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Children's Fiction Special Needs

Hand in Hand

Inspired by the real-life story of Helen Keller and Martha Washington

by (author) Jean Little

Scholastic Canada Ltd
Initial publish date
Sep 2016
Special Needs, General, Friendship
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2016
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Sep 2016
    List Price

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Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels

  • Age: 7 to 10
  • Grade: 2 to 5



Inspired by the real-life story of Helen Keller and the servant girl Martha Washington!

How did Helen Keller manage before Annie Sullivan came to teach her language? This fictionalized story of two very different girls in the South, two decades after the Civil War, builds on the mentions of Martha Washington in Keller’s autobiography and reimagines their relationship.

Martha, Helen’s constant companion, is the cook’s daughter — a black girl, just a few years older, and the person who best understood Helen’s attempts at communication. Charged with keeping the unruly younger girl occupied and out of trouble, Martha is sometimes bullied, sometimes a co-conspirator, and often Helen’s rescuer. She is with Helen as Annie teaches her words and language, even on the miraculous day when Helen understands that the water running over one hand, and the word W-A-T-E-R that is being spelled into the other, are connected — the event that freed Helen to communicate with the wider world.

When Jean Little revisited Keller’s The Story of My Life, she became fascinated with the few mentions of Martha and wondered what it might have been like to be in Martha’s place and to be given the difficult task of minding Helen — a girl so different, in a position of privilege and yet dependent on her. Could the two girls forge a friendship? Jean Little’s fascination with that personal dynamic has evolved into a remarkable story of two girls navigating through the world, Hand in Hand.


About the author

Jean Little was born in Taiwan in 1932. Her parents were both doctors. Jean grew up in Ontario and graduated from the University of Toronto. She was born with a severe eye problem and is severely visually impaired. A special "talking" computer assists her with her writing. She has a retired seeing-eye dog named Ritz and a new one named Pippa, with whom she travels. The author focuses on her experiences from the time she was a child through young adulthood in her autobiography, Little by Little, and continues her story in Stars Come Out Within. The books, which will appeal to children 10 and older, are both humorous and poignant as Jean describes living with a disability and the ridicule she sometimes experienced as a result, as well as her love for the world of reading and books. Jean's books include From Anna, Listen for the Singing, Stand In The Wind, Mama's Going To Buy You a Mockingbird, Hey World, Here I Am!, Look through My Window, Emma's Yucky Brother, The Belonging Place, and Mine For Keeps. Listen for the Singing was the Canada Council Children's Literature Award winner in 1977. Mama's Going to Buy You a Mockingbird was the CLA Book of the Year in 1985.
Jean Little's first book, Mine for Keeps, won the Little, Brown Children's Book Award in 1962 and was republished by Viking Penguin in 1995. It tells the story of Sally Copeland, a 10 year old with cerebral palsy, and her adjustment to being home after spending several years in a special school. You'll find that several of the themes in this book appear in a number of the author's other books: dealing with a handicap and the responses of others, fitting in, and adjusting to new situations and surroundings.


Jean Little's profile page


  • Short-listed, Diamond Willow Award (Saskatchewan Young Readers' Choice)

Editorial Reviews


Praise for Jean Little:

“Jean Little has again created realistic characters whose interactions make this a touching story with which children will readily identify.” (From Anna) —School Library Journal


Other titles by Jean Little