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Happy birthday, Helen Keller!

birthday_manycandles_300x274Today is Helen Keller’s birthday! She would have turned 133 today and her legacy lives on as an important figure in American history. While most remember her as a prominent individual with a disability, she was also an activist who advocated for people with disabilities as well as women’s suffrage and workers’ rights. And, she was also one of the founders of the American Civil Liberties Union.

To this day, Helen remains a popular subject for children’s literature with several new books about her life being released in the last few years. Whether you are teaching a unit on important historical figures or just want to offer a selection of books about her in your classroom library, these picture books are all great options for kindergarten through second grade:

Annie and HelenAnnie and Helen by Deborah Hopkinson; illus. by Raul Colón
Told in part through language that comes directly from letters that Annie Sullivan wrote when she first met Helen, this book focuses on Helen’s education. It details how Annie taught Helen language through fingerspelling and also how Helen later learned to read and write using Braille. The watercolor illustrations will bring Helen’s life alive for readers and show how Helen interacted with the world around her. The book also includes a list of additional resources for further reading.

Helen KellerHelen Keller: The World In Her Heart by Lesa Cline-Ransome; illus. by James Ransome
Focusing on Helen’s early life before she met Annie and her initial introduction to language by Annie, this book does not detail Helen’s later accomplishments. However, it does an impressive job of putting readers into Helen’s mind. To accomplish this, it includes Helen’s thoughts offset from the rest of the text in bold and italics. It is a good option for helping readers to understand Helen’s point of view. James Ransome’s vibrant paintings further bring her world to life and will keep readers engaged in the story.

Helen Keller's Best Friend BelleHelen Keller’s Best Friend Belle by Holly M. Barry; illus. by Jennifer Thermes
This book takes a very different approach to Helen’s story, choosing to focus on her love of dogs and in particular on Belle, an Irish setter that she had as a child. This unique lens on her life will make the book particularly engaging for readers who love dogs, but it also covers the major points of her childhood, including her time at the Horace Mann School for the Deaf. The book ends with two notes, one about the dogs that Helen owned throughout her life and another that offers more details about her biography.

HElen's Big WorldHelen’s Big World: The Life of Helen Keller by Doreen Rappaport; illus. by Matt Tavares
Incorporating passages from Helen’s letters and other quotations, this book tells Helen’s life story at least partially through her own words. This book is also set apart from other books about Helen by the fact that it includes details of her activities later in life, focusing on her work as an activist on many different issues, such as racial equality, women’s suffrage and workers’ rights. It includes a timeline of important dates in Helen’s life and a list of both research sources that the author consulted and other children’s books about Helen.

spitfire_trialshelenMore advanced or older readers who want to learn more about Helen’s life may enjoy Miss Spitfire by Sarah Miller, which offers a fictionalized account of Annie Sullivan’s time teaching Helen, and Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller by Joseph Lambert, which is a graphic novel retelling of Annie and Helen’s time together. Both of these books are aimed at middle school readers. No matter what age the reader, there are great resources available to learn more about the life of this impressive figure in American history.

Carli Spina About Carli Spina

Carli Spina is a librarian who is currently pursuing a masters in technology, innovation, and education program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She can be found on Twitter at @CarliSpina.

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