Kid Lit Review of “Samuel Morse, That’s Who” by Tracy Nelson Maurer

This book, subtitled “The Story of the Telegraph and Morse Code” tells the story of how instant messages were first invented back in the 1800s.

The author begins by pointing out for children ages 5 and up:

“Back when Samuel Morse was a boy, news wasn’t usually new by the time folks heard it. A letter could ride for weeks between towns or sail for months between countries.”

Samuel dreamed up a machine that would use electric pulses to carry coded messages through wires to machines far away from each other. He created a code that used dots and dashes to stand for numbers that in turn referred to words. He shared his idea with a science professor and an engineer who helped him realize his invention. He tried various schemes to bury cable but ran into difficulties. Under water, a ship inadvertently pulled up his cable. On land, poorly made pipes caused the wires to fail. Then he tried above ground, using tall chestnut poles strung with wires. This plan, completed in 1844, was the one that finally worked. The first message went from the U.S. Supreme Court changer to a Baltimore train depot and read “What Hath God Wrought.”

The invention took off like wildfire and spread from coast to coast, and then across the oceans.

The author ends with: “So, who made electricity useful? Who created instant messages and changed the world forever? Samuel Morris, that’s who!” And part of Morris’s name is rendered in code.

Backmatter includes a time line, list of additional facts, bibliography, and Author’s Note.

Charcoal-lined mixed media Illustrations by Borja Ramón López Cotelo, also known as el primo Ramón, have a comic-book feel.

Evaluation: This story emphasizes Morse’s persistence in the face of repeated failures, and the fact that his ideas required collaboration with others. Both of these messages are laudatory for children. I thought it a bit of an exaggeration to claim Morse “made electricity useful” however, as it was quite useful even aside from its role in enabling telegraphy.

The author, who expressed her admiration for Morse in her note, did not mention that Morse, who was anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant, was also a well-known defender of slavery in the 1850s, declaring it sanctioned by God. Specifically, he wrote:

“Slavery per se is not sin. It is a social condition ordained from the beginning of the world for the wisest purposes, benevolent and disciplinary, by Divine Wisdom. The mere holding of slaves, therefore, is a condition having per se nothing of moral character in it, any more than the being a parent, or employer, or ruler.”

It would be a good lesson to point out to young readers that people are not all one thing or the other, and that many prominent figures in America’s history bear the stain of racism and prejudice, in addition to their accomplishments.

Note: This book received a number of accolades, including NSTA Best STEM Book of the Year, Junior Library Guild Selection, and A Bank Street College Best Book of the Year.

Rating: 3.5/5

Published by Henry Holt and Company, 2019

Daguerrotype of Morse in 1840

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1 Response to Kid Lit Review of “Samuel Morse, That’s Who” by Tracy Nelson Maurer

  1. Lloyd Russell says:

    I think all of these kids books about prominent historical figures are really cool. We have a bunch of them in the bookstore I work at.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    Lloyd (408) 348-4849

    On Thu, Nov 25, 2021 at 12:02 AM Rhapsody in Books Weblog wrote:

    > rhapsodyinbooks posted: ” This book, subtitled “The Story of the Telegraph > and Morse Code” tells the story of how instant messages were first invented > back in the 1800s. The author begins by pointing out for children ages 5 > and up: “Back when Samuel Morse was a boy, ” >

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