Speaking Volumes: Celebrating the birth of Helen Keller

Special to the HeraldJune 22, 2014 

One hundred and 34 years ago this week, Helen Keller was born in rural Alabama. After losing her vision and hearing when she was just a toddler, Keller went on to exemplify the possibilities that exist for people with disabilities. You can read the fascinating true story of how she learned how to communicate in William Gibson's "The Miracle Worker." The Manatee County Library also has the Oscar-winning 1962 film version, starring Patty Duke and Anne Bancroft, available for checkout on DVD.

Writers of fiction often include characters facing challenges and conflicts that they try to overcome. The novels that feature such individuals offer a window into the world of those who must move through life in a different way.

"The Bone Collector," by Jeffrey Deaver, features Lincoln Rhyme, a forensic pathologist who happens to be a quadriplegic who can move only a single finger. This thriller, the first of a spate of "Lincoln Rhyme" novels, pits Rhyme against a mad serial killer, and Rhyme uses his considerable intelligence and trove of gadgets to solve the case.

Two classics feature intellectually disabled characters: "Flowers for Algernon," by Daniel Keyes, tells the story of Charlie, who receives an operation that dramatically increases his IQ to the point that it surpasses the doctors and scientists studying his case, and John Steinbeck's tragic "Of Mice and Men" introduces us to Lenny, a gentle giant with the emotional and mental abilities of a 6-year-old who doesn't know his own strength. That lack of understanding causes serious trouble.

Autism is a disability that is currently receiving much attention. "House Rules," by Jodi Picoult, is about a family trying to protect their teenage autistic son who is under suspicion of murder. Mark Haddon's "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time" is somewhat similar to Picoult's novel. A 15-year-old named Chris is charged with the murder of a neighborhood dog, and as he's innocent, he sets out to discover the real culprit. Both novels underscore the misunderstanding and suspicion autistic individuals can incur because of their difficulties with social cues and eye contact.

Finally, "The Silver Linings Playbook," by Matthew Quick, is about a man named Pat who has just come home from a stint at a mental health facility. His obsession with reuniting with his estranged wife, his angst over his beloved, but losing Philadelphia Eagles, and his odd, budding relationship with a quirky young woman make for a funny and endearing novel. You may have seen the movie, but the book is better!

Speaking Volumes, written by Manatee County Public Library System staff members, is published each Sunday. Access the library online at www.mymanatee.org/library.html. Jyna Scheeren is a reference librarian and Program Coordinator in the Manatee County Public Library System.

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