Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller

Written by Sarah Miller
Review by Viviane Crystal

“But words, Mrs. Keller, words bridge the gaps between two minds. Words are a miracle.” Comforting Helen Keller’s mother, Anne Sullivan reveals the force that enables her to endure the steadfast frustrations, perilous physical and mental combative scenes, and impossible tasks she faces as Helen’s teacher in the late 1800s. On first meeting Helen, Anne recognizes a kindred lone soul, a “shadow of my own child-soul.” Although she never has children, that initial meeting elicits a startling maternal instinct she never loses. One begins to experience Helen’s experience of spelling out words into the hand as mimicry without comprehension. Helen’s compulsive rage and misbehavior are portrayed as part of the incomprehensible reaction of one intelligent enough to grasp what senses experience but cannot connect in any meaningful way.

Captain and Mrs. Keller continually try to block Anne’s efforts at punishing improper behavior and what seems to be unwillingness to learn. Too many tears and fiery scenes repeatedly occur as Anne’s determination grows. Her reasoning to these loving parents finally succeeds as Anne begins to attain the simple yet profound goal of communication for and with Helen Keller. Anne’s failed engagement and battle with her own physical ailments add a depth of understanding as to what this woman sacrificed to teach this confused young girl and woman. Sarah Miller has done an excellent job at portraying the teacher’s day-to-day experience of shaping the skills and personality of this woman whose legacy to the blind continues today. Fascinating! Ages 10-12.