This picture book biography is an excellent and accessible introduction for young readers to learn about one of the world's most influential luminaries. With her signature style of prose laced with stirring quotes, Doreen Rappaport brings to life Helen Keller's poignant narrative. Acclaimed illustrator Matt Tavares beautifully captures the dynamism and verve of Helen Keller's life and legacy, making Helen's Big World an unforgettable portrait of a woman whose vision for innovation and progress changed America - and the world - forever.
About the Author
Doreen Rappaport has written numerous award-winning books for children, including: Freedom Ship and The School Is Not White, both illustrated by Curtis James; Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., illustrated by Bryan Collier, a Caldecott Honor Book, Coretta Scott King Honor Book, Orbis Pictus Honor Book, and a Jane Addams Children's Book Award winner; Abe's Honest Words: The Life of Abraham Lincoln, illustrated by Kadir Nelson, CCBC Best Book of the Year, and an IRA Teacher's Choice; Eleanor, Quiet No More, illustrated by Gary Kelly; and Jack's Path of Courage, illustrated by Matt Tavares. She lives and writes in upstate New York.
About the Illustrator
Matt Tavares is the illustrator of several books, including 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, Jack and the Beanstalk, written by E. Nesbit, Iron Hans: A Grimms' Fairy Tale, retold by Stephen Mitchell, Lady Liberty: A Biography, and Jack's Path of Courage, both written by Doreen Rappaport. His books have won several awards, including four Parents' Choice Gold Awards, a Parents' Choice Silver Honor, two Oppenheim Gold Seal Awards, and an International Reading Association Children's Book Award. His illustrations have been exhibited at the Museum of American Illustration at the Society of Illustrators, and at the Brandywine River Museum. Matt lives in Maine with his wife and two daughters.
"Reprising the format of Martin's Big Words (BCCB 1/02) and subsequent titles, Rappaport offers a picture-book biography of Helen Keller, distinguished by carefully chosen and integrated quotations from Keller herself. This is an effective introduction to the blind and deaf woman whose life story has perennially held strong appeal for children, most of whom will be particularly interested in her breakthrough tutelage by Annie Sullivan: "Annie gave Helen a doll and with her fingers traced the letters D-O-L-L on Helen's palm. Helen thought Annie wanted the doll back, so she kicked and screamed." After describing the misunderstandings and tantrums between teacher and student, Rappaport quotes Keller's summative comment, "In the still, dark world in which I lived, there was no tenderness." Figures appear stiff and waxen in many of Tavares' mixed-media scenes, and poses are frequently sentimentalized. The oversized format, however, allows him to feature hand movements, Braille reading, and grooved writing board techniques, which will assist readers in understanding the many ways Keller communicated with and studied the world around her. Author and illustrator notes, a list of important dates in Keller's life, a list of sources, and a manual language chart are included. No guide, however, is provided to decipher the Braille title embossed on the dust jacket, but libraries' ubiquitous mylar covering will probably render this point moot." - EB BCCB
"Punctuating the narrative with excerpts from Keller's own writing, Rappaport and Tavares, previously paired on Jack's Path of Courage, take a sweeping approach to their picture book biography, beginning when Keller was a healthy baby ("The beginning of my life was simple and much like every other little life") and ending with her death at 87, when she had long been a national icon and social activist ("my love for America is not blind. Perhaps I am more conscious of her faults because I love her so deeply"). While Annie Sullivan remains a pivotal figure (many key scenes from The Miracle Worker are replayed), it's refreshing to see Keller granted a greater sense of agency, even if the book leans toward hagiography. There is one exception: a single image that appears right before Sullivan's arrival, in which Helen's mother struggles to comfort her writhing, disconsolate daughter. Dark and almost demonic, it conveys instantly both the catastrophic nature of Helen's disabilities and the steely will that raged to be unleashed." - Publishers Weekly
