Picture Book for Older Readers

Helen’s Big World: The Life of Helen Keller

By Doreen Rappaport

Illustrated by Matt Tavares

Disney-Hyperion Books, 2012


Helen Keller’s view of her surroundings was considered normal until she was nineteen months old. An un-named illness left her without the ability to see, hear, or speak a word. Her world fell in on itself and became constricted by these losses, but an inspired teacher was able to reach Helen through a novel way of using language. Helen Keller’s positive philosophy of life reflected the power that this language afforded her. Once language and communication opened Helen’s world, she spent her life advocating for equal rights.  Helen Keller’s passion, resilience, and wisdom continue to inspire those with and without disabilities.

About the Author

Doreen Rappaport writes books for children that reflect her combination of evocative prose and quotes from the subjects of each figure. Her biographical topics include Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Abe’s Honest Words: The Life of Abraham Lincoln, Eleanor, Quiet No More: The Life of Eleanor Roosevelt, and Jack’s Path of Courage: The Life of John F. Kennedy. She lives and writes in upstate New York.

Related Links

Doreen Rappaport’s official website, www.doreenrappaport.com

For the detailed Teacher’s Guide created by Disney/Hyperion for Doreen Rappaport’s Big Words books, visit http://www.teachingbooks.net/media/pdf/SingleBGs/BigWordsGuide.pdf 

About the Illustrator

Matt Tavares has illustrated two other books with Doreen Rappaport concerning John F. Kennedy and the Statue of Liberty. As with Ms. Rappaport, he has earned numerous awards for his illustrated works. His illustrations have been exhibited at the Museum of American Illustration at the Society of Illustrators and the Brandywine River Museum. He resides in Maine with his wife and two daughters.

Related Links

Matt Tavares’s official website, www.matttavares.com 





Colon, Raul and Hopkinson, Deborah. Annie and Helen. Schwartz & Wade Books,  2012.

Delano, Marfé Ferguson. Helen’s Eyes: A Photobiography of Annie Sullivan. National Geographic, 2008.

Kennon, Caroline. Helen Keller, In Her Own Words. Gareth Stevens, 2015.

McCully, Emily Arnold. My Heart Glow: Alice Cogswell, Thomas Gallaudet, and the Birth of American Sign Language. Hyperion, 2008.

McNulty, Faith and Cannon, Annie. With Love From Koko. Scholastic, 1990.

St. George, Judith. Dear Dr. Bell… Your friend, Helen Keller. G.P. Putnam Sons,  1992.

Sullivan, George. Helen Keller: Her Life in Pictures. Scholastic,  2007.


Books in Signed English

Bornstein, Harry. Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Gallaudet University Press, 1996.

Bornstein, Harry. Little Red Riding Hood. Gallaudet University Press, 1990.

Bornstein, Harry. Nursery Rhymes from Mother Goose. Gallaudet University Press, 1992.


AV Resources

Signing time! songs, vol. 1-3 by Rachel Coleman. Two Little Hands Productions, 2002.

Signing time! series 2, volume 1. Nice to meet you by Rachel Coleman. Two Little Hands Productions, 2007 (and others in the series).


Books about Sign Language

Clay, Kathryn. The Kids’ Guide to Sign Language. Capstone, 2013.

Hossell, Karen. Sign Language. Heinemann, 2003.

Kramer, Jacki and Ovadia, Tali. You Can Learn Sign Language! Troll Communications, 1999.

Lowenstein, Felicia. All About Sign Language: Talking with your Hands. Enslow, 2004.

Olsen, Madeline. Native American Sign Language. Troll Communications, 1998.

Rankin, Laura. The Handmade Alphabet. Dial, 1991.

Warner, Penny. American Sign Language Vocabulary, Phrases, Games, and Activities. University Press, 2006.

Wheeler, Cindy. More Simple Signs. Viking, 1998.


Browne, Anthony. Little Beauty. Candlewick Press, 2008.

