My Heart Glow: The Birth of American Sign Language

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My Heart Glow: Alice Cogswell, Thomas Gallaudet, and the Birth of American Sign Language

by Emily McCully

A warm retelling of how one small deaf girl’s need opened up the first school for the deaf in America. Picturebook.

Ages 5-10


Available from public libraries

Reviewer: Doreen



Helen Keller

When checking out nonfiction books on a famous life like this one, there are so many options, that it can be overwhelming. Disappointing, too, if you order books without seeing them, and they turn out to be dull. So here are a variety of books for a variety of ages on Helen Keller.

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Hand in Hand: based on the real-life story of Helen Keller and Martha Washington, by Jean Little

The author develops this historical fiction novel based on the real relationship that Helen had as a girl with Martha, the cook’s daughter, who was her first friend.  Chapter book, ages 7-10.

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Annie and Helen, by Deborah Hopkinson and Raul Colon

A picture book that begins with Helen’s inability to communicate and ends with the joy of her first letter written home by herself. A thorough and clear explanation of Annie’s methods, with large illustrations for children, and real excerpts from Annie Sullivan’s journal at the time. Picture book, ages 5-10.

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Helen Keller and the Big Storm, by Patricia Lakin, easy reader

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Helen Keller’s Best Friend Belle, by Holly M. Barry,  picturebook

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Helen’s Big World: The Life of Helen Keller,  by Doreen Rappaport

This picture book is similar in style to Annie and Helen, but covers Helen’s whole life from babyhood to death. The large pictures make it attractive to children, and the text is very clear, interesting and informative. Quotes sprinkled throughout are from Helen’s journal this time, instead of Annie’s. Well-done. Picturebook, ages 5-10.

Silent Night: The Song and its Story  

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by Margaret Hodges

History comes to life in this picture book with lovely illustrations throughout. The story is well-told and children will learn of how the Austrian priest Father Mohr’s dilemma one Christmas season brought the world this carol.

Ages 4-12

Available from public libraries

Reviewer: Doreen



The Private World of Tasha Tudor

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by Tasha Tudor and Richard Brown

Best known for her children’s artwork from half a century ago, this book gives a photographic look and biography into Tasha’s later life as an elderly lady in America who was convinced she should have lived 150 years ago.

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Her story and pictures will inspire adult readers who love the idea of being self-sufficient, working with pioneer-time tools, corgis, or true English-style cottage gardens.

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Ages 16 and up

Available from public libraries

Reviewer: Doreen

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The Nutcracker

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By Susan Jeffers

If the magical Nutcracker fairytale reads like a dream, that’s probably because it is! The picturebook story tells the dream that follows the receiving of a Nutcracker as a Christmas gift.

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Is this book for you? Well, if the music of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker thrills your heart, or you just can’t resist the twirling snowflakes in a land of lollipops; if a look at a real Victorian Christmas makes you smile or you want to at least familiarize your kids with The Nutcracker Story, then, yes, this is a picturebook for you.

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Author/illustrator Susan Jeffers wanted to retell the story of the Nutcracker in a version short enough for young listeners and to include pieces of the ballet in her illustrations, which she does. The artwork is truly Victorian from outside architecture to house décor to clothing fashion, and the ballerinas in the Land of Sweets are presented prettily, suiting a little girl’s dream of what a flower fairy should look like.

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Ages 4-7

Available from public libraries

Reviewer: Doreen

Thee, Hannah!

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By Marguerite de Angeli

For children (and sometimes we as adults!) who struggle against being different from others; who want to conform with the current culture; who admire its dress and long for its beauties…this is a beautiful book.

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There are so many aspects to this book. On one level, it is the tale of a little girl who longs to be like her next-door neighbour, but woven through the story-line is the Quaker work with the Underground Railroad. The author also does an excellent job of painting the historical time period and the reader can actually see the various peddlers weaving their daily paths through the city and through Hannah’s life. On a spiritual level, Hannah is struggling with temptation and giving in to it. The tempter, as per Quaker custom, is referred to as “Old Spotty,” throughout.

