateful decision to travel an enormous distance (three days by train) from Boston to Alabama to teach a girl everyone had given up on except her mother.
What a coincidence that this bookmark awaited me
at the New England Mobile Book Fair today!
The author describes the weeks that Annie taught Helen to sign with Helen beginning to mimic her without comprehension until the fateful day when Annie signed W-A-T-E-R while pumping water onto Helen’s hand and Helen made the connection. A poignant episode I also remembered was when Helen starts using cards with words in raised letters and hides in a wardrobe.
Annie had seen the wardrobe door swing as she came into the room. So Helen was playing a trick, was she? Annie smiled and went over to the wardrobe. Ever so gently she pulled the door open. And there was Helen. 
Suddenly the fond smile left Annie’s face. Tears sprang to her eyes. “Oh my darling girl,” she gasped. For a moment she was too overwhelmed to move. Helen was standing before her in the wardrobe, proudly holding up a card that spelled G-I-R-L. Beside her on the floor were three more cards. They spelled I-S and I-N and W-A-R-D-R-O-B-E. It was Helen Keller’s first sentence and she had done it all by herself. 
Annie knelt down beside Helen and softly spelled into her hand, “Helen makes teacher very happy.”
As a child, I was fascinated to learn that Helen Keller, with Annie Sullivan by her side, had graduated from Radcliffe but I always felt it was unfair Annie didn’t get a degree as well (although as I recall there were other teachers who helped communicate the materials to Helen).

Source: Personal copy
Off the Blog: Today was Independent Bookstore Day and I visited the New England Mobile Book Fair, where I bought The Kashmir Shawl by Rosie Thomas, which had been on my TBR for a while, and got the bookmark above.

* I learned several years ago I had been mispronouncing Tewksbury since childhood.   I was saying too-kz-berry and the locals appear to say tucks-berry.  None of them purport to know anything about the poorhouse so it must have been demolished (surprised not renovated into high end condos).


Kelly Tucker said...

I remember it!

JaneGS said...

I got this book from Scholastic when I was in elementary school in the 1960s and must have read it 10 times at least. I loved Annie Sullivan so much and thought of her as the great heroine of the Helen Keller story because of this book. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.