For hearing and sighted readers, the process by which Keller learned to communicate appears remarkable, thereby making her life story a perennial favorite of children and adults. Sharing the popular appreciation for the accomplishments of this talented woman, Bigland details the principal events of Keller’s life, including her graduation from Radcliffe, the laborious process by which she learned to speak, and the relentless lobbying for funding for the handicapped to which she devoted her adult life. The endearingly close relationship between Sullivan and Keller, and later between Polly Thomson and Keller, is also fully explored.
Sullivan proved a pioneer in teaching people who were both blind and deaf because, when she arrived at the Kellers’ home in 1887, only a few earlier attempts had been made to educate such people. Rather than using the accepted method of describing an object’s properties, Sullivan decided to use a revolutionary technique that encouraged Keller to learn by touching. In this manner, Keller invoked her unaffected senses for a perception of her environment. Sullivan’s methods also differed in other respects from those of her predecessors. While similarly disabled students had been placed in special institutions, Keller remained under her family’s care. Believing that institutionalization was detrimental to disabled children’s emotional and psychological health, both Keller and Sullivan later campaigned for the home education of such children. Transforming all of her activities into educational opportunities, Sullivan initiated a program of informal lessons for the previously undisciplined Keller, delaying her...
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Bigland’s biography was written for the older teenager. In fact, the language of her work is appropriate even for adults. Consequently, her extensive paraphrasing of other authors raises questions in the reader’s mind as to her purpose in writing Helen Keller. Rather than distilling information for readers, she merely rephrases others’ works while vying for the attention of essentially the same audience. Indeed, in many of her paraphrases, only a few words separate her writing from those of her predecessors. Her audience would be better served reading the original works, particularly because they tend to be more finely crafted than Bigland’s book. Keller’s The Story of My Life, in particular, is notably more eloquent and informative than Bigland’s biography and is more suitable for the older teenager. Keller’s later works may also be of interest to the young reader.
Because Keller’s The Story of My Life was written when she was still in college, it is incomplete, ending when Keller was a young woman. Therefore, Bigland patterns the first half of her book after Keller’s work while turning to Brooks’s biography for the remainder.
The story of Keller’s legendary achievements will continue to appeal to readers of all ages. Bigland’s biography, however, contributes little of interest for the intelligent student, who might be directed more profitably to reading about Keller’s life in her own eloquent words rather than in Bigland’s paraphrasing.