Saturday, October 18, 2008


When I was nine or ten, I read FOLLOW MY LEADER, a novel about  a boy who lost his sight after an accident with fireworks. Much of the book, or the parts I remember anyway, occur at a training academy for guide dogs, as Jimmy is learning how to work with his new companion. I was fascinated by this book and went on to read several other books about guide dogs and blindness. Inevitably, I eventually encountered books about Helen Keller.

Many books about Helen Keller mention Laura Bridgeman, who was actually born about fifty years earlier. Bridgeman lost her vision and hearing at the age of three, after a bout with scarlet fever. She spent most of her life at the Perkins School for the Blind, under the tutelage of Dr. Samuel Howe. Bridgeman was an extremely intelligent young woman, who basically learned how language works  in one afternoon. Dr. Howe used his research with Laura as a basis for teaching many deaf-blind people, including Helen Keller. SHE TOUCHED THE WORLD is the story of Bridgeman's life.

Throughout the book, I'm struck again and again by the loneliness Bridgeman must have endured throughout her life. She lived with her family until she was nine or ten, and spent a great deal of her time with Asa Tenney, a farmhand who cared for her, took her on walks around the farm, and actually bought a plate with raised alphabet letters around the rim, in hopes that Laura could somehow be taught to communicate. Later, she lived with Howe and his sister, then had a series of teacher/companions who spent many, many hours with her each day. Most of these people, however, were a part of Bridgeman's life, then moved on to marry or pursue other dreams. I suspect that some kids, especially those of the more solitary nature, might also notice this theme. 

SHE TOUCHED THE WORLD is a short, highly readable biography, crammed full of stories and information. Photographs from provide valuable information about the time period. I also loved the afterword, "If Laura Were Alive Today," because it tells how technology has expanded worlds of deaf and blind people. Author Sally Hobart Alexander, who paired with her husband to write this book, is blind and partially deaf, so I suspect much of this information is drawn from firsthand experience. 

I'd pair this book with MISS SPITFIRE, a terrific  biography of Annie Sullivan that was published last year. I think kids will love it!

1 comment:

Mary Lee said...

This book sounds GREAT! And thanks for the blast from my past -- Follow My Leader was a favorite of mine! I re-read that book countless times!!! If I remember correctly, that was my "books that make me cry" phase, when Little Britches, Love Story, and others made regular appearances during my Sunday afternoon read-a-thons. (Sigh. Oh, for an entire Sunday afternoon to read. Or, what a concept, RE-read!)