The Polio Pioneer

Knopf. Aug. 2020. 40p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780525646518.
Gr 1-5–This timely picture book biography describes the life and scientific contributions of Dr. Jonas Salk (1914–1995). A sensitive, studious child, Salk was born in New York City to poor Eastern European Jewish refugee parents. He attended the City College of New York and later studied medicine at the New York University School of Medicine, where he met his mentor and friend, Dr. Thomas Francis. Together, they collaborated on the first flu vaccine in response to the 1918 pandemic. Their hard work paid off; their vaccine was a success. Years later, Salk created a vaccine for polio, a disease that “paralyzed or killed thousands of people every year, including many babies and small children.” For several years, communities closed swimming pools, beaches, and movie theaters to manage the spread…sound familiar? Almost two million youngsters, dubbed “Polio Pioneers,” voluntarily took the new vaccine before it was deemed safe and effective. On April 12, 1955, Salk announced the vaccine’s success to the world. Anchin’s colorful illustrations are rendered in acrylic gouache and pencil. Children and scientists of diverse skin colors, religions (both a yarmulke and hijab are shown), and genders are depicted. One page features children in their homes looking out the windows at empty streets. Marshall’s author’s note offers a personal reflection on the polio years.
VERDICT A recommended purchase for most libraries. This title explains how vaccines work, provides historical context, and inspires the hope of a victory over the current pandemic.

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