SLP Book Club: Miss Spitfire

Welcome to the SLP Book Club!  This book club has been my dream and my baby as an SLP and a bibliophile. I am so excited to find others out there that want to explore new books with me and discuss them in the comfort of your jammies and slippers!

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I originally read this book because of my 11 year old daughter’s recommendation. She needed to study the book for her Battle of the Books competition and I thought I would attempt to read along with her.

Miss Spitfire

Author: Sarah Miller

Genre: Historical fiction/youth

Summary:  This historical fiction account of Annie Sullivan’s years with Helen Keller was fascinating. I believe that I have only seen short clips from “The Miracle Worker” and was trying to incorporate memories from that old movie with the account in this short book. Overall, I highly enjoyed the book!

Overall rating: 4/5

Quotes to ponder:

“But words, Mrs. Keller, words bridge the gaps between two minds. Words are a miracle.” (chapter 6)

“‘D-o-l-l’, I translate for the captain. ‘She’s teaching the dog to spell!'”

Questions (and my answers… please add your answers in the comments):

1 – How do you feel about Annie’s behavioral methods?

As much as I wanted to hate her methods and the cruel things that she was doing, part of me really wondered if the harsh methods are what Helen really needed. I have seen students in the past where everything needed to be business, they did not take things seriously if they were said in a soft or loving way.

2 – Do you see any advantages/disadvantages to teaching sign via finger spelling only?

I could not understand why Annie taught Helen everything with finger spelling unless that is the only sign that Annie knew. We do not teach children to speak by spelling every word. In fact, spelling comes years after speech. I’m sure that the finger spelling eventually helped Helen learn to read and write with ease, but bothered me from the beginning because it seemed non-developmental.

3 – Do you feel that Helen’s progress was very slow, as Annie felt?

Repeatedly Annie states that Helen’s progress was very slow, or that she had expected more from her by now. My jaw would drop every time that I read this opinion. The progress that Helen made was amazing and one of a kind. I’ve never seen a child progress that much in years, let alone weeks!

In the comments below, please answer the questions with your thoughts. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts about this book!

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4 Comments

  1. 1 – How do you feel about Annie’s behavioral methods?
    I cringed at some of her harsh methods…but given the time period AND the limited training Annie had as a teacher AND the lack of limits Helen had been given, it made sense. It also made me very happy that we have progressed to the point that we are shocked/uncomfortable with some of her methods. (Unfortunately, there are still educators that use punitive methods 🙁 ).

    2 – Do you see any advantages/disadvantages to teaching sign via finger spelling only?
    I would have gone with sign, and added in spelling as she began to read/write.
    (On a side note, one of my former students who used ASL is just starting at Gallaudet, after several years of working. I am so excited for her!)

    3 – Do you feel that Helen’s progress was very slow, as Annie felt?
    I think this is where Annie’s lack of training might have paid off – she pushed so hard, and felt such a strong need to succeed. In addition, Helen was so bright and ready to communicate.
    I did not know how hard Annie’s early life was. She and Helen truly were gifts to each other.

  2. I agree with your observations above. I felt Annie was harsh at times but it did seem to be what helped Helen. I found it all very fascinating as she wasn’t bound by any preconceived notions of what is correct, developmental, etc. We have so much information guiding us today but at times, it does seem that it can be limiting. I can’t imagine what teaching would be like if you were all by yourself without networking, social media to ask for suggestions, books to look info up in, research to back us up, etc. This was a good read! 🙂

  3. Christina says:

    I found this book to be fascinating. I agree that Annie seemed harsh, but effective. It was amazing how much progress Helen made in such a short period of time. I can’t imagine being in her position and attempting to teach a child using methods that were previously used with only limited success. Great book!

  4. Thanks for the book recommendation. This was a lovely read. What did your daughter think of the book? I have always been fascinated by the life of Helen Keller & Annie Sullivan. I would even say it was an influence on why I became a speech-language pathologist.

    1. I agree with Linda’s comment above. I think it was part of the time period, lack of experience, and lack of limits. Also, although at times it was harsh, there was always a sense of love behind it.

    2. I have never taught a completely blind and deaf person; however, I have to wonder if finger spelling is the easier choice due to the blindness. Interesting question, it had me researching ASL and Perkins School for the Blind.

    3. I think her progress was very fast. Obviously, Helen was very intelligent and I’m sure she was aided by having acquired some language prior to her illness, but still it was a quick breakthrough. I liked how Annie just kept spelling everything to her until there was a connection with meaning.

    I listened to this book as an audio, which added to my enjoyment of the beautiful descriptions used throughout the book.

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