kby Erin Z. Bass
Alabama’s biggest literary claim to fame may be To Kill A Mockingbird, but the state has another, lesser known one that made just as big an impact on the world. Tuscumbia, located in the northwest corner of the state, was the home of Helen Keller, the blind and deaf little girl who continues to touch the hearts of young children with her story and biography.
I was reminded of this recently while reading Jill McCorkle’s book, Ferris Beach, one of the picks in our Summer Reading List. It’s about only child Kate Burns who is fascinated with the story of Helen Keller. At age 8, she’s checked out the biography so many times at her local library that the librarian tells her she can’t check it out again that year, and has also made a game of acting out both the parts of Helen and her teacher Anne Sullivan alone in her room. Kate’s mother can hear her up there, bumping into and tripping over things, and doesn’t think the game is healthy, but I think that after hearing Helen Keller’s story, most children wonder what it would be like to be blind and shut their eyes for just a moment to find out. I know I did.
Starting this past weekend in Tuscumbia, the town celebrates Helen Keller’s legacy with the start of its annual production of “The Miracle Worker” (pictured). Performed outdoors on the grounds of the Helen Keller Birthplace at Ivy Green, the play carries the audience into the daily disappointments and eventually the miraculous breakthrough of its subject. Tickets are available for $8 at the gate and $10 if reserved for Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m., and ticketholders also get a free tour of the home and grounds at 6:45 p.m. with their purchase.
“Miracle Worker” performances lead up to the town’s annual Helen Keller Festival, scheduled for June 21-27 this year. The event kicks off with tours of Glencoe Cemetery to see the resting place of Keller family members and a water show in Spring Park. Other events include a book sale at the Helen Keller Library, parade down Main Street, live concerts, storytelling, art festival, golf tournament and more. A special component for children, called Keller Kids, involves approximately 100 fifth and sixth graders in activities that help them understand the everyday life of the blind and hearing impaired. They also learn how to sign along with a song and will perform on the main stage in Spring Park on June 26.
I know Kate Burns would have loved the opportunity to learn about Helen Keller outside the walls of her bedroom and am willing to bet that young children throughout the South feel the same way.