A Shot in the Arm (Big Ideas that Changed the World)

A Shot in the Arm (Big Ideas that Changed the World)
Age Range
Release Date
April 20, 2021
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A Shot in the Arm! explores the history of vaccinations and the struggle to protect people from infectious diseases, from smallpox—perhaps humankind’s greatest affliction to date—to the COVID-19 pandemic. Highlighting deadly diseases such as measles, polio, rabies, cholera, and influenza, Brown tackles the science behind how our immune systems work, the discovery of bacteria, the anti-vaccination movement, and major achievements from Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who popularized inoculation in England, and from scientists like Louis Pasteur, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, and Edward Jenner, the "father of immunology." Timely and fascinating, A Shot in the Arm! is a reminder of vaccines’ contributions to public health so far, as well as the millions of lives they can still save.

Big Ideas That Changed the World is a graphic novel series that celebrates the hard-won succession of ideas that ultimately changed the world. Humor, drama, and art unite to tell the story of events, discoveries, and ingenuity over time that led humans to come up with a big idea and then make it come true.

Editor review

1 review
Well Researched Information about Vaccines
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Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
Learning Value
Disease isn't new. Pandemics aren't new. Even vaccinations aren't new. But when you're in grade school, everything is new! (Well, except for your teachers and parents!) While COVID-19 has been such a devastating occurrence, it would be great if it lead young readers to investigate more about it, as well as the history of viruses and how they have affected society.

Brown introduces us to Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who lived in England in the late 1600s. Her society was dealing with smallpox, and we are given a good history of that disease and the treatments it inspired. When smallpox threatened her own family, she investigated an innoculation where smallpox scabs were inserted under the skin, and this seemed to be fairly effective in lessening the effects of the disease, and Montagu is credited with popularizing this defense against a devastating disease.

We then cross the pond and deal with smallpox in the Colonies, and see how Cotton Mather ran into difficulties when he tried to help the Boston smallpox epidemic of 1721 with the treatment. The alternate approach, to inoculate with cow pox, is fully explained, and there is discussion of other vaccinations (as they are called after those experiments) as well as the push back against them. Other scientists, like Koch and Pasteur, are introduced, and protection against diseases like anthrax in farm populations is discussed. Polio gets full coverage, which is quite interesting, because I had never heard of some of the deaths related to some of the vaccines, and how people were a bit leery-- I assumed that everyone was completely behind either the shot or the oral vaccine for polio! The faulty link to autism is debunked.

Of course, COVID-19 ends the book, so is a nice way to frame all of the previous information into something that young readers have experienced themselves. The politics surrounding the creation and distribution of the vaccine are omitted, and that's probably just as well. This current pandemic receives just an overview, which will be perfect when we are out of the throes of it. The additional timeline of virus research and brief biography of Montagu, bibliography and author's notes round out this useful graphic nonfiction book.
Good Points
In addition to being a timely resource, this is an excellent addition to readable narrative nonfiction about diseases. Jurmain's Yellow Death, Murphy's An American Plague, Davis; More Deadly Than War, Jarrow's Fatal Fever, and Murphy's Invincible Microbe are all books that are oddly enthralling, and appealing to readers with a scientific bent.
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