Helen Keller Toward the Light by Stewart and Polly Anne Graff Book Review

helen keller toward the light

I just finished reading Helen Keller Toward the Light with one of my summer students. She loved it! This is an older book, and I couldn’t find any more recent editions of this biography. Although there are certainly plenty of biographies on Helen Keller out there.

What is unique about this book version is that only 2 brief chapters in the beginning are dedicated to Helen Keller’s childhood. The majority of the book focuses on Helen as an adult. This was a unique perspective for my students who are more familiar with the initial fight between young Helen and new Anne. My student had never known that Helen Keller went to college and traveled the world or that she helped start many schools both for the deaf and for the blind. This book also mentions Laura Bridgman who was really the first known deaf-blind person to be fully educated, not Keller, which shocked my student.

I love this version of the book, because it is specifically written for students who are Deaf. As a result, the sentences were written very simply and the vocabulary was clear. Any difficult words were explained in the story. There is also at least 1 picture in every chapter to visually summarize the main point. It is an excellent high interest-low level read for upper elementary through lower high school students. I give it a full 5 stars! I highly recommend it as an addition to any Deaf literature collection.

What is your favorite Helen Keller biography? Do you discuss Helen Keller or Laura Bridgman in your classroom?


Teacher Summer Bucket List

Summer has arrived! I’m excited for the change in routine and the chance to work with my students one-on-one specifically on their language and hearing needs without concern for curriculum content. Yes, that’s right; it’s summer, and I will still be working with my students.

Contrary to popular belief, teachers are still working even when the schools are out of session. Even if you don’t have a formal extended school year program, like I do, I’m sure your classroom is somehow on your mind. There’s lesson plans to be improved, curriculum to be updated, professional development to attend… If our summer break includes a vacation it is probably no longer than what would be given in any other profession.

Every summer I always have a ton of projects and intentions for all of the “extra time” I will have on my hands. Some years, I am better at checking off all to do’s than others. One of my transliterators suggested I make a summer bucket list to help keep myself on track this year, and I’m excited to share that with you here.

Teacher-y Bucket List

  • 40 hours itinerant Extended School Year
  • Summer Academy PD workshops (We’re moving to the Stetson inclusion model; has anyone tried that?)
  • teach parent and student ASL classes
  • plan daily math centers with independent, hands-on activities (any suggestions would be most appreciated)
  • select class novel and write reading guide and lesson plans
  • get TESOL certification (45% of my students this year were ELLs.)
  • improve Cued Speech fluency
  • develop way to integrate Cued Speech reading instruction (Any ideas? My students are not fluent cue readers, but it is their primary (if not only) communication modality; we need some serious improvements!)
  • make conversation sentence stem cards to help with language samples and class discussions

Non-Teacher-y Bucket List


  • Italy trip
  • Colorado wedding road trip
  • visit college friends (Atlanta, Virginia, Nashville)
  • sew travel kit accessories (I found these ideas here, here, and decided to make my own version of this item here.)
  • sew placemats (Can you tell I like to sew?)
  • knit sheep baby blanket (idea found here)
  • finish mug storage (another fun Pinterest project idea)

Reading Bucket List

  • I Can Hear You Whisper: An Intimate Journey Through the Science of Sound and Language  by Lydia Denworth
  • Talking Hands by Margalit Fox
  • When the Brain Can’t Hear: Unraveling the Mystery of Auditory Processing Disorder by Dr. Teri James Bellis, Ph.D.
  • Building Academic Language: Essential Practices for Content Classrooms by Jeff Zwiers
  • The Lady in Gold by Anne-Marie O’Connor (not teaching or Deaf related, but you gotta have some fun reading, right?)

I don’t know that I will get everything done before the end of summer, but I am hoping to finish a good bit and maybe do a few things more for my classroom and lesson planning as inspiration hits. Do you make a summer bucket list? What do you put on your list?

Deaf Literature in the Classroom

I love reading books about Deaf characters. The number of books that somehow incorporate hearing loss are surprising. It is somehow both more than I expected and less than I expected. I am amazed by the Deaf characters in the sidelines of not-as-popular novels by classic authors: Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Lew Wallace, Brian Selznick… (Okay, maybe that last one isn’t a traditional classic author, but he’s certainly a contemporary classic in our classrooms!)

I am always amazed that my students have often never read books containing Deaf characters. If they have, it’s usually children’s books about how it’s okay to be different or trying to encourage our DHH kiddos to wear their hearing aids. I don’t consider these genuine novels, because the whole focus of the story is meant to discuss hearing loss. The books I love are the ones where there just happens to be a Deaf individual appearing, or featured in the story. The author doesn’t make a big deal out of teaching the reader to accept their own hearing loss or that of their classmates. The point isn’t to preach but to entertain.

Do you use books with Deaf characters with your students? I always strive to include these genuine examples of Deaf characters in my literature curriculum. I believe all readers are seeking images of themselves within the pages of what they read. Our students deserve characters that can provide this self-connection.

Here are some of my favorite links to lists of books featuring Deaf characters:

This is certainly not all inclusive. I hope to begin my own list through this blog and would like to feature reviews of some of these books. Are there any you would like to know more about? Please comment with requests for reviews or for titles that meet any criteria you may have in looking for a book. Thanks!