These Virus Picture Books Are Infectious Reading

Cindy and Lynn: we know, we know. We’re all really tired of hearing about “the virus.” But, after two years of COVID quarantines, infections, shut-downs, mask mandates, and remote work if you still don’t know how to explain what a virus is, how it works, and how scientists study them and try to defeat the bad ones, this round-up of nonfiction picture books may help you focus the microscope. If you have other virus books for a young audience to recommend, leave us a comment. 

I’m a Virus! by Bridget Heos (Crown, 2022)I'm a Virus by Bridget Heos

From a sick girl’s sneeze to her friend’s nose, a common cold virus explains how it invades, multiplies, and attacks to spread from person to person. The science, which also covers the body’s immune response, is infused with humor and illustrations that help the information go down like a spoonful of sugar! Covid-19 is mentioned, as is Smallpox and Jenner’s first vaccine. A double-page spread introduces the many types of white blood cells and their jobs in defending you from illness. A glossary, suggested reading and bibliography round out this first entry in the Science Buddies Series.

Secret Life of Viruses by Mariona Tolosa SistereThe Secret Life of Viruses: Incredible Science Facts About Germs, Vaccines, and What You Can Do to Stay Healthy by Mariona Tolosa Sisteré Ellas Educan Collective (Sourcebooks, 2021)

Vibrant and humorous illustrations complement solid information written by a women’s science collective about a wide variety of viruses. Topics include how the body defends itself, viruses in history, and the benefits of some viruses. A True/False quiz at the back reinforces important content.

Dr. Fauci by Kate MessnerDr. Fauci: How a Boy from Brooklyn Became America’s Doctor by Kate Messner (Simon & Schuster, 2021)

This picture book biography of the current director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, begins in his childhood as a curious child of parents who owned a pharmacy and continues through his medical education and his work under seven U.S. presidents. Backmatter includes: How Do Vaccines Work?, Are Vaccines Safe?, and Dr. Fauci’s Five Tips for Future Scientists, a Time Line, Recommended Reading, and Fauci family photos.

Tu Youyou's Discovery by Songju Ma DaemickeTu Youyou’s Discovery: Finding a Cure for Malaria by Songju Ma Daemicke (Albert Whitman, 2021)

Like Dr. Fauci, Tu Youyou was interested in medicine and research from a young age, partially due to her own struggle with tuberculosis as a teen. In 1969, an illness called Malaria, spread by mosquitoes, was killing people worldwide and became the focus of her research and experiments. This nonfiction biography picture book emphasizes the persistence needed in medical research as doctors search for answers and cures, and highlights the scientific process as well as gender discrimination. For her work, Youyou was honored with a Nobel Prize in 2015, the first Chinese woman to receive one.

Cress Watercress: A Perfect Read-Aloud–Make Note!

Lynn: I Cress watercressam a skeptical audience for animal fantasies. Some I love and some I dislike intensely. I may be the only person on the planet to loathe Watership Down but I adored the Brian Jacques books. I also am a fan of Gregory Maguire’s adult fantasies and was unsure how his sharp clever style would translate into a middle-grade book. After a bit of a slow start in his new book, Cress Watercress (Candlewick, 2022), Maguire settles into a masterful style and pace that brings something new to the genre and is perfectly attuned to the young audience.

Cress Watercress and her hardworking mother and baby brother must leave their home for new quarters after her Papa fails to come home from a honey-gathering trip. The Broken Arms apartment is small and crowded and Cress grieves her father and misses her home and friends. Her contrary feelings are exacerbated by a leap into adolescence and her mood is as if she “ate thorns for breakfast.” Real dangers, a very sick little brother, and a mix of new friends— both good and bad—add to Cress’s struggles and her path forward is skillfully woven into the adventure. Cress yearns to solve the mystery of her father’s disappearance and as she learns to handle her grief, she also begins to discover what home and family are. She also learns a lot about her own strength. Never saccharine, this rabbit’s tale is beautifully told.

The book is illuminated by David Litchfield’s glowing digital illustrations that make the book a visual treat. The book production by this Candlewick team is absolutely outstanding!!

This is a perfect choice for a bedtime or a classroom read-aloud!! Make note!

Cindy: There are at least two people who aren’t fans of Watership Down. You’re not alone, Lynn. What I am a fan of is intelligent stories that are as fun for the adult reading them aloud as for the child listening to them. This one has great characters, like a skunk named Lady Agatha Cabbage dressed for the opera peering through a lorgnette and uttering phrases like “Oh, my pearls and pistols.” Independent readers ready for interesting vocabulary and humor will enjoy reading this story, too. For instance, when Cress and Finny are headed over a waterfall on their raft, Cress hangs on by “strength of will and overbite.” Many unexpected little gems had me chuckling aloud. At other times, as when Cress’s mother uses the waxing and waning of the moon as an analogy for grief that comes and goes but is always there, the storytelling left me brushing away some tears.

What’s Going On With the Weather? A Tween Adventure Novel

Snow Struck by Nick CourageCindy: I live in Michigan, so mid-March is not too late to write about snowstorm books. In fact, it’s snowing as I write this post. Snow Struck (Delacorte, 2022) is the second storm novel by Nick Courage, an author who lives in New Orleans and knows something of weather disasters. This adventure features two Florida kids who are excited to visit their NYC cousin and see some snow at Christmas. Elizabeth and Matty have been living in a hotel since a hurricane took the roof off their house, so the trip is even more exciting. They arrive at the start of a freak storm that starts with temps in the 80s that quickly change as an arctic front sweeps through and they get more snow than they bargained for. As he did in his first book, Courage puts readers into the heads of various animals affected by the changing climate and the storm, with some beautiful nature writing, and provides additional information and tension through the perspective of climate scientists and weather experts. But nothing will ratchet up the suspense like a missing dog and the dangerous search for it on the empty streets of Manhattan. Watch out for that huge, falling Christmas tree in Rockefeller Plaza!

