Four Books to Help Students Understand Viruses and Germs

COVID-19 is still a very real part of our daily lives and front of mind for young people. Here are four books a­ddressing ­viruses and germs that ­educators can share with students.

COVID-19 is still a very real part of our daily lives and front of mind for young people. Many of us have even learned creative ways to ensure that we’ve washed our hands for 20 seconds (the ABCs, Lady Macbeth’s speech, Pride & Prejudice’s Darcy’s proposal). Here are four books a­ddressing ­viruses and germs that ­educators can share with students.

Cross, Paul Ian. How to Vanquish a Virus: The Weird World of Viruses Explained! illus. by Steve Brown. 128p. Welbeck. Jul. 2021. Tr $9.95. ISBN 9781783127313.
Gr 4-8 –An introduction to the world of viruses that takes a decidedly upbeat approach to the current global pandemic. Cross covers a lot of territory about the world of viruses in only eight chapters. Beginning with a general background on viruses and how they function, the focus then shifts to the specifics of various coronaviruses: MERS, SARS, the common cold, and the culprit of our current pandemic, COVID-19. Readers are warned about the dangers of misinformation and how to determine if scientific information is from reputable sources. Chapters then turn to more basic human biology, such as a description of cells, the role of DNA and RNA, and an explanation of how our immune system works to keep harmful viruses at bay. A brief history of vaccine science is presented, as well as a discussion of the vital role that scientists, researchers, and participants (those who volunteered for vaccine trials) played in the successful production of the current vaccines in use. Each chapter ends with a suggested activity, such as creating a face covering or inventing an imaginary new medicine. The importance of attending to one’s mental health is stressed throughout. Well-placed and engaging illustrations and sidebars break up the text. VERDICT While it doesn’t shy away from naming the dangers of viruses, in particular COVID-19, this work focuses on reassuring young readers that progress is being made in the efforts to combat the virus. A useful addition for middle school libraries.–Ragan O’Malley, Saint Ann’s Sch., Brooklyn

Goldsmith, Connie. Understanding Coronaviruses: SARS, MERS, and the COVID-19 Pandemic. 144p. Twenty-First Century. Sept. 2021. Tr $37.32. ISBN 9781728428888.
Gr 7 Up –Beginning with Dr. Li Wenliang of Wuhan Central Hospital sounding the alarm about a potentially deadly new virus on December of 2019, Goldsmith, a registered nurse, takes readers on a journey through the sequence of events that encompass the COVID-19 pandemic. Although there is controversy about the origins of the virus, Goldsmith explains that it likely originated in a market in Wuhan, China, by jumping from an animal host to a human host. Goldsmith provides readers with background information on bacteria and viruses, including an overview of deadly epidemics and pandemics throughout history. Special attention is given to the difference between various coronaviruses such as SARS-CoV-1, MERS-CoV, and SARS-CoV-2 (which causes the disease COVID-19). The author then explores the reality of COVID-19 in the United States. Issues such as political partisanship in the response to science recommendations and preventative measures are addressed, as well as the disproportionate impact it has had on communities of color and the spike in anti-Asian hate incidents. Later chapters cover the efforts of healthcare workers and the CDC in caring for patients and preventing illness, as well as the real roadblocks that misinformation caused in the attempts to effectively combat the virus. The enormous efforts to create vaccines are described, as well as the successes and shortcomings of the vaccine distribution rollout. With clear language and an organized structure, Goldsmith places the pandemic in context. Extensive source notes and a selected bibliography are included. VERDICT If your library needs a well-researched, thorough summary of the COVID-19 pandemic for middle and high school student research projects and papers, this is a solid choice. –Ragan O’Malley, Saint Ann’s Sch., Brooklyn

Hopkinson, Deborah. The Deadliest ­Diseases Then and Now. 224p.(The Deadliest: Bk. 1). Scholastic Focus. Oct. 2021. Tr $25.99. ISBN 9781338360202; pap. $7.99. ISBN 9781338360226.
Gr 6-9 –The first in a new series has a timely topic. The bulk of the volume focuses on the bubonic plague from the 14th century to the 1910s, alternating historical and science chapters, and frequently debunking established theories. The author’s chummy use of the first person “we” lets readers learn alongside her as she reveals information gleaned from experts, transforming her writing into the style of one of the Middle Ages plague chroniclers she frequently quotes. Additional chapters on the 1918 influenza and COVID-19 pandemics add context to understanding how far medicine has come in handling contagious diseases. Informative captioned photographs alternate with evocative pen-and-ink illustrations. Bold vocabulary words are explained contextually as well as defined in the corresponding glossary. Supplemental materials include two fun quizzes and a call to be “a Twenty-First Century Chronicler” of COVID-19, as well as further reading and a selected bibliography. Source notes, which the author describes as analogous to “evidence that a detective collects to make a case,” and a comprehensive index also support researchers. VERDICT Good for budding middle school epidemiologists and history buffs who can’t resist a book about diseases. –Courtney Lewis, St. Catherine’s Sch., Richmond, VA

Kay, Edward. Germy Science: The Sick Truth About Getting Sick (and Staying Healthy). illus. by Mike Shiell. 48p. (Gross Science). Kids Can. Oct. 2021. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781525304125.
Gr 4-8 –Germs are everywhere, explains Kay in this accessible and comprehensive exploration of the world of germs. After describing how small germs are and how many live on our bodies, Kay explains that the word germ is a general term that encompasses four types of organisms (bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and viruses). Kay then focuses on the discovery of germs and their connection to illness. The author explains how our immune systems protect our bodies from harmful germs and shares the additional steps we can take to protect ourselves. Readers are introduced to the history of vaccination and inoculation (dating as far back as 2,000 years with the Chinese efforts to prevent smallpox). “Germs that Changed History” is the title of one particularly fascinating chapter that focuses on various pandemics (including COVID-19) and plagues that have had a profound impact on the course of history. The final chapter explores the future of germ research and offers possibilities of what is to come, such as studying industrial uses for germs, like using bacteria to make fuel cells or new types of plastics. The accompanying illustrations are clever, colorful, and humorously match the spirited tone of the text. VERDICT A great combination of scientific information, coupled with a bit of historical epidemiology, resulting in a highly entertaining and informative introduction to germs. Recommended for middle school libraries. –Ragan O’Malley, Saint Ann’s Sch., Brooklyn

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