Wednesday, 30 March 2011

BOOK REVIEWS ~ "Listen Up! Alexander Graham Bell's Talking Machine"

"Listen Up!  Alexander Graham Bell's Talking Machine" is another title in the "Step-into-Reading" series, at the "STEP 3" level.  This series features several titles of a historical nature (like "Escape North! The Story of Harriet Tubman" discussed in another recent post).  Both of these two particular books were written by Monica Kulling.

These easy-to-read and understand books are an excellent way to introduce children to people and topics they are unfamiliar with. 

Alexander Graham Bell
1847 - 1922
The story begins in Scotland, back in 1857.  Alexander Graham Bell is a young boy and he wants to show his brothers a trick.  He strokes the dog's throat and makes it sound like the animal is talking!  The reader is told "Alec's father had taught him all about sound. 'Sound moves through the air in waves,' said Papa.  'When the waves hit your ear, you hear the sound" (Pages 6 and 7).

Apparently the young boy was intrigued with the concept of sound.  For instance, he sat underneath the piano and sang out loud.  He was delighted that his voice made the piano wires shake!

The setting of the book suddenly shifts to Boston and the year 1874.  The reader learns that "when Alec grew up, he still loved sound.  He also loved inventing.  Alec knew that sound shook a wire.  Could it also cross over a wire?  If Alec could invent a talking machine, then people could talk to each other -- long-distance!"(Pages 10 and 11)

Apparently Bell knew "how he wanted the talking machine to be.  But he did not know how to build it" (Page 12).  Thankfully, Alexander Graham Bell "hired a young man named Tom Watson.  Tom could build anything.  He built the two parts of the talking machine" (Page 13).

An early model of telephone
There are two colourful drawings of the parts of the "talking machine" ~ "The sending part of the talking machine had a mouthpiece that looked like a cone.  The receiving part was in another room.  The two parts were joined by a wire.  The wire was connected to a battery" (Pages 14 and 15).  "When Alec spoke into the cone, the battery sent out waves of electricity" (Page 16).

Alec and Tom worked long and hard but the invention did not work.  "Every time Alec spoke into the cone, Tom heard nothing.  Then one day they tried something new.  This time when Alec spoke, Tom came running.  'Did you hear what I said?' asked Alec, excited.  'No,' said Tom.  'But I did hear the rise and fall of your voice!'  (Pages 17 and 18).

"One day, by accident Alec spilled acid on his pants. He called into the cone, 'Watson, come here! I want to see you!' Watson came running. 'It works! It works!' he shouted. 'I heard every word!' (Pages 20 and 21).

Having been born after the invention of the telephone, and taking it for granted ~ it is hard to imagine what a fantastic discovery this was for Alexander Graham Bell and Tom Watson.

With a flip of a page, the book's setting changes once more.  This time the reader is in Philadelphia at the World's Fair that was held in 1876.  The United States was celebrating it's centennial and Alexander Graham Bell was exhibiting his marvelous invention to those attending the Fair.  

"Excitement was in the air.  The whole world had come to visit the fair!  Alec didn't know what to do first.  He might visit the Egyptian mummy.  Or stroll through the sweet smelling Japanese garden.  Or listen to the musical clocks.  It was a world of wonders.  A giant steam engine powered lights and elevators at the fair.  People were filled with awe to see it working.  A pickle salesman named Henry Heinz had made a new tomato sauce.  He called it ketchup.  Soon restaurants all over America would have bottles of ketchup on their tables.  Charles Hires had made a drink from roots.  He called it root beer.  It was a hot summer day.  Alec bought a bottle.  There were many interesting inventions at the fair.  The typewriter.  The sewing machine.  The calculator" (Pages 24- 31).

The children and I especially enjoyed this section of the book.  Alisdair and Isobel could both relate to things like ketchup and root beer, as well as to each of the inventions that the author mentions.  Again, it is hard for us to imagine life without these kinds of foods and modern conveniences. 

Unfortunately for Alexander Graham Bell, his assigned exhibit space, at the World's Fair, was on the second floor in a far corner.  "It was too hot.  No one wanted to climb the stairs.  Alec was worried.  What if no one saw his invention?" (Pages 32 and 33).

Thankfully, Dom Pedro, the Emperor of Brazil, saw the newly invented "talking machine" and asked about it.  " 'Let me show you,' said Alec.  Dom Pedro held the hearing piece to his ear.  On the other side of the building, Alec spoke into the cone.  'To be or not to be . . . ' The room was noisy.  But Dom Pedro heard Alec's voice, loud and clear.  Dom Pedro dropped the hearing piece.  'It talks!' he shouted.  People wanted to know wny Dom Pedro was so excited.  The judges lined up to try the machine.  They couldn't believe that you could talk to someone across a crowded room without shouting.  They were convinced.  Alex's talking machine was a marvel!"  (Pages 34-39).

Amazingly, a silent movie of Dom Pedro and Alexander Graham Bell seems to exist! (I'm not sure if this is actual footage of the event or a reenactment for the 50th anniversary of the incident, as the video is dated 1926.)  You can view it at the website "Critical Past."  Dom Pedro II (1825-1891) was the second and last Emperor of Brazil. 

The word "telephone" means "far talking."  After Alexander Graham Bell's successful exhibit at the World's Fair, telephones were soon being manufactured all over the world.  There were a few that hesitated to use the new invention.  "People were afraid of the telephone.  It might spread disease!  Everyone would know their business!  Life would never be the same!  But in time, people grew to love the telephone.  You could talk to a friend far away.  Or phone the doctor if you were sick.  Or buy groceries without leaving your house!" (Pages 42-45).

Kulling tells her readers that "Alec and Watson loved to show people their invention.  Brrriiing! 'Hoy!  Hoy!' shouted Alec into the receiver.The audience watched while Alec spoke to Watson in a city over twenty miles away.  Alexander Graham Bell was famous for that first phone call at the World's Fair.  People often told him, 'The telephone will change the world.'  They were right." (Pages 46- 48).

The book concludes with this actual photograph of Alexander Graham Bell using his talking machine in 1892.

Bell demonstrates the talking machine ~ 1892

The final paragraph of the book is an "Author's Note" with a slight clarification.  It states:  "The stories in this book are true.  We can't be sure exactly how they all happened, but we've tried our best to show the way things might have been"  (Page 48).

We shall look forward to reading and learning about history from some of the other titles in this series. I've ordered a couple more ~ one about Annie Oakley and another about Abe Lincoln.  I've found these books especially beneficial because I can read them at bedtime to both Alisdair and Isobel as they span the large age range.  

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