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Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller by Sarah Miller

December 1st, 2007 (08:32 am)

Current Mood: determined
Current Song: Far Away by Chantal Kreviazuk

Teachers strive to inspire their students to do their best, to expand their horizons, and to challenge themselves. Annie Sullivan's life was one challenge after another, and her first teaching charge was no exception. Helen Keller was blind, deaf, and completely wild when Annie first came into her life. Little did either of them know then that they would have a breakthrough within weeks of Annie's arrival, and that they would remain friends for the rest of Annie's life.

MISS SPITFIRE: Reaching Helen Keller by Sarah Miller covers approximately the first month of Annie's work with Helen. Each chapter notes the date and contains a line or two from an actual letter written by Annie at that time. Annie narrates the story in first person as she comes to know Helen and her family. She speaks up when Helen's parents treat their daughter too gently, all the while wishing her own parents had been there for her. Meeting Helen's older brothers brings up both fond and sad memories of her beloved brother Jimmy. Annie begins teaching Helen to spell by tracing letters in her palm and insisting that Helen spell out what she does and what she wants.

Sarah Miller's debut shows a great deal of compassion. You can tell that the author has done her research, and that she wanted to stay true to the real events in Annie's life. The relationship between Annie and Helen was rocky at the start, and though Miller handles it with care, she never idealizes it nor sensationalizes it. She isn't afraid to show Annie physically struggling with her wild student, who bruised her teacher with her tiny yet powerful fists.

The novel is fueled by truth, determination, and introspection. This is not only about teaching Helen how to spell "doll" or "water," but about reaching her. Annie wanted Helen to really know what she was spelling - to honestly communicate - to fully understand.

Recommended for ages 8 and up - for all ages, really.

Give this review a positive vote!

Read my interview with Sarah Miller.

Read Chapter One of Miss Spitfire.

Visit Sarah Miller's official website - www.SarahMillerBooks.com