"Though different in scope, these picture book biographies both give powerful introductory looks at the huge challenges Helen Keller and her teacher, Annie Sullivan, faced and surmounted. Beginning with an excerpt from one of Annie's letters to a former teacher about first meeting Helen, Annie and Helen provides a more detailed look at Helen and her teacher's early years together. The text considers Annie's point of view as much as Helen's, and Annie's strength of character is highlighted. Peppered with excerpts from Annie's letters, the book comes full circle by concluding with the first letter Helen writes home on her own. Meanwhile, Helen's Big World covers the whole span of Helen's life from birth through her many years with Annie and after. Rappaport characteristically uses quotes to extend and heighten the emotion. A timeline at the end helps put important dates in perspective. Though this book focuses more on Helen than on Annie, readers get a more acute awareness of how much Annie sacrificed for Helen: "Teacher read many books to me. In spite of repeated warnings from oculists, she has always abused her eyes for my sake." In contrast to Coleen's rather too-sedate line and watercolor pictures for Annie and Helen, Tavares's illustrations (ink, watercolor, and gouache) for Helen's Big World are, per the title, big and bold and often in intense close-up. Stirring and awe-inspiring, both books are appended with acknowledgments and further reading and include a chart of the finger alphabet Annie used. In addition, Annie and Helen's endpapers provide real photographs, and the back cover has a raised Braille alphabet; the cover of Helen's Big World includes the title in Braille." - Julie Roach, Horn Book
"In a format similar to Martin's Big Words (Hyperion, 2001), Rappaport uses quotations from Helen Keller to provide the framework for this picture-book biography. A great design, incorporating the words in large type, makes this book visually striking. Large scale paintings, rendered in watercolor, pencil, and gouache, are presented on one and a half or double pages. The full images, without borders, invite children into Helen's world, while showing how big it truly became. The opening endpaper showcases the pivotal "water" moment, with teacher Annie Sullivan's and the child's hands accompanied by the quotation, "We do not think with eyes and ears, and our capacity for thought is not measured by five senses." The narrative begins at Keller's childhood home, but expands out to describe her experiences at college, with public speaking, and in championing social causes. A series of excerpts from letters demonstrates her growing proficiency in writing. A dramatic spread shows the pupil and teacher in a boat, majestically cresting a wave, emphasizing what the youngster does experience more than what she does not. While there are many books available about Helen Keller for this age group, this title offers a unique and beautiful perspective on her life." - Lucinda Snyder Whitehurst, School Library Journal
"This oversize picture book about Helen Keller focuses primarily on her innovative education by Anne Sullivan, but the presentation goes beyond Keller's youth to include her later work supporting pacifism, workers' unions, women's suffrage, civil rights, and opportunities for those with disabilities. The book's design makes good use of the spacious format. Appearing beside broad, horizontal illustrations, Rappaport's narrative is spaced out in poetic form. Each double-page spread also features a well-chosen quote from Keller's writing. Created in watercolor, pencil, and gouache, the sometimes dramatic illustrations show just how big Helen's world could be, picturing her in a college classroom, in a tree, on a stage, and in a factory with child laborers. The back endpapers illustrate the alphabet of hand signs that Sullivan taught Keller by making them within her hand. Readers intrigued by the Braille alphabet can feel the raised red dots on the jacket, which spell out the book's title. A worthwhile addition to biography shelves." - Carolyn Phelan, Booklist
"Helen Keller's transcendent leap across the barriers of her blindness and deafness continues to inspire. Rappaport recounts the well-known events of Helen's childhood-the illness that left her blind and deaf as a toddler, her wild willfulness and the advent of Annie Sullivan's companionship and tutelage with liberating results. The wide and tall trim size of this work allows Tavares' full, close-up, edge-to-edge paintings to bring readers into the story and helps convey Helen's passion, energy and delight as she defeats her limitations. Generous white space given to the text and the large font for Helen's own words in every spread invites readers to come close to the subject, to understand Helen's thrill at learning about the world and to taste some of her intense purpose and passion. What Rappaport adds to the familiar story about Keller is that this determined woman was never inclined to be pigeonholed. Keller continued to hunger after information, to learn about the world and to talk about it: "She spoke against war and for the right of women to vote and for justice for black Americans." Rappaport reveals that Keller had her critics, but once given a voice, she used it. There, one begins to realize, is the real story of Keller's impressive life. A magisterial account." - Kirkus