When my middle schoolers were getting excited about impending snowstorms and the possibility of snow days, I would always booktalk Michael Northrup’s survival story Trapped (Scholastic, 2011) about a group of high school students who get trapped at school in a big storm. Snow Struck will be perfect for a younger tween audience and might also spur them into some action to help our climate. Spring will come to Michigan, soon, right?

Free Youth Lit Seminar from KPL

Background image of three solid color bars featuring orange, green, and blue with three people in small squares with the words reading 2021 Youth Literature Seminar.Cindy and Lynn: Have we got a treat for you! The Kalamazoo (MI) Public Library is hosting its annual Youth Literature Seminar this coming Friday, November 12, 2021 and you can attend virtually (for free) by signing up here. Keynote speakers include Betsy Bird, Meg Medina, and Gene Luen Yang. Bookends Blog is proud to continue our booktalks for this seminar in the afternoon breakout session. This year’s theme for our booktalks is a diversion from our usual “Best Books of the Year” session. Nothing was usual about the past year and a half. This year we are presenting: Overcoming Pandemic “Languishing”: Cindy & Lynn’s 2020/2021 Comfort Reads. You may recall our earlier post this year that defined “Languishing” in terms of reading. Well, we worked hard to overcome it and will be presenting the books that held our attention. While the rest of the world comforted themselves by baking banana bread, we sought comfort in books that we could escape into, or at least that were so compelling we could forget the outside world.

We hope you can join us. The seminar, with its theme of “Celebrating a New Beginning” is free and offers a wide variety of engaging speakers. To trauma and beyond! See you there!

Once Upon a Camel – How Stories Still Save Lives

Once Upon a Camel by Kathi AppeltLynn: Once upon a time there was a camel named Scheherazade, who was called Zada. Kathi Appelt tells us Zada’s story, in her charming new book, Once Upon a Camel (S&S/Atheneum, 2021) Zada is a story teller just like her famous namesake and her story of family, love, courage, and holding on to memories is a story that saves the lives of her friends, the Kestrel family, and Zada herself.

It all started in a West Texas sandstorm in 1910. No, wait, it all started in Smyrna, Syria in 1850. Two tiny camels were born into the Pasha’s famous stables, destined to become best friends and prize racers. Zada and Asiye were fast friends and as fast of the winds of the desert. Zada and her Kestrel family’s story of danger and adventure comes later. So let us return to the Texas wilderness of 1910 and the towering haboob that blows Pard and Perlita into the choking sand and leaves Zada to care for their chicks, Wims and Beulah, and to somehow get them to safety at the Mission so many miles away.

It is a tale of dangers and fears, of bravery and love, and above all it is all about the power of story. And isn’t that something we all need to lighten our way through the darkness of whatever storm we walk through?

Kathi Appelt’s newest story is guaranteed to win the hearts of every reader. With richly developed and endearing characters, a spellbinding plot, and, of course, a happy ending. I love the historical facts that sparked this story. Yes, there really were camels brought to Texas just prior to the Civil War! This is the PERFECT book for reading aloud in a classroom. The chapters are short, packed with humor and perilous moments that will have listeners begging for just one more chapter!

Cindy: Put this book on display and Eric Rohmann’s gorgeous and slightly silly cover illustration will have it fly off the shelf as fast as an American Kestrel! Zada with her two nestling kestrel babies perched on her head will have kids giggling before they even start to read. His art sprinkled throughout the book is a treat as well.

Shadow Spinner by Susan FletcherI agree with Lynn about this being a great read-aloud, whether in a classroom or between parent and child. The time-shifting plot and stories within stories structure will require a strong reader or a little explanation from an adult, but the payoff is delightful. My middle schoolers were always fascinated by my booktalk for Susan Fletcher’s Shadow Spinner (Atheneum, 1999), because I started with an introduction to Scheherazade, a legendary character they did not know. Some had heard of the tales of the One Thousand and One Nights, and of course, Aladdin, thanks to Disney, but they did not know of the storyteller or the way in which she saved her life, and that of the other women in ancient Persia. In fact, we stenciled a quote from that book on the library bulkhead to remind our students every visit of the power of story. “Stories can save your life.” Indeed.

YA Cover Trend: Sunglasses!

Cindy: It’s spring break time in Michigan…that season where bathing suits, sunscreen, and sunglasses are flying out of stores as students and their families prepare to clog the I-75 highway to warmer locations that actually have sunshine. I’ve noticed a trend in cover art featuring sunglass clad faces that are ready to join the sunny vacation fun. Pack one of these to read on the beach…or curl up with it at home if you are having a staycation! I’m sure I’ve missed some. Leave a comment if there are others you’ve written, published, or have in your libraries. This would make a great summer book display with some more titles in the mix!

The Brightsiders by Jen Wilde (Swoon Reads, 2018)

You Don’t Know My Name by Kristen Orlando (Swoon Reads, 2017)

A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena (Farrar, 2018)

Home and Away by Candice Montgomery (Page Stree, 2018)

Unnatural Disasters by Jeff Hirsch (Clarion, 2019)