In her acknowledgments, Shippen recognizes Ralph E. Mooney of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company for his assistance in gathering materials for Bell’s biography. She also credits materials from Catherine MacKenzie’s book Alexander Graham Bell: The Man Who Contracted Space (1928) and quotes from The New York Herald Tribune. Shippen’s work is thoroughly consistent with other accounts of Bell’s life and work, yet it has the clear narrative flow of fiction.
While modern students may need an explanation of tuning forks, electromagnets, and undulating currents, most unfamiliar items and ideas are explained within the narrative. For those terms that are not explained, the context provides clues that are sufficient to keep students from becoming lost or frustrated.
Most of the pen-and-ink drawings are decorative rather than informative. A half-page drawing introduces each chapter, and occasionally a full-page drawing is inserted; these are without captions but relate generally to material in each chapter. One illustration is a labeled drawing of the apparatus used at one stage of the development of the harmonic telegraph. Unfortunately, the only illustration of any of the models or parts of the telephone is an unlabeled drawing of Bell’s display at the Centennial Fair in Philadelphia.
The negative aspects of the physical, emotional, and financial price that Bell paid for his devotion to his invention are not glossed over or eliminated....
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Mr. Bell Invents the Telephone is one volume in a series entitled Landmark Books, all of which were designed to expose young people to great Americans who affected the course of history and demonstrated democracy at work.
Highly popular among young people for several decades after its publication, Shippen’s book has gone out of print. Many public libraries still have copies that are worn with decades of use. Mr. Bell Invents the Telephone is especially appropriate for middle-school libraries. The large print and simple drawings may imply that the book is inappropriate for junior high, but the vocabulary is not childish and the tone is appropriately conversational. In fact, it may take minds more mature than those in elementary school to make comparisons to twentieth century life and to understand the depth of Bell’s devotion to his invention.
In an age of instant gratification, young people need to recognize that the conveniences of everyday life were developed at considerable sacrifice by people who had few of the advantages that most American children take for granted.