Books can help explain epidemics to kids

May 15, 2009|By CATHERINE HALL / Special to The Herald-Mail

You can't cough in public right now without strange looks from passersby. This just goes to show that even though swine flu hasn't reached our rural region, worries still abound.

And children are no exception. With unfamiliar words and concepts being used by adults - words like epidemic and pandemic - children might need help discerning fact from fiction regarding swine flu. Talking to kids about prevention without causing fear can be a tricky situation.

To help, the National Association of School Nurses has issued a resource document for parents to help them share information about swine flu with their children. You can find the document on the Web at or google "NASN and swine flu."

If you need further help talking to your children about epidemics, pandemics or the prevention of disease, or if you just want a good story to quench your child's curious mind, the library can help. Stop by the Children's Department, and we'll find the right resource for you and your child.


Below are some books you may want to consider sharing with your children.

Young children will appreciate the following books about the flu and epidemics:

"Farm Flu" by Teresa Bateman

When the farm animals seem to catch the flu one after another, a young boy does his best to take care of them.

"I Know How to Fight Germs" by Kate Rowan

Sam and his mother talk about germs, viruses and bacteria, including how the body fights harmful germs and uses germs that are helpful.

"How Do Dinosaurs Get Well Soon?" by Jane Yolen

Describes what a young dinosaur should do in order to quickly get over being sick.

"Marven of the Great North Woods" by Kathryn Lasky

When his parents send him to a Minnesota logging camp to escape the influenza epidemic of 1918, 10-year-old Marven finds a special friend.

Here are some novels for independent readers who want to know about life for children during an epidemic:

""Running Out of Time" by Margaret Peterson Haddix

When a diphtheria epidemic hits her 1840 village, 13-year-old Jessie discovers her village is actually an experiment under unseen observation by tourists and scientists from 1995.

"The Boy Who Saved Cleveland" by James Giblin

During a malaria epidemic in late 18th-century Cleveland, Ohio, 10-year-old Seth Doan surprises his family, his neighbors and himself by having the strength to carry and grind enough corn to feed everyone. Based on a true story.

"Last Child" by Michael Spooner

Caught between the worlds of the her Scottish father and her American Indian mother in what is now North Dakota, Rosalie fights to survive both the 1837 smallpox epidemic and the actions of a vengeful trader.

"Fever, 1793" by Laurie Halse Anderson

In 1793 Philadelphia, 16-year-old Matilda Cook, separated from her sick mother, learns about perseverance and self-reliance when she is forced to cope with the horrors of a yellow fever epidemic.

"A Doctor Like Papa" by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock

Margaret holds tight to her dream of becoming a doctor just like her papa - a career that is no easy feat for a girl in early 20th-century Vermont. When a terrible virus breaks out, it's suddenly up to her to make the right choice.

These fact-filled books might help older children grasp the concepts of epidemic and pandemic:

"Deadly Invaders" by Denise Grady

This book looks at the 2005 epidemic in Angola caused by Marburg, a virus related to Ebola. The book also discusses health care in the developing world and describes the origins and spread of other infectious diseases.

"An American Plague: the true and terrifying story of the yellow fever epidemic of 1793" by Jim Murphy

It's 1793, and there's an invisible killer roaming the streets of Philadelphia. The city's residents are fleeing in fear. This killer has a name - yellow fever - but everything else about it is a mystery.

"Epidemics and Plagues" by Richard Walker

Plagues have been an ongoing feature of human history, and this addition to the award-winning KFK series places today's heightened interest in global health issues in a larger historical context.

Catherine Hall is children's librarian with the Washington County Free Library.

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