Book Club

The Story of My Life

The Story of My Life
By Helen Keller (1903)

Reviewed by Sheila McIntosh

There is a game that invites the players to imagine which three people, living or dead, they would invite for dinner. When I play it, Helen Keller is always at the top of my list. I find her fascinating - as a woman living in conservative and most likely oppressive times in the early 1900's, she was an activist advocating for workers' rights, women's rights, and the rights of the disabled. She was very much involved with social justice and was a cofounder of the American Civil Liberties Union. I decided recently that I wanted to learn more about her, so I read her memoir "The Story of My Life." And as we near her birthdate (June 27, 1880) and National Deafblindness Awareness Month (June), I am reviewing it so you might want to read it as well and perhaps share it with your students. 

The Story of My Life by Helen Keller was written and published in 1903 and details the first part of Helen's life up until her university years. When I read it, it made me question, as I have before, if the fact that Helen had vision and hearing and was developing language until she was 21 months old, then informed what she understood later. Perhaps neural pathways were formed which then impacted her understanding of abstract concepts. Or was it as one of my former colleagues believed that she was a brilliant individual who formed her knowledge and understanding of words and communication after an illness (probably meningitis) that left her with vision and hearing differences. Regardless, the thoughts and ideas she expresses in her book give insight into living and thriving with deafblindness, to the difference of living life with an Intervenor and without, and to acquiring language when a communication system that worked for her was implemented. The fact that she was old enough to remember when she was first immerse in language is insightful in examining the feelings behind language obtainment. 

Along with "The Story of My Life," there are many resources about Helen Keller that are available to students and teachers. One that stands out for me is a show that first aired on the PBS program called American Masters, "Becoming Helen Keller." It is available now on Apple+. 

Please take note: before this book is offered to students, it may first require an examination of language, of history and of privilege. Language and beliefs that are now considered racist, are evident throughout the book. 

An Exceptional Fellow: A Father's Story

An Exceptional Fellow: A Father’s Story 
By Svein Olav Kolset (2011)  

Reviewed by Allana Pierce

In this biography, Svein Olav Kolset shares the life journey of an Exceptional Fellow, his son Torgeir, who was born with deafblindness in Norway in 1975. In his memoir, Svein candidly reflects on all the ups, downs, and everything in between on raising a child with congenital deafblindness. From Torgeir’s birth to adulthood, Svein describes memories, events, and emotions, as well as discusses the many complicated aspects of “the system” that parents need to navigate – medical, educational, and community. Svein acknowledges all those who have helped Torgeir and their family along the way.  

Torgeir’s story is a reminder that there is still much more work and advocacy to be done to support families and children with deafblindness. From the introduction on page 11-12, Svein writes:  

“Why write a book about our son? 
A son who has demanded much more from us as parents than children ordinarily do.  
A son who, for the entirety of his life, will need the support of a large and resourceful assistance network.  
And a warmer society.  
I write to illustrate a life lived and fought for outside of the spotlight. 
Life with Torgeir has been a dramatic and different journey.  
I write because he cannot tell his story personally.  
I write to lift him and his peers out of oblivion: 
The many small heroes who fight and win battles large and small, far from the front pages of the daily newspapers. 
I write for the many everyday heroes who work with our children. 
Torgeir has presented and continues to present us with many challenges. 
His life is proof of how much, in fact, it is possible to achieve. 
He is an exceptional fellow.”