Sixteen intermediate titles on germs, vaccines and pandemics

Now is the time, as the world struggles to emerge from a devastating global pandemic, to meet mid-level readers wherever they are on their educational journey at a historic moment.

Now is the time, as the world struggles to emerge from a devastating global pandemic, to provide mid-level readers with the knowledge they need to understand the historic moment they are living through. The books listed here will help meet young readers wherever they are in their educational journey.

From primary to college

TO CROSS, Paul Ian. How to Beat a Virus: The Weird World of Viruses… Explained! illus. by Steve Brown. Welbeck. 2021. TR $9.95. ISBN 9781783127313.
4th to 8th grade–Readers cover a wide territory with this informative yet reassuring look at viruses, from what a virus is to how it works. It also provides a deeper look at coronaviruses: MERS, SARS, the common cold, and COVID-19. You’ll find information about how our immune system works, a brief history of vaccine science (including information about the COVID-19 vaccine), and warnings about the dangers of misinformation. Chapters end with a suggested activity, such as creating a face covering.

Hopkinson, Deborah. The deadliest diseases, yesterday and today. Scholastic focus. 2021. TR $25.99; porridge. $7.99. ISBN 9781338360226.
4th to 8th grade-Put this in the hands of the “I Survived” series enthusiasts. Drawing on historical accounts from plague chroniclers and scientific research, Hopkinson describes what life was like during the three waves of bubonic plague. She draws parallels between plagues of the past such as the Black Death of the 14th century and the current COVID-19 pandemic caused by the SARS-Co-2 virus. Pretty ink drawings illustrate the text.

RedReviewStarJARROW, Gael. Bubonic panic: when the plague invaded America. Calkins Creek. 2016. TR$18.95. ISBN 9781620917381.
5-8 grams–The plague arrived in San Francisco in 1900 and claimed its first victim in Chinatown. The area was quickly quarantined by the Board of Health, but with California Governor Henry T. Gage denying the existence of the plague and Chinese authorities objecting to apparent discrimination, tensions rose and efforts containment initially failed. Encouraged by numerous photographs and newspaper clippings, as well as compelling writing, Jarrow tells the fascinating story of the bubonic plague in America.

RedReviewStarJARROW, Gael. Fatal Fever: Hunt down Typhoid Mary. Calkins Creek. 2021. pap. $11.99. ISBN 9781635925159.
5-8 grams–In 1900, typhoid sickened 400,000 Americans, causing 35,000 deaths. Mary Mallon, a “silent carrier” of typhoid, was responsible for many deaths before being forcibly quarantined. Mary’s story is intertwined with that of two other people working to contain the disease: George Soper, a sanitary engineer, and Josephine Baker, a Health Department physician. A chapter on COVID-19 and its connection to infectious diseases of the past is included in the 2021 reprint.

KAI, Edward. Germy Science: The Truth About Getting Sick (and Staying Healthy). illus. by Mike Shiell. Children can. 2021. TR $18.99. ISBN 9781525304125.
4th to 8th grade– Germs are tiny and everywhere, including all over our bodies! What are germs, how do they make us sick and how can we protect ourselves? Kay explains all this and more. The illustrations are clever, colorful and humorously match the spirited text. Most interesting is the future of germ research; scientists are working on new uses, such as using bacteria to make fuel cells and new types of plastics.

MESSNER, Kate. History Smashers: Plagues and Pandemics. illus. by Falynn Koch. Random. 2021. TR $12.99. ISBN 978 0593120415; porridge. $7.99. ISBN 978059 3120408.
3-7 gr.–Learn the unvarnished, and sometimes unexpected, truth about plagues and pandemics throughout history. Bubonic plague, yellow fever, cholera, typhoid, smallpox, tuberculosis, poliomyelitis, AIDS, Ebola virus and COVID-19, it’s all here. The verbose text is complemented by sidebars, photographs, illustrations and comic book inserts. Startling snippets of information engage readers (for example, plague-infected fleas vomit the contents of victims’ stomachs after biting them).

SISTERED, Mariona Tolosa and Ellas Educan Collective. The Secret Life of Viruses: Incredible science facts about germs, vaccines and what you can do to stay healthy. Sourcebooks Explorer. 2021. TR $17.99. ISBN 9781728239767.
3rd-5th grade–Colourful and vibrant illustrations bring this overview of viruses to life. The enlightening broadcasts cover distinct topics, such as what a virus is and how our immune system protects us from dangerous viruses. A catalog of viruses throughout history and a very brief timeline of some key events in the history of virology are also included. Readers will enjoy the true or false quiz at the end.

