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A compelling twin biography of both Edward Jenner, inventor of the vaccine for smallpox, and of the disease itself. Opening with a graphic description of the ravages of the 1521 smallpox outbreak that toppled the Aztec Empire when Cortés invaded Mexico, the narrative then plumbs the beginnings of the disease in humans, the biology of viruses, and explores the sociocultural impact of smallpox. A discussion of various early methodologies of immunization leads directly into the life and work of the unassuming country surgeon who, in the late–18th century, doggedly pursued a safe and effective means of preventing the disease that regularly visited misery upon the Old World and virtually wiped out whole populations of indigenous peoples in the New. Jenner emerges as a likable and decent man, and a dedicated physician, one whose flexibility of thought and willingness to experiment recognized the immunological ramifications of the fact that milkmaids who had contracted cowpox never seemed to contract smallpox. Marrin (Secrets from the Rocks, p. 339, etc.) ably weaves in the scientific, religious, social, and cultural forces at work in Jenner’s day without ever muddying his main story line. He then brings the story of smallpox right into the present, detailing the eradication of smallpox by the WHO and then discussing its potential impact as a terrorist weapon in the wake of the September 11 attacks. Primary source material is quoted liberally in the text, and although authorship is occasionally indicated when introducing an excerpt, there is no real link between these quotations and the lengthy bibliography and somewhat less lengthy Webliography at the end. This absence of specific source notes and a somewhat histrionic tendency to refer to smallpox as “the Speckled Monster” weaken the whole a bit, but it remains a readable and compelling offering, and presents a nicely detailed companion to Giblin’s When Plague Strikes (1995). (Nonfiction. 10+)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-525-46922-2

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2002

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From the They Did What? series

A breezy, bustling bucketful of courageous acts and eye-popping feats.

Why should grown-ups get all the historical, scientific, athletic, cinematic, and artistic glory?

Choosing exemplars from both past and present, Mitchell includes but goes well beyond Alexander the Great, Anne Frank, and like usual suspects to introduce a host of lesser-known luminaries. These include Shapur II, who was formally crowned king of Persia before he was born, Indian dancer/professional architect Sheila Sri Prakash, transgender spokesperson Jazz Jennings, inventor Param Jaggi, and an international host of other teen or preteen activists and prodigies. The individual portraits range from one paragraph to several pages in length, and they are interspersed with group tributes to, for instance, the Nazi-resisting “Swingkinder,” the striking New York City newsboys, and the marchers of the Birmingham Children’s Crusade. Mitchell even offers would-be villains a role model in Elagabalus, “boy emperor of Rome,” though she notes that he, at least, came to an awful end: “Then, then! They dumped his remains in the Tiber River, to be nommed by fish for all eternity.” The entries are arranged in no evident order, and though the backmatter includes multiple booklists, a personality quiz, a glossary, and even a quick Braille primer (with Braille jokes to decode), there is no index. Still, for readers whose fires need lighting, there’s motivational kindling on nearly every page.

A breezy, bustling bucketful of courageous acts and eye-popping feats. (finished illustrations not seen) (Collective biography. 10-13)

Pub Date: May 10, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-14-751813-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Puffin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 10, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2015

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A detailed, absorbing picture of Chinese-American culture in the 50's and 60's, of particular interest to Yep's many...

In a strong debut for the new "In My Own Words" series, the author of The Star Fisher (see below) portrays his own youth.

Brought up in San Francisco, where his parents managed for years to defend a mom-and-pop grocery against an increasingly rough non-Chinese neighborhood, Yep went to Chinatown to attend a Catholic school and to visit his grandmother. Always aware of belonging to several cultures, he is a keen observer who began early to "keep a file of family history" and who tellingly reveals how writing fiction, honestly pursued, can lead to new insights: in putting his own "mean" teacher into one book, he began for the first time to understand her viewpoint. He divides his account topically, rather than chronologically, with chapters on the store, Chinatown, family tradition, being an outsider, etc., concluding with his college years ("Culture Shock") and some later experiences especially related to his writing. Always, Yep is trying to integrate his many "pieces" ("raised in a black neighborhood...too American to fit into Chinatown and too Chinese to fit in elsewhere...the clumsy son of the athletic family..."), until he discovers that writing transforms him "from being a puzzle to a puzzle solver."

A detailed, absorbing picture of Chinese-American culture in the 50's and 60's, of particular interest to Yep's many admirers or would-be writers. (Autobiography. 11-15)

Pub Date: May 1, 1991

ISBN: 0688137016

Page Count: 117

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1991

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