Elkins, Kimberly. What is Visible: A Novel. Grand Central Publishing, 2014.

Miller, Sarah. Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller. Antheneum, 2007.

Millman, Isaac. Moses Goes to the Circus. Francis Foster Books, Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2003.

Napoli, Donna Jo and Bates, Amy. Hands and Hearts: Resources for the Deaf Community, www.signingtimekids.org

With 15 Words in American Sign Language. Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2014.

Ray, Delia. Singing Hands. Clarion Books, 2006.

Other Books by Doreen Rappaport

Abe’s Honest Words: The Life of Abraham Lincoln. Disney/Hyperion, 2008.

Eleanor, Quiet No More. Disney/Hyperion, 2009.

Frederick’s Journey: The Life of Frederick Douglass. Jump at the Sun, 2015.

Jack’s Path of Courage: The Life of John F. Kennedy. Disney/Hyperion, 2010.

John’s Secret Dreams: The John Lennon Story. Disney/Hyperion, 2004. 

Lady Liberty: A Biography. Candlewick, 2014.

Martin’s Big Words. Disney/Hyperion, 2007.

To Dare Mighty Things: The Life of Theodore Roosevelt. Disney/Hyperion, 2013.


Web Resources

Resources for the Deaf Community, www.signingtimekids.org 

Disability History Museum, www.disabilitymuseum.org Disability History Museum

Gallaudet University, www.gallaudet.edu (offering a liberal education for deaf and hard of hearing students)

National Association of the Deaf, www.nad.org 

Native American Encyclopedia, http://nativeamericanencyclopedia.com/native-american-sign-language/ 




Braille Alphabet

Select one of the quotations in the book. Translate the words using the Braille alphabet. Use a large notecard to press holes into for the Braille letters. A pencil or pen point is a good tool for making the raised bumps. Remember to punch from the back side so the bumps occur on the front of the card.

Facts and American Sign Language

Create a recycled card box. Copy the American Sign Language alphabet and cut apart each letter/gesture. Place all of the sign language pieces in the recycled card box. Take out one of the alphabet pieces. Write a fact about Helen Keller’s life utilizing that symbol/word.

Biography Comparison

Read a large format book biography of Helen Keller. Create a Venn diagram demonstrating which items are from the biography and which ones originate from Helen’s Big World. Do they intersect at any point? Have the Venn diagram reflect the overlapping items.

Palm Writing

Have students work in partners.  While one partner closes his or her eyes and opens one hand palm up, have the other partner write a word in their opened palm. See how many words partnerships can guess correctly. Compare correct words between partnerships and discuss the ease or difficulty of the exercise.  


Historical Events During Helen Keller’s Life

Create a timeline to cover the major United States and World history events that occurred during Helen Keller’s life.  Calculate Helen’s age at each point on the timeline. Have students share at least facts with their classmates.

Haiku Poetry

Each of the quotations in the book almost resound as poetry. Take one quotation and devise a haiku poem.

Other Inspiring Individuals

Helen Keller inspired millions around the world.  Have student teams of three select someone from the U.S. or another nation whom they are inspired by.  After conducting research, ask students to create their own picture book in the style of Doreen Rappaport--story, illustrations, quotations. Students may share each aspect of the finished project (for example, all write a few pages of the story) or divide the responsibilities according to their preference (for example, one student writes the whole story while another illustrates the story, while the third supplies appropriate quotes).  

Opinion Writing

Should all books be available in Braille? Have students write an opinion piece on this topic; make sure students provide concrete facts supporting their position.

Another Website with Activities for the Book

For other detailed ideas, that are aligned with the Common Core standards, to use with Doreen Rappaport’s Big Words Books (Helen Keller, Abraham Lincoln, John Lennon, Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy, and Eleanor Roosevelt), see the Teacher’s Guide created by Disney/Hyperion Books, http://www.teachingbooks.net/media/pdf/SingleBGs/BigWordsGuide.pdf 

2015-2016 California Young Reader Medal Resource Guide                Helen’s Big World…  - page