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I will not give the ending away, but the book winds down and we start to think, is this it? And only on the very last page, does the story come full-circle and its various strands are satisfactorily bound together.



Ages 4-12

Reviewer: Doreen


Great Joy


Kate DiCamillo

This book I took home for its beautiful illustrations. On one level, it is somewhat of a Christmas feel-good story, but ultimately, I think, the author’s goal is to bring a sense of hope to all, and to communicate that the church is not an exclusive community, but has open doors for all with a message of hope for all.


The story takes place in a downtown city about a hundred years ago. It features a young girl who has concern for a homeless organ grinder and his monkey, and how she bravely gives the message of Christmas in their church’s Christmas program pageant. The story is told simply and well and will open the door for discussion.



Ages 4-10


Reviewer: Doreen


Randolph Caldecott’s Picture Books



Illustrated by Randoph Caldecott

Have you ever wondered about the origins of the prestigious Caldecott medal on the front of some picture books? It is given out to the best picturebook of the year and is named after the nineteenth century artist Randolph Caldecott. He lived during the lifetime of fellow illustrators such as Beatrix Potter, and her father is said to have bought her some of his illustrations to inspire her artwork as a child 🙂


This thick volume contains nine stories or nursery rhymes illustrated by Randolph Caldecott, most of which are in ink, but with about a fourth of the illustrations as full pages or doublespreads printed in full-colour. The stories and rhymes which Caldecott illustrates are familiar enough and not very deep or thrilling, perhaps, but it is his illustrations which are fun to view, for looking carefully, the reader can see the fun he has in adding another level to the story or rhyme….


Ages 2-10


Available from public libraries


Reviewer: Doreen

Black Beauty


By Anna Sewell

Somewhere in the back of my mind I imagined this was a book for 13 year old girls/horse lovers. But I was very much mistaken. This unabridged audio version makes Black Beauty a book to be enjoyed by young and old! Such wisdom comes from an old horse’s mouth in this book, (I think of practical lessons learned from the pony Merryweather and his matter-of-fact handling of some rambunctious boys). But the wisdom is mixed with plenty of adventure, nearly adventure per chapter.

As for the book’s theme, treating animals with kindness is emphasized throughout the whole book, and the author makes it clear that all cruelty to other creatures stems from the devil himself who delights in cruelty, whereas love for one’s neighbours and other creatures comes from a love for God. Another interesting theme is the intolerance for ignorance. “I didn’t know any better,” is not a valid excuse according to this author, for great damage is done by the wicked and the ignorant–perhaps even more by the ignorant than the wicked, she suggests. She also speaks strongly for keeping Sunday as a day of rest and worship, and speaks out against tardiness, running late, and wasting time! There is also a voice against bondage to alcohol, and the oppression of the weak. There is commentary on politics and those who jump on the bandwagon, as well as slavery to fashion—“Is it not better to lead a good fashion than follow a bad one?” the author has a character ask. Food for thought 🙂

And for the true horse-lovers, this book is a real treat. Readers (or listeners)  will come away with a greater respect for the horse as well as some indepth horse handling knowledge.

This unabridged audio version is very well-read by Simon Vance who puts on the different voices with ease!

Ages 6-adult

Audio: 6 hours long

Available from: public libraries


Reviewer: Doreen


Silent Observer

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By Christy Mackinnon

This is not your traditional picture book…I think it took ½ an hour to read aloud! Instead, the diary notes and artwork for Silent Observer was discovered by Christy Mackinnon’s niece among her late aunt’s things, and she worked at getting it published. It is a book worth publishing, as it rings true, like Laura Ingalls’ childhood accounts.

This story about the author, however, takes place in Nova Scotia in the late 1800’s, and centres on the childhood years of Christy who becomes deaf at age two after a bout of whooping cough. The picturebook chronicles her struggle with deafness and her triumphs and features a brief real-life meeting with Alexander Graham Bell as well as Helen Keller. But it also brings to life in a small home with 8 kids, an energetic hard-working grandma, a mile-long walk while singing to school, and newborn twins that arrive in the doctor’s black bag 🙂

Ages 5 and up



Reviewer: Doreen