In 1832, three-year-old Laura Bridgman and her two sisters were stricken with scarlet fever. In those days, there were no antiobotics or fever reducing medicines. Laura’s two sisters died. Laura’s fever lasted for many weeks and left her blind, deaf and without her senses of taste and smell. The only sense Laura had left was touch. Like Helen Keller, who was born many years later, Laura was often frustrated and threw temper tantrums, angry about her inability to make other people understand what she wanted.
Luckily, a man named Samuel Howe was at the same time opening a school for the blind and figuring out ways to help deaf and blind children learn. (It later became the Perkins School for the Blind.) Laura went to live at Mr. Howe’s school and he was able to teach her to read and write. Laura became famous. The English writer Charles Dickens even came to visit her and included a story about her in his book American Notes. 40 years later, Helen Keller’s mother read that book by Charles Dickens and realized that her daughter Helen cold be helped! Can you imagine her reaction when she was reading, realizing that there was another girl like Helen who had learned to read!
It was Laura Bridgman who taught Annie Sullivan how to fingerspell. Annie Sullian became Helen Keller’s teacher. I never knew there were deaf and blind students before Helen Keller that could communicate like her. It was Laura, not Helen, that was the very first deaf and blind student to learn to read and write.
It is hard to even imagine…living in silence and darkness…and then having someone teach you how to share your thoughts with others. What a miracle! In the biography below Helen talks about what it was like to learn how to read…and then what it felt like to go to the Perkins School for the blind and meet other blind children who could also fingerspell…she had friends for the very first time. Cool! Author: Sally Hobart Alexander
So, it was Mr. Samuel Howe who worked with Laura and taught her how to fingerspell. Laura taught Anne and Anne taught Helen. It all started with Mr. Howe. His methods are still used today to teach deaf and blind students how to read and write. Now that’s one guy who made a big difference.
House Jackson, team captain and star pitcher of the Aurora County All-Stars, loves baseball. He’s had a bum year nursing a broken elbow – an elbow broken by his least favorite girl in the world, Frances Shotz. While sitting out the last season, House’s father ropes home into reading classic books outloud to a bed bound old guy the other kids call “mean man Boyd”. The thing is, House likes Mr. Norwood Rhinehart Beauregard Boyd. Embarrassed about how he’s spent his time, House manages to keep his reading aloud secret, until Mr. Boyd dies and leaves House a note that sets in motion the revelation of several town secrets. The secrets unravel as Frances and House battle over which event will occur on July fourth, the town’s bicentennial pageant or the annual fourth of July baseball game. Author: Deborah Wiles
In the folksong “John Henry,” John is a railroad worker who makes a promise to beat a steam powered drill by digging with his own two hands and his hammer. He says, “A man ain’t nothing but a man, before I let your steam drill beat me down, I’ll die with a hammer in my hand.” As the story goes, John indeed beats the steam powered drill in a competition just as he promised. He also drops dead with his hammer in his hand…just like he promised!
Men swinging hammers, and later steam drills, were used in the 1800s to break through rocks to build America’s railroads. Like the John Henry in the song, thousands of men worked to build our railroads. Those men also died by the thousands from the tough physical labor and the dust that clogged their lungs. Those men sang songs to help them keep up a steady rhythm of hammering. One of those songs is “John Henry.” The song tells their story.
The author of this book set out to find out if there ever really was a man named John Henry. Was he just a legend, like Paul Bunyan? Was there any truth in the song? He traced many different versions of the John Henry song over time. He compared the lyrics to what was going on in railroad history and he uncovered the amazing and heartbreaking story of the men who made America’s railroads. The John Henry song tells the story of a man, but it also symbolizes all the men, especially African-American, Chinese-American & Irish-American men who literally worked themselves to death. It makes you wonder, why didn’t they quit? Many of the men were prisoners in state prisons loaned out to the railroad to do heavy labor. The rest were extremely poor and and had little choice but to accept this kind of work if they hoped to feed their families. Author: Scott Reynolds
Listen to this recording of men singing “John Henry”:
Simthsonian Audio of men working and singing “John Henry” (1947-1948)
Can’t you imagine yourself swinging a hammer to the rhythm? The work would be hot and back breaking. It would be hard to breathe. You can hear some of the hopelessness and sorrow in the voices too. Look at some pictures from the book:
Emmy is trying so hard to be good. Her parents are busy jet-setting all over the world in search of money and status while Emmy is left home alone with her cold and distant nanny Miss Barmy. Still, Emmy tries to be good. No one at school seems to like or care about Emmy either – not one person in the classroom seems to notice she exists at all. And yet Emmy STILL tries to be good. “She did her homework without being told. She ate all her vegetables, even the slimy ones. And she never talked back to her nanny, Miss Barmy, although it was almost impossible to keep quiet, some days. She really was a little too good. Which is why she liked to sit by the Rat. The Rat was not good at all . . .” The rat is Emmy’s classroom pet. He isn’t cute or cuddly, in fact, he’s a nasty little beast! Emmy can sometimes relate to the rat, because some days, she’d like to be a nasty little beast too!
One day, when the rat bites Emmy, she finds that she can actually hear what he is saying. As if the rat’s poor behavior isn’t bad enough, now she has to listen to his crabby complaining, pouting, bragging, and whining. His rotten attitude is hardly worth having this startling new power! Then the rat bites Joe, the class cool guy, who can now hear him speak too..and then he bites Joe again and shrinks him to the size of an action figure! What’s a good friend like Emmy to do but offer to get bitten a second time and shrink too? Now a few inches high, Joe and Emmy free the rat and begin an adventure to find out the source of the rat’s power and how to reverse it. Along the way, they get help from some new four legged friends and get on the trail of Emmy’s own Miss Barmy, who isn’t just cold and distant, she’s evil too!
The rat is definately the star in this one. His biting comments and sarcastic one-liners kept me laughing through the whole book. Emmy reminds me of Molly Moon from Molly Moon’s Incredible Book of Hypnotism. Both girls feel isolated, alone and unloved, yet they don’t give up on their search for friendship and happiness. Author: Lynne Jonell Illustrator: Jonathan Bean
Read Chapter One Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat
Like you, the four Penderwick sisters are on summer vacation. Their Dad has rented a house in the Berkshire Mountains where he lets the girls roam on their own to seek out adventure. Rosalind (the boss), Jane (the dreamer, novelist), Skye (the temperamental competitor) & Batty (the shy animal lover) find adventure next door when one of the girls spots a figure looking out the window of the fancy mansion next door. The girls set out to investigate the mountain, the mansion & the figure in the window and find an unlikely kindred spirit. Author: Jeanne Birdsall