It seems that the brilliant Canadian inventor, Alexander Graham Bell, is a hot (and fitting) subject these days for writers of children's fiction and educational books.
Elizabeth MacLeod's Alexander Graham Bell: An Inventive Life is a good place for kids to start delving into the life and times of this amazing figure. MacLeod focuses on the highlights to help young readers get a sense of who Bell was and how significant his scientific contributions were for the world.
Invention, as MacLeod points out, is the operative word when looking at Bell's achievements. The telephone, the audiometer, the photophone, the graphophone, devices for distilling drinking water from sea water, a vacuum jacket (a precursor of the Iron Lung)-these are just some of his many inventions. Bell, as we learn, was also the president of the American Association for the Promotion of Teaching Speech to the Deaf (he spent much of his life working to help the deaf learn to communicate better) and a regent of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington.
Alexander Graham Bell: An Inventive Life is packed with pertinent information, it is easy to read, and it includes an excellent chronology of Bell's life and times as well as great photographs, working notes, and sketches. The well-designed book is accessible to young readers, and for those who want to learn more about one of the most famous scientists and inventors of all times, MacLeod appropriately includes a list of web sites.
On the fictional end is award-winning Eric Walters' fast-paced, action-packed mystery, The Hydrofoil Mystery. This novel is sure to be just as popular with his pre-teen and younger teen fans as his earlier works, Stand Your Ground and Stars (which won the Silver Birch Award), and his first historical novel, Trapped in Ice (shortlisted for a Ruth Schwartz Award).
Set in 1917 in Baddeck, Nova Scotia, the novel follows fifteen-year-old Billy McCracken as he falls headfirst into a world of invention, intrigue, and action. Billy, of course, would rather be hanging around Halifax with his friends, getting into trouble around the poker table or throwing dice, but his mother doesn't want him to throw his life away and has found the young hooligan a summer job at Beinn Bhreagh, the summer home of Alexander Graham Bell.
Billy resents having to work around the estate, chopping wood, shovelling sheep manure, and helping out at evening parties at the main house. He is determined not to fit in at Beinn Bhreagh-that is, until he becomes intrigued by one of the projects on which Bell and his team are working. Bell is developing a hydrofoil, the HD-4, for the Royal Navy to attack German U-boats and submarines. Because the project is dangerous and top-secret, he doesn't want Billy involved. But when someone tries to sabotage the HD-4 and Billy is on hand to help Bell save it, things begin to change.
Walters inventively mixes fact and fiction as fictional Billy becomes involved in Bell's actual work on the hydrofoil (the HD-4 set a world speed record in 1919) and gets caught up in a gripping, suspenseful spy story. There are problems with Walters' vocabulary, and the use of "yeah" and "okay" throughout seems historically inaccurate. An appendix on just what is fact and fiction and listing sources for further reading would have made The Hydrofoil Mystery an even better read, for kids and adults alike. Nevertheless, it's exciting to have an opportunity to relive a great moment in Canadian history and for younger readers to be introduced in a compelling fictional format to one of our truly great Canadian heroes.
From fact to fiction and back again, Canadian history comes alive in our children's books!