Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller by Joseph Lambert

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I don’t often read Graphic Novels, but I do enjoy the ones I pick up! Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller by Joseph Lambert (Disney Hyperion, 2012) is a finalist for the Cybils 2012 awards in the graphic novels category. I love Helen Keller’s story, so I was interested to pick this one up.

I loved how Lambert captured Helen’s state in a different graphical representation. Before Helen has learned words and speech, Lambert illustrates a box of all black, with some gray or otherwise unclear lines to indicate where she feels something. So many of those boxes look the same. A disheveled creature is exclaiming (no words of course, since young Helen did not have any speech) as something is snatched out of her arms. I cannot imagine having no speech, no sight, and no hearing. How frustrating life must have been for the poor young girl! Things happened to her. She was not a part of anything.

As Annie Sullivan teaches Helen, the boxes that represent her state gradually gain shape and color. True, Helen did not see color, but as Lambert represents her learning words and concepts, Helen’s world likewise gains color. I loved the powerful representation of Helen as she developed.

Lambert continues Helen’s story, but this is really a book about Annie Sullivan. The first portion captures some of Annie’s trepidation about teaching Helen, and after the initial learning moments in Alabama, the book shifts to a few years later down the line, when Annie and Helen return to the Perkins School for the Blind. Here, Annie deals with the leaders of the school who resent her for her fame in working with Helen. Further, Helen is accused of plagiarism in a story that she has written to Annie. As Helen is accused before all the magistrates, she is left nervous and unhappy, as she has believed she wrote an original story. Annie leaves feeling frustrated as well.

Since this was the end of the book, I too left feeling frustrated. I loved seeing Helen’s transformation in the graphic representation, and Annie’s story provided a personal touch that I was not familiar with. Annie, too, had vision troubles, so her story parallels Helen Keller’s in some ways. But the book ended on such a discouraging note, and there seemed little resolution. It was based on facts, and yet, I felt that the ending could have drawn on some more of the friendship between the two women.

In all, I really liked this historical fiction graphic novel, but I felt the telling of the story would have been more powerful if it had not ended so abruptly.

Reviewed on February 11, 2013

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • I, too, am fascinated by the Helen Keller story. I don’t remember this particular incident in her life, but I know she lived long and happily so I’m sure it was resolved without lasting bad effect.

    This graphic novel sounds very interesting!

    • Debbie, Helen Keller never wrote fiction again. Too stressful for her. Apparently, she had a amnesia-like plagiarism: she didn’t remember but she must have heard the story before.

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