Children’s Book Reviews

Children's Book Reviews: Hand in Hand

Publish September 6, 2016

In the middle grade novel Hand in Hand, author Jean Little and illustrator Norman Lanting recount Helen Keller’s early years from the point of view of Martha Washington, a childhood companion mentioned in Ms. Keller’s autobiography. Martha and her mother live and work at Ivy Green, a plantation owned by Captain Keller. Martha is frequently called upon to settle or distract the Kellers’ daughter, Helen, who has been blind and deaf since a young age. Helen often acts violently, unable to make sense of the world around her. When a special teacher comes to work with Helen, the young girls discover two things they otherwise would not have had access to: words, and a unique friendship. Jean Little is a highly acclaimed Canadian children’s writer who recently delivered the 2016 Margaret Lawrence Lecture at the Canadian Writers Summit. In Hand in Hand, she vividly portrays what life may have been like for Helen, whose early years were lived without language, and speculates about Martha’s involvement in Helen’s struggles. Norman Lanting’s black and white pencil illustrations capture the girls’ range of emotions at key moments in the story, increasing its relatability. Little additionally explores Martha’s own lack of education, and the excitement she may have felt when a teacher came to the plantation. Kids can discover in Little’s author’s note which incidents are factual. Hand in Hand is an engaging and dramatic read that encourages its readers to learn more about Helen Keller, living with disabilities, and equal access to education for all people.

Hand in Hand

Jean Little
Illustration EN: Norman Lanting
Scholastic Canada Inc.
ISBN 13: 978-1-4431-3923-6

Jen Bailey
Jen Bailey Jen Bailey is an Ontario-certified teacher who holds an MFA in Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She works for the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. Jen’s other book reviews have appeared in Quill & Quire and Canadian Children’s Book News.

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