All He Knew by Helen Frost

Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Amazon.com: All He Knew (9780374312992): Frost, Helen: Books

Summary:  When Henry arrives at Riverview in September of 1939, he is six years old, and has been deaf from an illness since the age of 3.  His parents have been advised to institutionalize him, and after he failed the admissions test for the state school for the deaf (he refused to blow out candles when an administrator tried to communicate that instruction to him), he’s been placed at the Riverview Home for the Feebleminded.  Unable to communicate or to understand what is happening to him, Henry tries to make friends and survive his days there, witnessing the abuse that other boys suffer for minor infractions.  His family tries to visit him once a year, but is not always able to afford the bus fare.  After World War II starts, a conscientious objector named Victor is assigned to Riverview, and befriends Henry.  Victor reaches out to Henry’s family, and is instrumental in convincing them that their son belongs at home.  Henry’s older sister learns about sign language, and after five years at Riverview, Henry is finally able to come home again and begin to learn to read, write, and speak.  Includes notes on the poetic forms used in this novel in verse; a lengthy author’s note about the boy in her husband’s family who inspired this story, as well as poems written by another family member about this boy.  272 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Both Henry’s story and Victor’s were fascinating, and the intersection of their lives was a great relief after the first part of the story at Riverview.  Helen Frost’s poetry brings the story to life, and the back matter makes it even more poignant.

Cons:  I would have been interested in learning more about how Victor became a conscientious objector.  It sounded pretty simple from the story, but as a Quaker, I know this is not always an easy process.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

One thought on “All He Knew by Helen Frost

  1. Hi Janet. This reminds me of the Ben Mikkelson book, “Petey” written many years ago, only the boy had cerebral palsy. It was a difficult book to read for many reasons, but such a poignant story. Perhaps the verse format will make this more accessible to upper elementary students.

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