The Story of My Life by Helen Keller

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Title: The Story of My Life by Helen Keller


This is Helen Keller’s autobiographical work covering the first 22 years of her life.  Before her teacher, Anne Sullivan, came to unlock the door to the outside world for Helen, hers was a very isolated and joyless existence.  Learning the manual alphabet opened up the wonders of the world to Helen and she went on to get a college education.  The last part of the book shows a progression of Helen’s thoughts, expressions and skill, as expressed in her letters.

My thoughts:

I finished reading this book a couple of days ago, and for some reason I’ve been struggling to record my thoughts about it.  I first read it as a kid, and I remember enjoying it back then.  Now that I’ve read it as an adult, I’ve developed a new appreciation for the book and probably come away with a bit more understanding.

Helen’s story is so encouraging and touching.  Her early years must have been steeped in frustration and confusion, but her life slowly blossomed as she learned to communicate and learn through the help of her teacher.  She must have had a remarkable mind to forge ahead through so many obstacles and to pursue her dream of going to college.

One thing which really stood out to me was that Helen got to rub shoulders with some pretty famous people.  She enjoyed the company of several famous authors, as well as regular interactions with Dr. Alexander Graham Bell.  It’s neat to hear about their interactions from her perspective.  Helen seems to have had a natural gift for winning people’s hearts with her fresh, novel way of looking at the world and expressing herself.  I’ll confess that I’m just a wee bit jealous that she got to meet Mark Twain.

Helen helped many people both during her lifetime and in succeeding generations.  Her academic achievements helped pave the way for those in the deaf and blind community who would come after.  Not only that, but through her writing, we get a glimpse into the mind of someone who has encountered great adversity and come out victorious on the other side.  That’s an encouragement to anyone who is feeling inadequate, discouraged, or overwhelmed.

I recommend The Story of My Life to teens through adults who would like to know more about this remarkable woman’s life.  It’s an enlightening read which will help you to better understand those who are deaf and blind, and the obstacles they face in everyday life.  Plus, it’s just a really interesting biography.

A favorite quote:

“Gradually I began to find that there were disadvantages to going to college.  The one I felt and still feel most is lack of time.  I used to have time to think, to reflect, my mind and I.  We would sit together of an evening and listen to the inner melodies of the spirit, which one hears only in leisure moments when the words of some loved poet touch a deep, sweet chord in the soul that until then had been silent.  But in college there is no time to commune with one’s thoughts.  One goes to college to learn, it seems, not to think.  When one enters the portals of learning, one leaves the dearest pleasures–solitude, books and imagination–outside with the whistling pines.”  (p. 72-73)

Possible Objections:

  • some outdated references to African Americans & glossed over issue of racial inequities (“crowds of laughing negroes,” etc.)

Rating: 4 1/2 Stars

Until next time…



Booker T. Washington: Great American Educator by Eric Braun


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Booker T. Washington is another educational graphic novel for kids which I found at the library.  I’ll just keep ’em coming as I find them!


In graphic novel form, readers learn about the life of Booker T. Washington.  He was born into slavery in Virginia and gained his freedom after the Civil War.  Booker worked tirelessly at the Tuskegee Institute to provide African Americans with the chance to get an education and better their lot in life.  He also secretly fought to gain equal rights for African Americans throughout the United States.

My thoughts:

As you already know, I am loving these historical graphic novels for kids!  It would seem that I read them just as much as the kids do.  I read Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington several years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it.  So I was curious to see which parts of his life they would highlight in this short kids book.

Booker’s life in slavery is only given a cursory glance and then it jumps right into his life after slavery–mainly focusing on his activities at the Tuskegee Institute.  I agree with his view that both the pursuit of knowledge and training in practical pursuits are important.  While it was wonderful that he advocated for equal educational opportunities for African Americans, he also recognized that in the workforce they would still be mostly relegated to jobs consisting mainly of physical labor.  At Tuskegee they taught students hands-on skills such as bricklaying, carpentry, sewing, and printing.  Of course the students also studied more cerebral subjects such as math, science, and history.  Booker was willing to work within the social confines of his time to set the groundwork for a better life for the next generation of African Americans.

I recommend Booker T. Washington: Great American Educator to families who want to give their kids a fun way to learn about history.  This book is a fairly innocuous introduction to the life of Booker T. Washington, which spares you any of the more unpleasant details. As your kids get older, they will want to read some more in-depth books about Booker T.

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…


The Unschooling Handbook: How to Use the Whole World As Your Child’s Classroom by Mary Griffith


I picked up The Unschooling Handbook at the library in the next town over when we made it into a day trip.  What can I say?  The most important feature to us in any community is the library.  We’re geeks.

They had a decent homeschooling section, and the topic of unschooling is mighty appealing to me.  I’d say we’re already half-way there with our relaxed way of doing school.  We keep holding onto a bit of guiding the kids’ learning though, because the idea of unschooling makes my husband panic.  Daddy is not a pretty sight when he panics about the kids’ schooling.  Usually lectures ensue.

So back to the book I’m reviewing.  The Unschooling Handbook is an excellent resource for anybody who wants to learn about unschooling, or who is already doing it themselves.  Not only is this a how-to of unschooling, but it includes a wealth of information from respondents, to questions which the author disseminated.

