STEM Tuesday – Diseases and Pandemics — Book List

From the first sneeze to the last wheeze, these books explore diseases and the scientists who study them.


All in a Drop: How Antony van Leeuwenhoek Discovered an Invisible World by Lori Alexander; illus by Vivien Mildenberger

When Antony van Leeuwenhoek read a book showing plants and insects as seen through a microscope, he decided to build his own. Antony is considered the “father of microbiology” and his work with microscopes laid the foundation for (100 years later) understanding that microscopic germs were responsible for disease.



Science Comics: Plagues: The Microscopic Battlefield by Falynn Koch

Imagine Jules Verne meets Miss Frizzle. In this book, a scientist uses interactive technology to communicate with bubonic plague and yellow fever germs. Readers learn how bacteria and viruses invade our bodies, elude our defenses, and how immunity works. There’s a good explanation of vaccinations and virus mutation (why we need a flu shot every year…).



Outbreak: Disease Detectives at Work by Mark P. Friedlander, Jr.

What happens when a strange new illness affects entire swaths of people all at once? You call on the “disease detectives” – epidemiologists – to investigate. In this book you’ll learn about the history of plagues, ancient and modern, as well as how epidemiologists study diseases such as Lyme disease, SARS, and AIDS. This book has already been updated twice; I predict in another couple years we’ll see a newer edition that includes Covid-19.


Outbreak! Plagues That Changed History by Bryn Barnard

Here’s an extensive evaluation of the causes and human reactions and interactions (from the 1300’s to the present) to bubonic plague, smallpox, yellow fever, cholera, tuberculosis, and the 1918 influenza pandemic. This book examines how these diseases changed societies and what it will ultimately take to eliminate cholera worldwide. It also looks at how wealth, bias, and prejudice continue to affect governmental reactions to microbial evolution.



Plagues, Pox, and Pestilence by Richard Platt, illus by John Kelly

In an ironic twist, a lab-coated rat, Professor Ratticus, and his cockroach and mosquito assistants lead the reader through a comprehensive look at diseases and epidemics. Comic-like illustrations (like war rooms mapping the spread of germs) and a browseable nonfiction format combine with entertaining graphics, facts, and history to provide a great overview of the world’s worst epidemics and illnesses.


Bubonic Plague & Yellow Fever


The Horror of the Bubonic Plague (Deadly History series) by Claire Throp

This book provides a concise overview of the history of bubonic plague from the Sixth century to present. Readers learn about causes and cures and some historical context. Some things will sound familiar: the use of quarantine and lockdowns, wearing masks and protective clothing, peddling fake cures, and suffering economic losses. It ends with mention of where plague still exists, but forgets to include the U.S.



The Plague (Deadliest Diseases of All Time) by Lawrence Andrews

Andrews provides a straightforward examination of the origin of the bubonic plague, methods of transmission, historic effect around the world, and its continued existence. He explains why the plague still affects 1,000 to 2,000 people a year, including within the U.S., and the race to limit its spread and find a way to eliminate the disease.



Bubonic Panic: When Plague Invaded America by Gail Jarrow

Written as a gripping medical “who-done-it,” this book introduces the ‘phantom killer” and explores the earliest plague pandemics through 1722. When this menace resurfaces in China, India, and Honolulu in the late 1890’s and then San Francisco in 1900, scientists scramble to identify the cause and find a cure, public health officials fight to finish it, and politicians hurry to hide it. This fascinating tale of how the plague settled into American and continues to infect a handful of people each year, includes a “frequently asked questions” section, timeline, and author’s note.


An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 by Jim Murphy

This book dramatically examines another “invisible stalker.” Using both first-hand witness and medical accounts, newspaper clippings, and contemporary images, it follows yellow fever’s arrival and spread throughout Philadelphia. Detailing the social, political, and medical conditions and struggles to combat this disease, this book examines the changes that the plague brought to modern medicine and the fear that it could reappear.


Typhoid Fever 


Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America, by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

This book is not for the squeamish – but if you don’t wash your hands after using the toilet and eat cookies that fell to the floor (5-second rule!) then you should be OK. Mary Mallon cooked for some of the wealthiest families in New York and was well- known for her hand-cranked ice cream topped with fresh fruit. Somehow, her families came down with typhoid fever. George Soper was the epidemic detective on the hunt to find the person making people sick. At the center of it all the question of civil rights and asymptomatic carriers.


Fatal Fever: Tracking Down Typhoid Mary, by Gail Jarrow

When typhoid fever breaks out in New York, medical detective George Soper traces the outbreak to Mary Mallon. His job: to prevent her from infecting others. But Mary refuses to comply with quarantine and other medical directives. After all, she isn’t sick. So she continues cooking and passing on the disease. Questions of personal freedom versus public health are once again relevant as we deliberate quarantines, lockdowns, and contact tracing.


Flu Pandemic


Influenza: How the Flu Changed History, by Barbara Krasner

In 1918, people didn’t know the exact cause of the flu. But they knew the germs spread through the air. Some families sealed up their windows, and public health officials ordered people to wear masks. From initial outbreak to development of a vaccine to future epidemics, this book provides a good overview of the flu.



The 1918 Flu Pandemic: Core Events of a Worldwide Outbreak (What Went Wrong?) by John Joseph Micklos Jr.

Tracking the spread and undulation of the three waves of the 1918 Flu, from March 1918 to June 1919, this book explores the potential causes, actions that facilitated its expansion (such as WWI, armistice celebrations, and soldier’s returns), and lack of a cure that resulted in over 40 million deaths worldwide. Published in 2016, one of the critical thinking questions at the end asks how well the world may be prepared for another flu pandemic.


Fever Year- The Killer Flu of 1918 : A Tragedy in Three Acts by Brown, Don

Presented in a graphic novel format, this book tracks the course of the 1918 flu from Camp Funston, Kansas around the world. Many images look eerily familiar – empty streets and masks. A very accessible examination of the politics and science involved in battling the spread and ultimate containment of this flu. Additionally, it comments on current scientist’s desire to discover why this flu was so deadly, by recreating it.



STEM Tuesday book list prepared by:


Sue Heavenrich writes about science for children and their families, from space to backyard ecology. A long line of ants marching across the kitchen counter inspired her first article for kids. When not writing, she’s committing acts of citizen science in the garden. She blogs about science for kids and families at



Maria Marshall is a children’s author, blogger, and poet passionate about making nature and reading fun for children. She’s been a judge for the Cybils Awards from 2017 to present. Her poems are published in The Best Of Today’s Little Ditty 2017-2018, 2016, and 2014-2015 anthologies. When not writing, critiquing, or reading, she bird watches, travels the world, bakes, and hikes. Visit her at


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