About the Holiday
From its beginning as a single-day observance in 1911 in Sonoma, California, the celebration of women’s achievements and contributions throughout history grew to a week-long event in 1980 and finally to encompass the entire month of March in 1987. During this month we remember the trail-blazing women of yesteryear who used their creativity, intelligence, and perseverance to promote rights for women while contributing their own innovations to science, art, social reform, medicine, and other disciplines as well as today’s pioneers who carry on their legacy and make our world a better place. Today, we feature a book about a woman who revolutionized virology and medical research, connecting the past and the present. To learn more about the holiday, visit the National Women’s History Museum website and check out their resource toolkit.
June Almeida, Virus Detective! The Woman Who Discovered the First Human Coronavirus
Written by Suzanne Slade | Illustrated by Elisa Paganelli
Growing up in Glasgow, Scotland, June Almeida loved school. After class she couldn’t wait to share what she’d learned—especially science subjects—with her mother, father, and little brother, Henry. When June was ten, however, her life changed when Henry became sick and passed away. Throughout elementary school and into high school, June loved studying science, especially biology in which she learned about the cells in the body and their functions. “June was so enthusiastic about science, she won the top science prize at school.”
But science wasn’t the only thing June loved. She had lots of friends, was an avid reader, and became an excellent photographer. Whenever she was out with her camera, “she noticed small details, and her keen eye helped her create stunning photos.” June dreamed of attending college, but the jobs her father and mother held did not pay enough, and when June was sixteen, she dropped out of school to get a job to help pay the bills. June wanted to make a difference, “so she applied to work at the nearby hospital” and was hired as a lab worker. Here she learned how to examine cells with a microscope. “Her findings helped doctors treat patients.”
When June was twenty-two, she and her family moved to London. She got a job in a hospital lab and also met and married an artist named Henry. June and Henry moved to Canada, where she quickly found a job at a “new research lab in Toronto.” In this lab, June worked with an electron microscope that could magnify things 25,000 times and produced detailed pictures of the samples being studied. These photos “were helpful. But it was hard to tell which tiny blobs were viruses and which were cells.” June thought she could improve on the photos.
June knew that in the body antibodies would surround viruses as they worked to fight it. June wondered if by introducing antibodies to her samples, scientists would be able to determine the virus from the cells. June’s idea worked. The scientists were astonished. Because of June’s innovation, they now had clear pictures that would help them study and combat viruses.
After June took time away from work to have a baby in 1960, she returned to her research and often lectured about her work. She was recruited to work at a hospital lab in London, so she and her family moved once again. At the time, a researcher named David Tyrrell had been trying to identify a virus that had affected a young boy. Could it be a new virus? He was hoping that June could help.
When June received the sample, she knew that “since it was an unknown virus, there were no antibodies to help find it.” But she was an expert at using another method that might work. Carefully, June implemented the intricate steps. Then she put the sample under the microscope and scanned the picture. “June was stunned.” Each virus blob was encircled by tiny dots “like a crown. ” She had seen this twice before when looking at viruses from sick animals. She had written a paper on it, but it had been rejected by other researchers because they thought her pictures were just blurry and not those of a new virus.
June presented her findings to doctors who agreed with her discovery. They decided to name the new virus coronavirus, after the Latin word for crown, corona. June and David then published a paper telling other doctors and researchers about the new virus. Following this discovery, June continued to study viruses, such as hepatitis B and HIV. Her pictures of these viruses helped researchers develop medications that could “block them from making people sick.” Even after she retired, June never lost her love of learning, teaching herself to play the flute, about antiques, and how to use a digital camera to continue creating incredible photos.
Backmatter includes more about June Almeida and her life’s work, an illustrated timeline of her life, and a selected bibliography.
Suzanne Slade’s compelling biography of June Almeida gives context for and insight into the research and discovery of the coronavirus and informs present-day events and breakthroughs. Slade’s fluid storytelling clearly reveals Almeida’s intelligence and passion for science as well as her determination to use her skills to the betterment of society. Kids will be astounded that June was able to begin her career at the age of sixteen, and that her beloved hobby of photography became a career that changed medical research. Slade’s sprinkling of personal details about Almeida’s life creates a well-rounded understanding of this influential woman.
Through Elisa Paganelli’s realistic and detailed illustrations, children have the opportunity to see a researcher at work in world-class laboratories. Readers will be especially impressed by images of the electron microscope and how Almeida improved the photographs these powerful machines produced. Children familiar with the shape of the coronavirus will be interested in seeing the faithfully reproduced photographs and how the virus got its name. Kids will also enjoy seeing illustrations of Almeida’s family life, including her daughter Joyce, who is herself a doctor.
An inspirational and fascinating biography of a woman with a very innovative mind, June Almeida, Virus Detective! will thrill children interested in science, medicine, and the arts. The book would be an impactful addition to STEM and STEAM lessons. It is highly recommended for home libraries and is a must for school and public library collections.
Ages 6 – 9
Sleeping Bear Press, 2021 | ISBN 978-1534111325
Discover more about Suzanne Slade and her books on her website.
To learn more about Elisa Paganelli, her books, and her art, visit her website.
Women’s History Month Activity
Take a Closer Look Coloring Page and Word Search
You can examine the parts of a microscope with this printable word search puzzle and coloring page.
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