Helen’s Big World and Annie and Helen
- Focused Comparison. These two engaging picture book biographies invite direct comparison with the goal of engaging students’ in a discussion of representation, selection, and sources in biography. Starting points for comparison are the period of Helen’s life that receives focus; adjectives and adverbs used to describe both Helen and Annie; the relationship between the narrative sections and the letters or quotes included in each section; back matter and author’s notes; and how key events addressed in both texts are described.
- Writing Biography. Author Study or Genre Study. Both of these authors have written multiple biographies. Gather these books and study the works of Hopkinson and Rappaport either one author at a time or simultaneously. Use the links below to learn more about the authors and their processes for writing biography. As students work to compose their own biographies, invite them to try out techniques used by the authors in these books; for example, you might choose to guide them to incorporate quotes from the subjects of their biographies. Students can research and write about notable historical or contemporary figures or about members of their community.
- Great Teachers.As teachers ourselves, we can’t read these biographies without being deeply moved by the role that Annie Sullivan played in Helen Keller’s life. Her persistence, her creativeness, and her dedication are awe-inspiring. Read Annie and Helen alongside My Heart Glow by Emily Arnold McCully, which described Gallaudet’s invention of sign language to communicate with his deaf neighbor and/or other books featuring inspirational teachers. Other picture books that feature a special teaching relationship include My Great Aunt Arizona, Thank You, Mr. Falker, and More Than Anything (see the listing of titles below for full bibliographic information). Invite your students to consider the role that teachers (in school and out of school) play in their own lives. Plan a celebration of teaching in which students pay tribute in written, oral, or artistic form to the teachers that have influenced their lives.
- Helen’s Life and Work.Use these two titles as an introduction to Helen Keller’s life and as a starting point for a more in depth focus. Invite students to share and record the questions that they have after reading these biographies. The books and online resources below will provide information for students interested in learning more about Helen.
- Pathways to Literacy.In her author’s note, Doreen Rappaport identifies the interaction between Annie and Helen at the water pump as the “the most electrifying moment” emphasized across biographies of Helen Keller. Reread the sections of each book that relay the events of this moment and ask students to consider what was happening for Helen. Compare the authors’ descriptions of the moment as well as the illustrators’ depictions. Open up the conversation to consider the concept of “literacy.” How did Annie help Helen learn to “read the world”? Younger students will likely make personal connections to this and other books that feature first and second literacy acquisition, such as Bunny Cakes, Dear Juno,and My Name is Yoon. Older students may enjoy a more theoretical discussion of the relationship between language and thought. Ask student to discuss or write about their definitions of literacy and their ideas about the processes of literacy learning.
- Assistive Technologies. Revisit the books to identify the tools that Helen used to communicate. Engage your students in an inquiry into changes in assistive technologies over time. What tools are currently available? Students can work in small groups to learn more about a particular tool and present their findings to their classmates.
- Understanding Blindness and Deafness. “The chief handicap of blindness is not blindness, but the attitude of seeing people toward them” (Helen Keller). These two titles can be used as a starting place for students to explore their own perceptions of deafness and blindness. One route to accomplish this is to have students read picture books or chapter books that include blind and/or deaf characters. Become familiar with criteria to evaluate books that include characters with disabilities, and guide your students to apply these criteria to the books they read. Use the weblinks below for the Schneider Family Award and the essay titled Analyzing and Selecting Children’s Picture Books That Feature Blind Characters as a starting point. Extend this activity by having students examine every day texts to compile stereotypes about deaf and blind people. After developing a better understanding of blindness and deafness, students may be able to rewrite these texts to be more inclusive.
- Fifty years Helen Keller’s predecessor, Laura Bridgman learned to read and write despite losing her sight and hearing to scarlet fever at the age of two. This biography for middle grade students relays her story.
- This fictionalized biography of Booker T. Washington describes his intense desire to learn to read. The assistance of the “newspaper man” proves key to achieving his goal.
- A biography of Louis Braille detailing his invention of a touch symbol system that enables blind people to read.
- This picture book describes Thomas Gallaudet’s invention of American Sign Language to communicate with his neighbor turned student, Alice Cogswell.
- Although Juno, a young Korean-American boy, cannot yet read and write conventionally, he uses his world knowledge and drawing to exchange letters with his grandmother in Korea.
- In this autobiographical novel, Polacco describes the very special teacher who helped her understand her learning disability and opened the door to reading for her with praise and patience.
- The author tells the life story of her great-aunt who dreamed of seeing the world, but instead positively influenced the lives of many children who attended her classes in a one room schoolhouse.
- A young immigrant girl’s efforts to communicate in her new classroom using drawing and gesture are highlighted in this story of second literacy acquisition.
- Lovable, mischievous, emergent writer Max finds a way to communicate with his local Grocer to buy decorations for Grandma’s birthday cake.
About Erika Thulin Dawes
Erika is a professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former classroom teacher, reading specialist, and literacy supervisor, she now teaches courses in children’s literature, early literacy, and literacy methods. Erika is the co-author of Learning to Write with Purpose, Teaching with Text Sets, and Teaching to Complexity.
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