Book Review : Plagues, Pox, and Pestilence

Plagues, Pox, and Pestilence by Richard Platt, illustrated by John Kelly. 2011. 9780753466872. Gr 4-7.

Come in and take a tour of the Pox Lab—if you dare!

This fascinating and humorous book describes the history of the world’s worst diseases and pandemics, including bubonic plague, leprosy, cholera, malaria, smallpox, influenza, tuberculosis, and more.  The Pox Lab is staffed by some very interesting scientists and teachers…in fact, they are the very same pests that have spread the germs that cause these diseases.  Meet Dr. Scratch (a flea) and Professor Ratticus (a rat, of course); their lab assistants are a mosquito and a tse-tse fly.   These germ and disease experts describe symptoms of each disease and popular treatments throughout history; for example, the color red was thought to cure smallpox, and bleeding was a popular treatment for many diseases—a treatment that often caused more harm than good.

Professor Ratticus and his cohorts explain how the search for cures for these dreadful diseases has spurred the advancement of science, leading to the invention of microscopes and X-rays, as well as antibiotics, vaccines, and other life-saving treatments.  Learning about the protists, bacteria, and viruses that cause disease has helped scientists figure out how to prevent many diseases.

In addition to germs that affect humans, the Pox Lab also studies those that infect crops and animals, and the effect that they have on people.  One such germ caused the blight on Ireland’s potato crop in the mid-1800s, which led to the death of a million people from starvation and typhus. And the improper processing of animals for food also causes widespread sickness even today.

This high-interest book is a fun—and funny—way to learn about some pretty difficult topics, with colorful illustrations detailing the complex ideas in germ theory, microbiology, global pandemics, and immunity.  And though the subject of pandemics is a serious one, the depiction of the scowling germs behind these horrible diseases helps to lighten the mood, while the text provides interesting and accurate information.

Blogger:  Tracey L.