Children's Bookshelf: Alexander Graham Bell

Jan 29, 2018

Alexander Graham Bell: Answers the Call, written and illustrated by Mary Ann Fraser is an unusually interesting picture book biography. Readers between 6-9 years of age will not only enjoy the story of the invention of the telephone but will also find out how Aleck’s childhood curiosity about sound itself played an important role.

Aleck was born in Scotland in 1847. His mother, Eliza Bell, had been deaf since childhood and his father, Melville Bell, was a speech therapist. His mother played the piano and heard the notes by using an ear tube. In fact, Aleck often communicated with his mother by speaking into the tube as his mother listened on the other end. He was captivated by sound and even learned the 129 sounds his father taught when instructing lessons in Visible Speech.

He and his older brother, invented a Talking Machine as a childhood prank. This machine reacted to breath being blown into it through a tinplate tube, passing vibrations over two sheets of rubber and creating sound that would then be amplified in a chamber and formed into speech sounds when manipulating the shape of the mouth. There’s a picture of this strange contraption in the book.

The well-written story, interesting historical photographs and a useful timeline take the reader through Aleck’s childhood in Scotland, his family’s move to Canada and his early career as a teacher of the Deaf in Boston where he also worked on his invention with his assistant Thomas Watson. On March 10, 1876, he successfully transmitted words to Watson along a wire and into a receiver in another room. The telephone was born!

Fascinating boxes of information found throughout the book describe How the Ear Works, The Brothers’ Talking Machine, and Aleck’s Transmitter Idea that turned vibrations into electric signals. The end papers are full of pictures of telephones from Bell’s 1876 Centennial to AT&T’s 1989 Merlin Cordless.

Questions for Alexander Graham Bell

Study the boxed-in material entitled How the Ear Works. Follow steps 1-5 as it leads you from collecting sound waves to sending electrical messages to the brain. Draw a picture of this diagram and include all the labels and steps. Share your picture about how the ear works with a parent or grandparent.

Alexander Graham Bell was a prolific inventor. Turn to the back material and read about the many other things Aleck was interested in making. Then compile a list of Aleck’s inventions not related to the telephone. Select one of his inventions and do some of your own research to learn more. Finally, write a descriptive paragraph about this invention.

Have you ever invented something brand new or thought of a way to accomplish something better or faster or with more accuracy? Think about it. It could relate to doing your homework, cleaning your room, walking the dog, buying a gift for someone, cleaning the fish bowl or baby-sitting a sibling. How does it make you feel when you are successful at inventing or coming up with a new and better way of doing something?