Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Hunting For Solutions

By now, most of us know more than we ever imagined knowing about viruses.  We have tracked one particular virus as it continues to spread around the world, in our own country, and in our local community.  Nations have locked down, and people have sheltered in place, stayed six feet apart, worn masks, and washed their hands raw.  The number of cases and the loss of life is staggering.  And it is not over.

It is astounding to know something invisible to our naked eyes has turned life around the world upside down.  With gratitude, there are virologists who have dedicated their lives to solving the mysteries associated with viruses.  One of them is revealed to readers in June Almeida, Virus Detective!: The Woman Who Discovered the First Human Coronavirus (Sleeping Bear Press, March 15, 2021) written by Suzanne Slade with illustrations by Elisa Paganelli.  We are better for this woman's persistence in pursuing the activities she loved most.

After the family breakfast, Dad headed out to work.  Then June,
Mum, and baby Harry set off down the streets of Glasgow, Scotland.

June fascinated her family, even young Harry, with her newest knowledge in her beloved subject of science.  When she was ten, the family suffered a tragedy.  Harry became sick and died.  

As the years passed, June's expertise in science earned her a prize in school.  She increased her skills as a photographer, framing pictures to heighten details.  At the age of sixteen, June quit school to help support the family.  It was too expensive to attend the university, pursuing science.  

June took her expertise and her skills and applied for a job at a hospital.  They placed her in their lab.  She learned to use a microscope, helping to identify cells causing sicknesses.  When she was twenty-two, her family moved to London, England.  There she met her husband.

The newlyweds moved to Canada.  June was hired by a research lab, using an electron microscope to isolate cells and viruses.  There was a problem.  It was difficult to distinguish cells from viruses.  Using antibodies, June solved the dilemma.

Making a name for herself, June was asked to return to London to work in a lab at a hospital.  The family moved.  A new illness had infected a child in a nearby community.  June was requested to identify the virus. Step by careful step, June applied techniques she had perfected.  She recognized the virus.  In fact, she had seen it before, and her research had been rejected!  Due to its shape, June and a group of specialists named it coronavirus!  June was thirty-four years old.

June's work continued with additional milestones in the field of virology until she was fifty-four years old.  Did June stop learning?  She did not.  What do you think she pursued?  

From the time she was a child, June's curiosity was best satisfied through science and photography.  Suzanne Slade, using meticulous research, presents each fascinating layer of this outstanding woman's life, weaving personal details, professional accomplishments, and scientific facts and procedures together expertly. She depicts a life in pursuit of learning, one of solving puzzles, and of familial affection.  With each paragraph read, your admiration for June Almeida grows as does your respect for Suzanne Slade's use of language.  Here is a passage.

June pondered this perplexing problem.

She knew that when a virus made someone sick, their body created antibodies.
Those antibodies would surround a virus, like tiny soldiers, to fight it.  After
destroying a virus, the antibodies remained to protect against future attacks.

June decided to see if antibodies would show her which blobs were viruses.

Those with a mind for science and creativity will appreciate the use of the faint white graph paper lines on a muted royal blue background on the open and matching dust jacket and book case.  To the left of the spine are virus photographic image recreations, an electron microscope, viruses, antibodies, and molecules.  The coronavirus, enlarged on the front, right, crosses the spine.  One of the photographs on the left is enlarged and placed behind June Almeida as she works in a lab on the front of the jacket and case.  Inquisitiveness always lightens her face when she focuses on science, photography, and learning.

On the opening and closing endpapers, on a wash of paler blue is a pattern of cells and viruses.  There are also carefully placed geometric dotted lines.  On the title page, June Almeida is seated at a station with a microscope at her first lab position.

These illustrations by Elisa Paganelli span two pages, single pages, and some are within large circles.  Sometimes elements break the circle.  Collage is used to great effect.  Backgrounds vary according to the point in the narrative.  Perspectives are altered to place emphasis on extraordinary moments.

In one single-page picture, readers are treated to a collage of photographs, a camera, pen, and nature journal.  In another, a happy scene portrays June and Henry, her husband, happily strolling through London, England with iconic items in the background.  In the foreground, beneath them, are buildings in Canada.  In a double-page visual, we are brought close to June on the left and across the gutter looking into a microscope.  To the right of her, several other male scientists are amazed at her discoveries shown on the photographs. 

One of my many favorite illustrations spans two pages.  The background is similar to the endpapers.  A huge photograph extends in a growing ribbon, left to right.  Within that ribbon on the right is a cluster of crowned viruses.  Beneath this is the upper portion of June's face.  She is stunned.  To the left, it shows her previously seated at the electron microscope and finding the new virus.

This picture book biography, June Almeida, Virus Detective!: The Woman Who Discovered the First Human Coronavirus written by Suzanne Slade with illustrations by Elisa Paganelli, is exciting, inspirational and timely.  Readers will be interested to note June Almeida's daughter is noted in the short paragraph of initial acknowledgements.  At the close of the book is a More About June, and June and the Electron Microscope sections.  This is followed by two pages containing a timeline and a selected bibliography.

To learn more about Suzanne Slade and Elisa Paganelli and their other work, please access their websites by following the link attached to their names.  Suzanne Slade has accounts on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.  Elisa Paganelli has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  The cover reveal is at the Nerdy Book Club with an informative guest post by Suzanne Slade.  At Picture Book Builders is an article by Suzanne Slade with more discussion about the book, a fabulous book trailer and extra resource links.

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