Fred & Marjorie: A Doctor, a Dog, and the Discovery of Insulin

Owlkids. Aug. 2021. 56p. Tr $18.95. ISBN 9781771474115.
Gr 4-7–In an episode that is certain to spark conflicted feelings, Kerbel chronicles a medical breakthrough that has saved the lives of millions of children—but involved the use of dogs as research subjects. Driven by tragic experiences at a pediatric hospital, orthopedic surgeon Fred Banting set out in 1920 to find a treatment better than simple starvation for what was then known as “juvenile diabetes” (now called Type 1), an almost invariably fatal condition. Knowing only that it had something to do with the pancreas, he fought his own revulsion to experiment on a group of street dogs, including one designated “Dog 33,” whom, against the advice of his coworkers, he named Marjorie. With her pancreas removed (as described in the narrative but not explicitly depicted in Poon’s sparely detailed graphic panels), Marjorie went on to prove the efficacy of injections of the enzyme later dubbed insulin by surviving for more than two months. Though Kerbel admits that she invented some details for continuity, she does draw material from Banting’s unpublished memoirs and other sources, along with a historical note that includes photos of Marjorie and Banting. Kerbel closes with an incisive discussion of the ethical ins and outs of animal experimentation (specifically in medicine) that may prompt young readers to examine their own feelings.
VERDICT A laudably frank, sensitive account that may disturb younger readers but should provoke strong reactions and discussions.

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