Helen's Big World: The Life of Helen Keller (Big Words)

by Doreen Rappaport (Author) Matt Tavares (Illustrator)

Helen's Big World: The Life of Helen Keller (Big Words)
Reading Level: 2nd − 3rd Grade
Series: Big Words
This picturebook 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.

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Publishers Weekly

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. Ages 6-8. Agent: Faith Hamlin, Sanford J. Greenburger Associates. Illustrator's agent: Rosemary Stimola, Stimola Literary Studio. (Oct.)

Copyright 2012 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

School Library Journal

Starred Review

K-Gr 4--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, St. Christopher's School, Richmond, VA

Copyright 2012 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

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"
Doreen Rappaport
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., a Caldecott Honor Book and Coretta Scott King Honor Book illustrated by Bryan Collier; and John's Secret Dreams: The Life of John Lennon, also illustrated by Bryan Collier.

Bryan Collier's first book, Uptown, published in 2000, received a Coretta Scott King (CSK) Illustrator Award, as well as an Ezra Jack Keats Award. The same year, Freedom River, which he illustrated, received a CSK Illustrator Honor Award. He is the illustrator of Martin's Big Words, for which he received his first Caldecott Honor Award and a CSK Honor Award. He received his second Caldecott Honor Award in 2006, as well as another CSK Award for Rosa, written by Nikki Giovanni. He is also a New York Times bestseller with Barack Obama, written by Nikki Grimes, which reached the #1 spot in picture books during its 20 weeks on the list and received a 2009 NAACP Image Award for Best Children's Book, and has illustrated many other acclaimed, award-winning titles.
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date
October 20, 2012
Big Words
BISAC categories
JNF007120 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Biography & Autobiography | Women
Library of Congress categories
United States
Deafblind people
Sullivan, Annie
Keller, Helen
Deafblind women
Lupine Award
Winner 2012 - 2012
Charlotte Zolotow Award
Highly Commended 2013 - 2013
Show Me Readers Award
Nominee 2014 - 2015
Black-Eyed Susan Award
Nominee 2014 - 2015
Arkansas Diamond Primary Book Award
Nominee 2014 - 2015
California Young Reader Medal
Nominee 2016 - 2016
Charlotte Award
Nominee 2014 - 2014
Monarch Award
Nominee 2015 - 2015

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