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History Smashers: Plagues and Pandemics

by Kate Messner

When will the pandemic be over?

Will the vaccine give me Covid?

Once I’m vaccinated will I still need to wear my mask?

How do vaccines work, anyway?

Kids all over the country are lining up to get their Covid-19 vaccinations. While adults everywhere hold their breaths, hoping that this will lead to a decline in community transmission and advance elementary schools everywhere one step closer to feelings of normalcy, kids have questions.

Lots of questions. 

Who can blame them? As the world around them shifts seismically under their feet, their inquiring minds are working overtime to process and understand.

As teachers and parents, not only can it be hard to find answers that our children will understand, it is also hard to fully empathize with the social and emotional challenges that children are facing. After all, our children are living through something that we never did when we were young. Many of us feel as confused and emotionally burdened as they do. We are all feeling our way in the dark together.

You’ve probably heard about the Black Death and other big disease outbreaks in history. If you’re reading this book, you’ve probably even lived through one yourself.”

Kate Messner’s latest release from the History Smashers series, Plagues and Pandemics, not only offers answers to the questions of adults and children alike, it teaches the history of  the spread of  large scale diseases through varied and important lenses. Messner’s brilliant writing engages readers immediately, and tells the truth behind the complex scientific history of pandemics in a way that is humorous and easy to understand. This release could not have been more timely.

History Smashers: Plagues and Pandemics | Penguin Random House Secondary  Education

History Smashers: Plagues and Pandemics hooks readers with an introduction that describes the bizarre myths that have circulated about illnesses and their “remedies” throughout history. Then, it takes us on a journey through medical history, from the bubonic plague, to malaria, typhoid, and smallpox, to polio, ebola, and to influenza and finally to the present Covid-19 pandemic. While explaining the diseases themselves, Messner also shares about their treatments, vaccinations, and in some cases, eradication. However, one of the most powerful aspects of History Smashers: Plagues and Pandemics, is the way that Messner masterfully weaves lenses of race, power, and privilege throughout this historical narrative. These perspectives are frequently left out of teaching texts about pandemics, though they are essential to understanding the complete and multi-dimensional history of the spread of large scale diseases and how communities have combated them.

While historical texts about science can be dry or dense, in true Messner fashion, History Smashers: Plagues and Pandemics is anything but that. The combination of Messner’s wit, conversational tone, engaging graphics, and comic sidebars, have made this book an easily digestible page-turner that is fun to read.

History Smashers: Plagues and Pandemics | Penguin Random House Secondary  Education

History Smashers: Plagues and Pandemics ends by enlightening readers about the truth behind that Covid-19 pandemic and the vaccines that end it. It helps readers to understand the myths behind the anti-vaccination movement and the truth behind the science of mRNA technology.

The History Smashers series should have a place in every classroom, and Plagues and Pandemics is by far my favorite. As an adult reader, I loved every minute of this book. I am excited to share it with my own children and students everywhere. If your students love the I Survived or Hazardous Tales series, they will love History Smashers  just as much. 

In this literacy coach’s humble opinion, Kate Messner is a unicorn and History Smashers: Plagues and Pandemics is yet another one of her absolute-must-read-books!

Thinking about text sets?


History Smashers Plagues and Pandemics, by Kate Messner
The Polio Pioneer: Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine, by Linda Elovitz Marshall, illustrated by Lisa Anchin
Dr. Fauci: How a Boy from Brooklyn Became America’s Dr, by Kate Messner and illustrated by Alexandra Bye

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