Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller by Joseph Lambert
Posted by: Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan
Cindy: In celebration of Booklist’s always fabulous Graphic Novel spotlight, we have a gn to share that sheds new understanding on the most famous of all teacher-pupil relationships. Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller (Hyperion 2012) really capitalizes on the graphic storytelling format to communicate the difficulties Annie faced in her work with blind and deaf Helen Keller. Familiar scenes, like the struggle at the dinner table or the life-changing moment at the well are powerfully portrayed in 16 small panels per page, in art that makes good use of light and dark. The limitations of their initial communications is illustrated to great effect this way. Interspersed with Helen’s growth are bits and pieces of Annie’s difficult childhood and how it impacted the spitfire of a woman she became.
Included also is a segment illustrating Helen Keller’s one and only fictional writing, “The Frost King.” After being accused of plagiarism she never again wrote fiction. Her “trial” and the questioning of Annie Sullivan is detailed here and it would make for an interesting discussion with middle and high school students about the issues involved. The book closes with a few pages of “Panel Discussions” to provide background or further information to readers.
Lynn: Many students are familiar with the inspiring story of Helen Keller and Teacher, Annie Sullivan, and this fascinating book provides another look at a pivotal slice of that story in a fascinating format. I especially liked the way Lambert portrays Helen’s perspective of her earliest encounters with Annie in tiny black panels with a featureless form being handled by oversize arms and hands. Color blossoms in the panels when the perspective changes to sighted observers. It is jarring and puts the reader squarely into the experience. I also liked the interspersed flashbacks to Annie’s horrible childhood and the inclusion of excerpts of Annie’s actual letters really brings Annie’s prickly personality to life.
This would make a wonderful pairing with the wonderful Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller (S&S/Atheneum 2007) that is also based on Annie Sullivan’s writings.