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Arts and Culture

The Children's Bookshelf: June Almeida, Virus Detective

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This is the Children’s Bookshelf and I’m Sue Ann Martin.

JUNE ALMEIDA VIRUS DETECTIVE! The Woman Who Discovered the First Human Coronavirus written by Suzanne Slade and illustrated by Elisa Paganelli is a timely and well-told story about the woman scientist who first discovered the human coronavirus in 1964.

June, born in 1930 in Scotland, loved school, reading, photography and science. She was a top biology student in high school but without the funds to go to college she decided to leave school early and take a job in a nearby hospital laboratory where she could continue her interest in biology and using microscopes.

After she married and moved to Canada in 1956 to take a position at The Ontario Cancer Institute, she had the opportunity to work with an electron microscope---a microscope that magnified images 25,000 times and then sent out closeup photos of the cells and viruses! This experience was a game changer for her.  She developed a process for placing antibodies and virus particles together and blasting them with electrons. Sure enough, the antibodies surrounded the virus and gave doctors better pictures. When she took a job in London, England researcher David Tyrell, who could not identify a mystery virus called upon her expertise. Her method and results were astonishing. Pictures of the virus showed it encircled with tiny dots like a crown. Since the word for crown in Latin is “corona” the virus was aptly named the coronavirus. In 1967 her co-authored paper with Tyrell was published in the Journal of General Virology.

The book’s illustrations are delightful. The background is full of sketches of viruses, equations, antibodies, proteins and microscopes. The back materials host an engaging illustrated timeline of her important work with many viruses as well as historic photographs of June with the electron microscope.

June Almeida Virus Detective! The Woman Who Discovered the First Human Coronavirus is a picture book biography designed for readers 6-9 years of age (Sleeping Bear Press, 2021).

The Children’s Bookshelf is a production of WCMU. Links to the podcast and the activity questions can be found at Children’s Bookshelf dot org.

Activity Questions for June Almeida Virus Detective!

Older children: There are a number of words in this story and in the back materials that you need to know. First go on a word hunt and find these five words within this book: virus, electron, antibodies, rubella and virology. Next, look each of them up online or in a hard copy dictionary. Are there other words that you want to add to the list? Copy these words down in a special notebook where you can add words throughout the year. Be creative. Give your notebook a name.

Fourteen pictures can be seen in the illustrated timeline at the back of this book. Each picture stands for what June was doing during a specific time frame. Think about the last 12 months. What was the biggest thing that happened to you each month? Don’t forget your birthday, or perhaps Halloween dress-up fun or that report you wrote that received a perfect score. Write a sentence explaining each entry in your timeline and then draw a picture of each happening as you make your own illustrated timeline. Have a good time!

There are many visual details in this book. Look carefully and find a bus,  a baby carriage, a blackboard, a clip board, rubber gloves, a tea kettle, a microscope, a photo of a squirrel, a street lamp  and a crown.