Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller – Sarah Miller

Published by Atheneum Books ISBN 978-1-4424-0851-7

Annie Sullivan was little more than a half-blind orphan with a fiery tongue when she arrived at Ivy Green in 1887.  Desperate for work, she’d taken on a seemingly impossible job – teaching a child who was deaf, blind, and as ferocious as any wild animal.  But Helen Keller needed more than a teacher.  She needed someone to wor a miracle.  And if anyone was a match for Helen, it was the girl they used to call Miss Spitfire.

My first introduction to Helen Keller was when I was about 10 years old, and I read every available biography book in my school library.  (Incidentally, it was where I discovered Florence Nightingale, Sir Edmund Hillary and Louis Braille).  I loved the story of how she came to recognise the word water, but never was the story told like this.

Based on letters that Annie Sullivan wrote to her house mother from the blind school that she attended before she took the job as a teacher to Helen Keller.  The story doesn’t pull any punches, and can be brutal in the telling, but it tells the story like it happened.  I loved the voice, I could hear the different accents of the characters as they interacted, and I could hear the heart ache and pain that Annie Sullivan went through trying to teach a child, that many thought was an imbecile, to learn words and eventually communicate.

The story is from Annie’s point of view, her nerves of going to a new place, far from the school she attended, meeting new people and the child, Helen Keller, who was little more than a wild animal.  Their conflicts must have been legendary, but when the recognition came, it changed course of the lives of Helen and Annie forever.


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