Here is an outline of what you can find in the book:

  • Information on how to incorporate reading, writing, math, science, history, and the arts into unschooling
  • Discussion on practical matters–legal requirements, monetary and time limits, working with multiple children, support group info., how to cope with doubts & challenges, etc.
  • Lots of discussion on learning styles, educational philosophies, the parent’s role in unschooling, etc.
  • A ton of additional resource suggestions
  • Sample schedules or activity lists
  • Many anecdotes & observations from unschooling parents & children

My thoughts:

I loved this book!  It is highly readable.  The author combines facts with anecdotes and, I believe, hits on a good balance between the two.  If you’re not a person who enjoys anecdotes and testimony, you will probably be frustrated with the book.

I highly recommend this book to anybody who engages in unschooling, is considering the method, or just wants to know more about it.  I think the book would also be beneficial for parents who want to stick with a more conventional homeschooling method.  If nothing else-–it may help them gain a bit more confidence in their child’s ability to learn and grow if allowed to blossom on their own timetable.

Favorite quotes:

“Unschooling would be helpful to all children.  It’s not one particular way of learning; it’s learning at your own level, in your own interest, and at your own pace.  What child wouldn’t benefit from a learning experience like that?”

(Laura, California, p.207)

“I feel that unschooling families often know a lot more about the nature of learning and education than just about anybody.  It’s unfortunate that professional educators are generally not able to grasp that.  We have a lot we could teach them, and I’m still always surprised when I realize that they think it’s the other way around.

As time goes by, I’m more and more stunned by the questions people ask: ‘What gave you the idea you were capable of teaching your child in the first place?’  The question seems strange enough, but they picture me sitting and ‘teaching’ him as if he’s an empty vessel who can’t learn on his own.  What an obnoxious image that brings to my mind, and yet it’s a perfectly natural thing for people to think.  ‘How do you know what he’s supposed to be learning?’  Huh?  In a world as vast and complex as this one, how did we ever come to this mutual understanding that there is just one neat package of stuff one needs to get into one’s head to be ‘educated.’  Who is the official authority on what he’s ‘supposed to be learning’? ”

(Lillian, California, p.204)

“I’ve always said that homeschooling in any form is really a lifestyle choice and not just an educational choice.  Unschooling just makes it more so.  It is a decision to put children first, to respect their needs and opinions, to treat them as fully human beings and not as property.  I find that unschooling has allowed me to live more the way that I want to live, in a slower, more deliberate, more thought-out way, and not in the rat race of constant busyness and rushing from one thing to another.”

(Carol, Florida, p.200)

“Unschooling has deeply affected our lives in general.  My attitudes toward society have changed–or, I should say, have become more clear.  When we took that first anxiety-filled step away from public school, I realized that we were leaving behind our place in society as well–casting off a whole life.  I knew that people would view us differently, maybe antagonistically; I knew that I was now standing up for my beliefs by living them where people could see and pass judgment.  It has led to being more forthright in all aspects of my life, and to having more courage in confrontations of all sorts.  It’s easier to see the charades of society, and how so much importance is connected to being part of a herd.”

(Liane, California, p.202)

Rating: 5 Stars

Until next time…


Precious – Movie 2009

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Last night I watched Precious, the movie based on Sapphire’s novel entitled Push.  I won’t tell you too much about the plot, but comment more on how the movie compares to the book.  As stated in my book review, this is a difficult story to digest.  It’s very raw–the language, the subject matter, and the delivery. I was somewhat scared to see the film version, fearing that seeing the visual representation of this story would be too intense to stomach.

The first thing that needs addressing is how they handled Precious being sexually assaulted by her dad.  This could have been truly terrifying to see on the screen.  I like that they chose to film it the way they did, with just a few clips of related imagery and then quickly breaking away to Precious’ daydream (which is how she coped).  The assault didn’t get too much screen time (certainly not nearly as much coverage as it did in the book) which helps to cement the idea that this story is really about who Precious is as a person.  She isn’t defined by what happens to and around her.

Which brings us to the actress who played Precious, Gabourey Sidibe.  This young woman did an amazing job playing a very difficult role.  I was convinced that she was Precious.  The range of emotions and situations her role encompassed was rather staggering.

Precious’ mother was a truly despicable character, and I’m blown away by how masterfully Mo’Nique acted out her part.  In particular, I was surprised by her breakdown at the end in front of the social worker.  It helped me to understand her character better, though it still didn’t make me like her any better.  (This was also one of the worst, as in most uncomfortable, scenes I’ve ever had to watch in a movie.  I’m glad that they kept her mother’s sexual assault out of the limelight for almost all of the move.  It was just too much to handle, I felt.)  As a side note, the overly heartfelt and apologetic confession/apology of her mother’s was mostly fabricated for the movie.  Precious never got any such heartfelt apology in the book that would help her gain some closure.  They also prematurely returned Mongo to her, but let’s not split hairs.

There was a bit of free license taken with the movie, but I don’t think any of it materially detracted from the story.  You will still get the same raw, intense story that is folded between the pages of the book.

I would highly suggest that you watch the interviews with Sapphire and the movie’s director in the bonus features to learn more about how this story came to be.  It is eye-opening.

Because of the intense and awful things contained in this story, I recommend it to adults.  Be forewarned–you will be uncomfortable!

Possible Objections:

  • A lot of bad language
  • Violence
  • Sexual assault of a child

Rated: R

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars


Until next time…