This biographical narrative of Dr. Jonas Salk, written by Linda Elovitz Marshall and illustrated by Lisa Anchin, was a delight to get on my doorstep; even after I ordered it, several colleagues recommended it as a must-read. The story of THE POLIO PIONEER is approachable and engaging, letting kids see themselves in the character of young Jonas dreaming of helping to make the world a better place. And without even mentioning the current pandemic, the book gives children a look at a moment in history that affected families in a similar way: with worry, isolation, and uncertainty. It gives kids an idea of the thought and research that goes into a vaccine, and empowers them to be a part of such a solution.
The author establishes Salk’s Judaism in a way that feeds his experiences and drive as a kid and his development into the scientist he became. She uses the context of his life to introduce the idea of European Jews in exile like his family, the barriers to higher education that Jews faced, and the role prayer played in his childhood.
The illustrations, extra content, and end papers tell the story perfectly as well. Anchin, for example, uses imagery of children in isolation that mirror kids’ current experiences and draw them further into the story. The sparsity and feel of the language paired with the illustration and layout creates a story that is appealing to kids who are usually drawn to fiction, and a picture book that belongs in every library.