cover image Annie and Helen

Annie and Helen

Deborah Hopkinson, illus. by Raul Col%C3%B3n. Random/Schwartz & Wade, $17.99 (48p) ISBN 978-0-375-85706-5

Combining short excerpts from Annie Sullivan's letters with lyrical prose, Hopkinson (A Boy Called Dickens) succeeds in making the early years of the relationship between Helen Keller and the woman she called Teacher feel newly remarkable. Hopkinson is especially good at bringing alive for younger audiences the complexity of language acquisition and the ingenuity and indomitable will that drove Sullivan's teaching methods. "Mothers and fathers don't give babies vocabulary lessons or worry about teaching grammar%E2%80%94they just talk," Hopkinson points out after Helen and Annie have their famous breakthrough at the pump. How do you teach someone who neither sees nor hears the concept of "very"? How do you explain the workings of a preposition? The book could actually prompt a lively discussion among audiences wading into the thick of language arts. While Col%C3%B3n's (Alicia Alonso: Prima Ballerina) crisply inked, sepia-toned watercolors take readers back in time and echo the mood of the archival photos shown on the endpapers, they provide less of a sense of the deep emotional connection between these two extraordinary people. Ages 4%E2%80%938. Agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. Illustrator's agent: Morgan Gaynin. (Sept.)