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Book Reviews

What’s the Matter with Albert: A Story of Albert Einstein

by Frieda Wishinsky, Jacques Lamontagne, illus.

Billy’s daunting assignment as a reporter for The Princeton Elementary News is to interview the famous Albert Einstein, the “smartest man in the world.” This appealing, imaginatively conceived book is based on what he learns about the great thinker – and it’s not what you might expect. In Einstein’s infancy, he was a funny-looking kid, a worry to his parents. At school, he was a daydreamer with learning disabilities, and afterward many adults worried about when Albert was going to get a life.

Wishinsky, who has written many books for children, also works for magazines. Fittingly, she’s made this book into a primer on being a good journalist – do your research thoroughly, be courteous, listen carefully. Also: remember that it’s hard to take notes and drink hot chocolate at the same time.

Quebec-born illustrator Jacques Lamontagne deftly catches the tone of the text in his pictures, creating a vivid sense of personality, both Billy’s and Albert’s. Using archival photographs, he brings to life Billy’s school (a pre-Elvis world of geeky-looking kids) and the Old World towns and countryside where Albert Einstein grew up.

The book works on a number of levels. We learn a lot about Einstein, both from Billy’s interview and a follow-up article he writes about Einstein’s later life and extraordinary accomplishments. Readers get a strong sense of how complex and interesting people can be, and how surprisingly different each one of us is from the next. What’s the Matter with Albert will be particularly gratifying to late bloomers.