Alice Cogswell was a bright and curious child and a quick learner. She also couldn't hear. And, unfortunately, in the early nineteenth century in America, there was no way to teach deaf children. One day, though, an equally curious young man named Thomas Gallaudet, Alice's neighbor, senses Alice's intelligence and agrees to find a way to teach her. Gallaudet's interest in young Alice carries him across the ocean and back and eventually inspires him to create the nation's first school for the deaf, thus improving young Alice's life and the lives of generations of young, deaf students to come.
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Grade 2–5—This picture book presents what is essentially the "creation story" of Deaf Culture in America. Though the author is not a member of that culture herself, she chose her source material well by drawing on Harlan Lane's much-respected When the Mind Hears: A History of the Deaf (Random, 1984) and presenting its most compelling moments, including Lane's imagined dialogue during the meeting between Alice Cogswell and Laurent Clerc, the first deaf teacher in the U.S. McCully wisely keeps the focus on young Alice, the girl who lost her hearing during a bout of spotted fever, and, by virtue of being the daughter of a wealthy doctor and philanthropist who lived next door to minister Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, inspired the advent of deaf education in the United States. At her father's request, Gallaudet traveled first to England and then France to research methods of teaching deaf children, and in Paris met Laurent Clerc, with whom he would found the first permanent school for the deaf in the United States in 1817. And it is at that school that Clerc's French Sign Language mingled with the students' home signs to become American Sign Language. McCully's watercolor-and-ink illustrations capture the ever-proper feel of early-1800s Connecticut. An informative author's note gives more historical details and context, particularly to explain the stilted English of Alice's letters, written before she began her education under Clerc. This is a book that has been sorely needed for some time, and McCully pulls it off with panache.—Kathleen Kelly MacMillan, Carroll County Public Library, MD
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The familiar breakthroughs of Helen Keller will lead many children to McCully’s latest historical picture book, which introduces an earlier, and lesser-known, milestone in deaf education. Isolated, brooding Alice Cogswell, a deaf-mute child, stirs the compassion of neighbor Thomas Gallaudet, who “pulls her from a kind of tomb” by teaching her to read and write, then seeks greater knowledge abroad before returning to establish the school that would become the American School for the Deaf. The narrative addresses quite a few topics in a short space, and some confusion may result (at book’s end, for instance, Alice welcomes a visiting specialist by signing “My heart glow,” even though the next page notes that ASL hadn’t yet been developed). It’s also a shame that no specific source notes are provided alongside the historical note and bibliography. The strengths of the book are the quotations from the letters exchanged between teacher and pupil during their long separation, which affectingly illustrate Cogswell’s attachment to Gallaudet, and McCully’s delicate ink-and-watercolor illustrations of her subjects’ privileged, early-nineteenth-century surroundings. Grades 1-3. --Jennifer Mattson
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Book Description Hyperion Books for Children, 2008. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX142310028X