I remember being amazed by Helen Keller’s story as a child. Such a fascinating person! It’s no surprise we have multiple books on her for children…so do we need more? Absolutely! But not more of the same. Finding a fresh angle is part of the challenge when writing about such a major figure. Here Meeg Pincus shares how she found a different angle and the heart of SO MUCH MORE TO HELEN! THE PASSIONS AND PURSUITS OF HELEN KELLER.
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“Finding a Fresh Angle on a Famous Figure” By Meeg Pincus
I fell in love with Helen Keller in high school. It was a combination of things that drew me to her: I’d gotten to know Deaf culture at my integrated hearing/Deaf middle school and was interested in its history. I was struggling with chronic health issues, a.k.a. invisible disabilities, and felt a kinship with people whose bodies may not fit the norm. And I was a young feminist and activist at heart, inspired by barrier breakers like Helen was.
So, as my senior year “passion project” I chose Helen Keller as my subject. I read all her books (there were many more than I’d realized!) and learned so much about her that I hadn’t been taught. Then I wrote a stage play about a formative incident in her childhood.
Nearly three decades later, I decided to write a nonfiction picture book to share with today’s kids my longtime love for Helen. At first, I thought I might write about the incident I’d made my play about. Sadly, I’d lost the script amidst cross-country moves, though I remembered the incident—one of a defining childhood disappointment for Helen—and could revisit it. However, I wasn’t sure that was really the message about Helen that kids needed right now.
Perusing the available children’s books about her, many told a similar biographical story, focusing mostly on her learning to communicate as a child, with small mentions of her adult life. I knew there was so much more to Helen and her life that kids would love to learn, as I had. I also wanted to write a story focused not on her disability but on her many other defining characteristics, experiences, and accomplishments.
It was that “so much more” that danced in my head as I pondered how to approach a new kind of Helen Keller story. How could I share all the other parts of Helen that aren’t often taught in schools? And how could I send a message that Helen’s disability was just one piece of her amidst many interesting things? (In addition, it would be great to get across that anyone with disabilities has so much to share as well!) This was my challenge—and the heart of the new story I wanted to tell.
Once that was clear to me, the writing came together. I used rhyming couplets, which aligned with the spirit of Helen I wanted to show—playful, clever, passionate, adventurous. Each spread/couplet focused on a piece of Helen. And I added a callout box to each spread with more facts and anecdotes, for layered reading. Here’s a peek:
At the end, I wove in a broad, inclusive message about/for everyone with disabilities, and brought readers up to present day:
I hope my heart for Helen Keller shines through in this book, and that it engages readers in thinking about the many fascinating facets of her (and all of us!).
Don’t forget to leave a comment below for a chance to win a copy of SO MUCH MORE TO HELEN! (Ends 4/29. US addresses)
Meeg Pincus writes nonfiction picture books about “solutionaries” helping people, animals, and the planet—including Winged Wonders (Golden Kite Nonfiction Honor), Ocean Soup (Eureka! Nonfiction Honor), Cougar Crossing (an NSTA Best STEM Book), Miep and the Most Famous Diary (Kirkus/SLJ starred reviews), and more. A longtime nonfiction writer/editor and educator, Meeg loves teaching nonfiction writing workshops, mentoring nonfiction writers, and sharing great (yep, nonfiction) books. Sign up for her e-newsletter at http://www.MeegPincus.com.