cover image Alexander Graham Bell

Alexander Graham Bell

Leonard Everett Fisher. Atheneum Books, $16 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-689-81607-9

Featuring his signature, black-and-white acrylic paintings, Fisher's (Gandhi; Marie Curie) latest picture-book biography carefully charts Alexander Graham Bell's (1847--1922) career as educator and inventor. On most spreads, the copious text is set into the gray backdrop of the crisp, large-scale art, giving the volume a strikingly sophisticated look. But while the descriptions of Bell's tireless experiments will well serve youngsters researching his life, the text will prove slow-going for the casual reader. The writing is dense: on just one page, for example, Fisher discusses the influence of Morse code, Bell's grandfather, Bell's prodigious stint as a university student and his father's ""Visible Speech"" voice-teaching system. Only indirectly and intermittently does Bell's personality emerge. Readers learn that ""Aleck"" Bell was so involved in pursuing his future wife, the deaf daughter of a Boston lawyer who invested in his work on the telephone, that he failed to submit his patent application for the phone (the exasperated investor and father-in-law-to-be filed the papers himself). When Bell's newborn son dies, apparently of lung failure, ""Aleck consoled his family, which now included daughters, Elsie and Marian, and secluded himself in his laboratory""; more text is devoted to his subsequent invention of the ""vacuum jacket,"" a precursor of the iron lung, than to his family's or his own reaction to the tragedy. Readers will come away awed by Bell's visionary achievements, but will find the technological breakthroughs themselves difficult to absorb. Ages 7-12. (Mar.)