One day, almost 200 years ago, in Hartford, Connecticut, a little girl named Alice met a young man named Thomas. Their meeting triggered a chain of events that opened up the world in miraculous ways for multitudes of people.
Alice Cogswell was deaf, unable to hear since an illness at age two. Thomas Gallaudet had a heart for communicating across language barriers. When he met Alice, he sensed that an incredibly intelligent person was trapped behind a wall of silence, and he resolutely set out to find a way for her to break through that wall.
To accomplish this, Gallaudet sailed to Europe where he learned a new system of sign language developed by the deaf at a school in Paris. There he met a phenomenal young teacher named Laurent Clerc, who had also been deaf since childhood. Gallaudet convinced Clerc to return to the U.S. with him, and together they opened America’s first school for the deaf, of which Alice was the first pupil, and developed the language which would become American Sign Language.
Emily Arnold McCully has written this lovely story largely from Alice’s point of view — the sensitive perspective of an intelligent person who longed to learn, to read, to be understood, to express her thoughts. Thomas Gallaudet’s compassionate, insightful service to her felt like being “pulled from a kind of tomb.” Using Cogswell’s own letters to Gallaudet, McCully offers a fascinating glimpse into the need for a new language, and the two people who began that work.
As always, McCully’s artwork is superb. Her graceful lines and gorgeous watercolor work create a genteel, yet sunny, atmosphere. Handsome period clothing, architecture, and furnishings, set the account firmly in a Kate-Greenaway-esque world of the early 1800s.
This is such an interesting piece of history, as well as an inspiring story, well-told, and strikingly illustrated , for ages 5 and up.