March 24 – It’s Women’s History Month

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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.”

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Image copyright Elisa Paganelli, 2021, text copyright Suzanne Slade, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

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.

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Image copyright Elisa Paganelli, 2021, text copyright Suzanne Slade, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

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.

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Image copyright Elisa Paganelli, 2021, text copyright Suzanne Slade, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

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.

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Image copyright Elisa Paganelli, 2021, text copyright Suzanne Slade, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

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

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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.

Take a Closer Look Word Search Puzzle | Take a Closer Look Word Search Solution | Coloring Page

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You can find June Almeida, Virus Detective! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

February 11 – Celebrating International Day of Women and Girls in Science with the Book Trailer Reveal for June Almeida, Virus Detective!

About the Holiday

Gender equality has always been a core issue for the United Nations. As such, on December 22, 2015 the United Nations General Assembly established an International Day to recognize the critical role women and girls play in science and technology. The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has clearly demonstrated the critical role of women researchers in different stages of the fight against COVID-19, from advancing the knowledge on the virus, to developing techniques for testing, and finally to creating the vaccine against the virus.

Against this backdrop, this year’s celebration of the Day will address the themeWomen Scientists at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19” and will gather together experts working in fields related to the pandemic from different parts of the world. For more information, visit the UN website.

That this year’s International Day of Women and Girls in Science celebrates women researchers, and especially those involved in COVID-19, makes it all the more exciting to reveal the trailer for a book highlighting the achievements of the pioneer in the field.

June Almeida, Virus Detective! The Woman Who Discovered the First Human Coronavirus 

Written by Suzanne Slade | Illustrated by Elisa Paganelli

 

With the rise of the global COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and its life-changing effects for everyone around the world, scientists, adults, and children began looking for information and answers on how we can defeat the virus so that life can return to normal. In June Almeida, Virus Detective! The Woman Who Discovered the First Human Coronavirus, readers learn the incredible story of the scientist who discovered, photographed, and even named the first human coronavirus.

Growing up in Glasgow, Scotland, June Almeida loved learning about science and nature. A good student, she was especially interested in biology and won the top science prize at her school. Creative and observant, June noticed details that others often missed. She dreamed of going to college but economic hardships caused her to leave school at age 16. Still, June was determined to pursue her passion for science. She was hired by a local hospital to work in its lab, using a microscope to magnify and examine cells. Her work helped doctors treat patients. June later worked in labs in London and in Toronto. Her skill in using the electron microscope to examine cells and help identify viruses earned her promotions and respect in the science community. In the late 1960s, when June was 34 years old, she discovered the first human coronavirus. Her groundbreaking work continues to help researchers today in the fight against illnesses caused by viruses, including COVID-19.

While researching and writing June Almeida, Virus Detective!, award-winning science author Suzanne Slade worked closely with June’s daughter, Joyce, to capture the personality and intelligence of this unsung hero in the fight against the coronavirus. Backmatter includes photographs of June working with various microscopes, more about her career, and a timeline.

Ages 6 – 9

Sleeping Bear Press, 2021 | ISBN 978-1534111325

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Suzanne Slade holds a B.S. degree in science and worked for many years in a STEM career. She is now the award-winning author of more than 100 books, including Out of School and Into Nature: The Anna Comstock Story. She lives in Libertyville, Illinois. Learn more about Suzanne at suzanneslade.com.

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Elisa Paganelli’s work includes The Highland Falcon Thief, named a Waterstones Book of the Month. She lives in High Wycombe, United Kingdom. Learn more about Elisa at elisapaganelli.com

June Almeida, Virus Detective! is available March 15, 2021

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You can preorder June Almeida, Virus Detective! at these booksellers

Anderson’s Bookshops | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million 

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review