Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Katherine B. Shippen’s Mr. Bell Invents the Telephone begins in 1871, with Alexander Graham Bell’s arrival in Boston as a teacher of the deaf, and continues through twenty-one chronological chapters, ending with the first coast-to-coast telephone conversation on January 25, 1915. While Bell’s frail health is described, his indomitable spirit and faith in his invention present him as a strong character who tenaciously overcame scientific setbacks, financial difficulty, and personal disappointment in the pursuit of inventing the telephone. He established this device firmly in modern society despite scoffers who considered it an “electrical toy.”

Bell met Thomas Watson in Charles Williams’ electrical shop when Bell went there to have him make a working model of a harmonic telegraph. Watson used his practical knowledge and skill to assist Bell in the development of the telephone. Watson matched Bell’s devotion to the project with long nights of work in the attic of Williams’ shop. The two men became friends as well as coworkers, and Watson cared for Bell when he fell sick from overwork and malnutrition. The book also describes Mabel Hubbard, a deaf woman who was well educated and who read lips so well that she functioned as Bell’s confidante, inspiration, and eventually his wife.

Shippen provides a compelling portrait of John Henry, the director of the Smithsonian Institution, as a physicist who enjoyed the greatest...

(The entire section is 489 words.)