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This Bio of Bell Has a Different Ring to It!

In Alexander Graham Bell: An Inventive Life (Kids Can Press), author Elizabeth McLeod uses many primary source materials to create a new biography with a different kind of ring to it! Brief passages of text tell the basic facts, while a liberal sprinkling of sidebars and illustrations fills in the details. Equal time is given to the scientific genius and the compassionate teacher and family man. Included: Links to Bell resources on the World Wide Web.


Bell Book Cover

Alexander Graham Bell: An Inventive Life (Kids Can Press) is a biography with a slightly different ring to it!

Author Elizabeth McLeod's Bell biography includes all the facts; the difference is the way McLeod presents those facts.



An Inventive Life will capture kids' attention with its brief passages of text and abundance of photos and other images that provide a well-rounded view of a genius inventor, kind teacher, and devoted family man. Included are lots of primary source images, including family pictures, Bell's personal sketches, period advertisements and newspaper stories, and photos of many of his inventions and his telephone patent, "probably the most valuable patent ever," according to McLeod.

McLeod traces Bell's life from his birth in Scotland to the family's move to Ontario to Bell's death in Nova Scotia at age 75. Along the way, we learn many interesting facts, often shared in snippets with accompanying photos. Did you know that

  • both Bell's mother and Mabel, his wife of 45 years, were hearing-impaired?
  • Bell often gave private voice lessons in order to raise money to buy the equipment he needed for his experiments?
  • both of Bell's brothers died of tuberculosis, a lung disease, which prompted Alexander, his mother, and father to move from Scotland to Canada in 1870?
  • the Bell family had the first in-house shower in their area? The shower was the result of Alexander's experimentation with a system that collected rainwater and piped it into the bathroom.
  • Alexander Bell and Helen Keller were friends?
  • Bell learned to speak the language of the Mohawk Indians who lived in the area? The Mohawks made him an honorary member of their tribal group. He wore Mohawk clothing, and he learned the Mohawk war dance.

McLeod takes readers through the process that led to Bell's invention of the telephone, giving deserved credit to his assistant, Thomas Watson. He also shares many other examples of Bell's inventive efforts, among them his

  • invention of the audiometer, a device for testing hearing;
  • suggested devices for measuring the depth of water and locating icebergs;
  • invention of a system of air conditioning;
  • suggested methods of using radium to treat deep cancers.



McLeod puts a very human, and approachable, face on Bell. We see him as a dedicated scientist and inventor, but McLeod gives equal time to portraying him as a compassionate teacher and family man. We frequently see him surrounded by family: Mabel was a great supporter, even using her family's money to support her husband's experimental work. Bell invented a number of toys for children, including his two daughters, but he was too embarrassed to collect patents for those efforts.

McLeod even refers to Bell by the shortened, more familiar, moniker, AGB! Throughout An Inventive Life, a little caricature of the bearded Bell keeps popping up, offering many little captioned comments that shed light and humor on his life!

In a special addendum called "AGB's Life at a Glance," McLeod offers highlights of Bell's life set up as a time line -- a perfect resource for a classroom activity! Students could create a class time line for Bell's life. Then each student, or small groups of students, could create time lines for the lives of other famous inventors or historic figures.

Creative, curious, compassionate. That was Alexander Graham Bell -- or AGB! He comes to life in the pages of Alexander Graham Bell: An Inventive Life.


More resources:

  • Brantford The Bell family lived in Brantford when they first moved to North America. The Bell homestead, which is open to the public, is located here.
  • Alexander Graham Bell's Path to the Telephone This site attempts to reconstruct in detail the path taken by Alexander Graham Bell, with links to other inventors and ideas.

    Article by Gary Hopkins
    Education World® Editor-in-Chief
    Copyright © 1999 Education World