Quite a lot of children’s history books place a famous person’s achievements – whether artistic, scientific or to do with exploration – in a human and domestic context. This absorbing account is an excellent example of the approach and tells the story of how Thomas Edison recorded sound for the very first time. We share in Edison’s life and work through the eyes of his young daughter, Dot. (The biographical notes at the end explain that Edison nicknamed his daughter Marion and her brother Thomas, Dot and Dash after the two morse code symbols.) So Edison is shown as an affectionate father as well as a dedicated scientist and inventor. Dot’s visits to her father’s workshop give the perfect opportunity for Edison to explain the principles which will underpin his invention. ‘Sound can make movement and movement can make sound. Soon I’m going to use those two facts to make the most exciting invention you have ever seen.’
The author explains clearly the processes involved in making a phonograph. Young readers are told that a needle translates sounds into impressions on a piece of foil wrapped around a revolving cylinder; the recorded sound can be then be played back by the machine. Much of the book’s appeal lies in effective use of dialogue, particularly in the father daughter conversations. Edison soon puts Dot right when, on hearing the sound coming out of the machine, she cries: ‘It’s magic.’ ‘No, it’s not, it’s science and it’s going to change the world,’ he replies.
The illustrations communicate both the excitement of the life of an inventor and the great demands it makes on their time and energy. For instance we see Edison asleep at his laboratory desk after working through the night. The opening and closing illustrations show how the world has changed: a family of a hundred or so years ago stand singing around the piano and a modern family sit by the river with a portable CD player and an electronic dog.