From college to high school

RedReviewStarBausam, Ann. VIRAL: The fight against AIDS in America. Viking. 2019. TR $22.99. ISBN 9780425287200.
8th year superior–A narrative of the AIDS epidemic through a sociological prism. The chapters cover a few years at a time, starting in the late 1960s and taking readers up to the present day. The darkest years, 1981-1996, are covered extensively and chronicle in detail the struggles and activism of the gay community and its allies. An unflinching examination of a modern-day scourge that should not have been as deadly as it was had the government taken timely action.

GOLDSMITH, Connie. Understanding coronaviruses: SARS, MERS and the COVID-19 pandemic. Twenty first century. 2021. RRP $37.32. ISBN 9781728428888.
7th grade upper–A well-researched summary of the COVID-19 pandemic. Goldsmith explains the probable origins of the disease, provides an overview of epidemics and pandemics throughout history, and elucidates the difference between different coronaviruses. Political partisanship in the United States in response to scientific recommendations and preventive measures, the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on people of color, the spike in anti-Asian hate incidents, as well as the enormous effort to create vaccines (and the complicated deployment effort) are also covered.

HAELLE, Tara. Vaccination Inquiry: The History and Science of Vaccines. Twenty first century. 2018. TR$37.32. ISBN 9781512425307.
7th grade upper–Combat the current anti-vaccination climate with this informative resource. Haelle describes how vaccines work and how they are created. The history of vaccine resistance is particularly interesting. Despite overwhelming evidence that vaccines are beneficial, individuals have resisted vaccination efforts beginning with Britain’s 19th century compulsory vaccine laws, instituted to combat smallpox. Published before the COVID-19 vaccine.

RedReviewStarMARINE, Albert. Very, very, very dreadful: the 1918 flu pandemic. Knopf. 2018. TR $21.99. ISBN 9781101931462.
6th grade– During the three waves of the 1918 flu epidemic, more than 500 million people worldwide contracted the disease and an estimated 50 to 100 million people died. Marrin explains how the disease probably originated and spread quickly. Troops involved in the First World War, confined to close quarters and traveling far and wide, ensured that no corner of the globe was spared. A captivating and moving story.

MURPHY, Jim and Alison Blank. Invincible Microbe: Tuberculosis and the Endless Search for a Cure. Bugle. 2015. pap. $11.99. ISBN 9780544455948.
6th grade upper– This is the fascinating story of tuberculosis, a disease responsible for the greatest number of deaths in the history of the world. The earliest evidence of the disease was found in the fossilized skull of a 500,000 year old male Homo erectus. Murphy and Blank follow the trajectory of the disease over time, examining efforts to treat, cure and prevent its spread. They also explore how race and social class factor into the treatment of victims.

PETERS, Married. Patient zero. Annick. 2021. TR $24.99. ISBN 9781773215167; porridge. $14.95. ISBN 9781773215150.
6th grade upper–Epidemiologists are disease sleuths who research how an outbreak begins to contain the spread. With text that reads like a thriller, this volume takes readers as epidemiologists explore eight deadly diseases in search of “patient zero,” the first person infected. The research begins with the bubonic plague in 1665 in London and continues with chapters that cover yellow fever, typhoid, influenza, Ebola and AIDS; a new chapter on COVID-19 is included in the 2021 reprint.

Graphic non-fiction

BROWN, Put on. A bullet in the arm! illus. by Don Brown. Abrams. 2021. TR $13.99. ISBN 9781419750014.
4th to 8th grade– Smallpox has wreaked havoc throughout history, says 18th-century writer Lady Mary Wortley Montagu in this graphic novel. Scarred by the disease itself, Montagu helped bring the knowledge of inoculation, common in the Ottoman Empire, to England. Montagu tells the story of vaccinations, touching on key discoveries, through to research on COVID-19. Information on COVID-19 vaccines is not included, as it was released just before the discovery.

BROWN, Put on. Year of the fever: the deadly flu of 1918. illus. by Don Brown. Bugle. 2019. TR $18.99. ISBN 9780544837409.
6th grade upper–With haunting, sometimes sketchy and fleeting drawings, Brown captures the panic, confusion and utter despair that the 1918 flu left in its wake as it spread across the world, killing millions over the course of of the last days of the First World War. Brown focuses on the nurses, doctors and scientists who have worked hard to help the sick, determine the cause and prevent further outbreaks.

POLINSKY, Paige V. Vaccines: a graphic history. illus. by Dante Ginevra. Graphic universe. $29.32. ISBN 9781541583900; porridge. $9.99. ISBN 9781728448725.
4-7 Gr–Polinsky cuts to the chase and tells readers how vaccines work to boost the body’s immune system and the vital importance of vaccines to global health. She then retraces her steps and explains how vaccines were developed, starting with the vaccine against smallpox. Particular attention is given to the development of other vaccines against diseases such as rabies, whooping cough, measles, poliomyelitis, Ebola and COVID-19. Super readable and informative, with graphic panels that cleverly complement the text.


Ragan O’Malley is the head librarian at St. Ann’s School, an independent school in Brooklyn, NY.


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