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Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller by…
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Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller

by Sarah Miller

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This book has been named an ALA Best Book for Young Adults. When I first picked out this book, I didn’t realise that it was written in the perspective of Annie Sullivan, Helen Keller’s fiery teacher. Helen was a child prodigy, but so, indeed, was Annie. When Annie nervously departs to Ivy Green, Helen’s house, her story unravels very quickly. Meeting Helen proves to be a disastrous event, as Helen seems to have as much of a temper as Annie did. The two vicious ladies struggle to work together, despite Annie’s desperate and occasionally harsh attempts. It is only when Miss Spitfire (Annie) persuades Helen’s reluctant and pitiful parents to let the two be alone in another house does discipline begin to form. Annie makes Helen independant and obedient, and somehow forms an unbreakable love for the fiery Helen. I was impressed by Annie Sullivan’s desperate attempt to better Helen Keller’s plight. Helen’s anger was borne simply out of frustration and the inability to express her feelings. It opened a huge door in my mind, about empathy and understanding not only the outcome- but the struggle Annie and Helen went through to become what they were. Helen may have had an intriguing story, but Annie Sullivan shared that story, if not partially owning it. My favourite moment in the book is the way it concludes with the famous ‘water pump’ incident where Helen’s big breakthrough happens and her life transforms. From then on Helen’s ability to communicate effectively & her willingness to learn unleashes her.

Sarah Miller’s delicate style of writing, just flowing on and on in great depth and emotion about the story really touched me. I think it’s remarkable to have captured and jammed together all of Annie’s feelings- from anxiety, to uncontrollable wrath and then affection. I love that this book is called, ‘Reaching Helen Keller’ and not, ‘Teaching Helen Keller’. It was what intrigued me when I first noticed this book. But its apt because the book is about Annie’s journey of how she got across to stubborn Helen and actually unlocked her to finally express herself freely.
Overall, I would call this an excellent, worthy and fabulous read and really recommend this book to young adult readers and middle schoolers. A must read before you finish secondary school in any case. If you are deciding what to read next, this is a definite go-to book. ( )
  Adya | Jun 2, 2017 |
I would use this book in order to teach about a very famous lady Helen Keller, who overcame her obstacles: being blind and deaf, and became who she wanted to be. This is a great story to encourage children to try their hardest no matter what they face. It would ,are for a wonderful writing assignment where you could ask them to write about something they overcame or want to overcome and how they did it or will overcome it.
  kroby01 | Apr 4, 2017 |
Although I thought I knew a lot about Helen Keller this book piqued my interest again, and i will be reading more about her and Annie Sullivan. I did not know much about Annie and her story is almost as amazing as Helen's. This is another OBOB book and I am glad that students will be exposed to the incredible story of these two women. ( )
  carolfoisset | Dec 3, 2016 |
ILL - storey county and smith valley
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Jun 5, 2016 |
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 daring enough to work a miracle. And if anyone was a match for Helen, it was the girl they used to call Miss Spitfire.
-- from the book jacket

I really enjoyed reading this book. Of course I've seen the Miracle Worker movie and I knew the basic story about Helen Keller. But I haven't read many books on the subject. This book is told entirely from Annie Sullivan's perspective.

While I was reading, I could feel how lost and scared Annie was and how much she wanted to help Helen. Annie was so young to be put in that position. And she had such a sad childhood. But she was a strong woman and she managed to find her way. Imagine how hard it must have been for Annie to stand up to Helen's parents, especially her father.

Helen was completely out of control. It wasn't really her fault, her parents felt sorry for her and tried to compensate for her disabilities by giving her everything they could and not disciplining her at all. They fought Annie every step of the way, but finally agreed to let Annie take control. That was the best choice they could have made for their daughter.

The main obstacle for Annie, besides Helen's behavior, was the fact that Helen didn't realize that things had names. She could learn the signs easy enough, but teaching her that the signs actually stood for something was the hard part.

I love the way this book gave me insight into Annie and Helen's struggle. The book was very entertaining and made me feel like I was a part of the whole experience. I found this book in my elementary school library collection. It is more appropriate for the middle/high school collection (because of the reading level) and we will transfer it there next week. Another bonus of the Genre of the Month program, I get to explore each genre individually for an entire month. :)

Recommended to:
Anyone who enjoys historical fiction or is interested in the story of Helen Keller.

( )
  Jadedog13 | Feb 3, 2016 |
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For my grandpa, Harold Gass, who honors his teachers and knows about devotion.
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"Ticket please."
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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[From back cover]:  Annie Sullivan was little more than a half-blind orphan with 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 daring enough to work a miracle.  And if anyone was a match for Helen, it was the girl they used to call Miss Spitfire.  For Annie, reaching Helen's mind meant losing teeth as raging fists flew.  It meant standing up when everyone else had given up.  It meant shedding tears at the frustrations and at the triumphs.  By telling this inspiring story from Annie Sullivan's point of view, Sarah Miller's debut novel brings an amazing figure to sharp new life.  Annie's past, her brazen determination, and her connection to the girl who would call her Teacher have never been clearer.
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At age twenty-one, partially-blind, lonely but spirited Annie Sullivan travels from Massachusetts to Alabama to try and teach six-year-old Helen Keller, deaf and blind since age two, self-discipline and communication skills. Includes historical notes and timeline.… (more)

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