Epidemic, Pandemic, Plague, and Disease in Children’s Books

Invisible Enemies: Stories of Infectious Disease by Jeanette Farrell. This nonfiction book for young adults (272 pages) covers smallpox, leprosy, plague, tuberculosis, malaria, cholera, and AIDS.

Outbreak! Plagues That Changed Historyby Bryn Barnard. Another nonfiction treatment that relates historical changes to epidemic outbreaks, this book has chapters on plague, smallpox, yellow fever, cholera, tuberculosis, and influenza.

When Plague Strikes: The Black Death, Smallpox, AIDS by James Cross Giblin.

A House of Tailors by Patricia Reilly Giff. In 1870, 13 year old Dina emigrates from Germany to Brooklyn and finds herself in the midst of a smallpox epidemic.

Dr. Jenner and the Speckled Monster: The Discovery of the Smallpox Vaccine by Albert Marrin.

Blue by Joyce Moyer Hostetter. Anna Fay’s little brother Bobby falls victim to the polio pandemic in 1944 even as their father is fighting the Germans in Europe.

Close to Home: A Story of the Polio Epidemic by Lydia Weaver.

A Doctor Like Papa by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock. Eleven year old Margaret wants to be a doctor like her father when she grows up, her mother says that doctoring isn’t a job for girls.

Hero Over Here by Kathleen Kudlinski. Theodore’s father and brothers are heroes —fighting the enemy during World War I. Theo learns his own lesson about heroism when he must take care of his entire family, mother and sisters, during the deadly flu epidemic of 1918.

A Time of Angels by Karen Hesse. Hannah flees Boston to escape the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic, but she must battle both influenza and prejudice in Battleboro, Vermont where she makes a new life for herself.

Listening for Lions by Gloria Whelan. When Rachel’s missionary parents die in an influenza epidemic in 1919 in Kenya, she is sent by scheming neighbors to England to pose as their daughter for a rich grandfather who may leave his estate to his fake granddaughter if she can endear herself to him.

The Boy Who Saved Cleveland by James Cross Giblin. In 1798, Cleveland is just a small village, and when malaria strikes the families settled there, ten year old Seth is their only hope of survival.

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

Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson.

The French Physician’s Boy: A Story of Philadelphia’s 1793 Yellow Fever Epidemic by Ellen Norman Stern.

Graveyard Girl by Anna Myers. Grace is the Graveyard Girl who must toll the bell each day for all those who have died of yellow fever in Memphis, 1878, and her friend Eli must learn to move past his grief over the deaths of his mother and younger sister.

Bubonic Plague
A Parcel of Patterns by Jill Paton Walsh. A village is quarantined, no one allowed in or out, in seventeenth century England, when the plague infects the villagers by means of an innocent-looking parcel sent from London.

Master Cornhill by Eloise Jarvis McGraw. A 11 year old orphan boy survives in London during the Great Fire and the Black Plague.

Any more suggestions?

12 thoughts on “Epidemic, Pandemic, Plague, and Disease in Children’s Books

  1. Thanks for this list, Sherry. I don’t say that nearly enough! You do a wonderful job at collecting by theme and summarizing books. Keep it up!

  2. What a great list! Our favorite “polio” book is called Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio by Peg Kehret. My kids have read that over and over.

  3. You are a great help to a teacher-librarian with a book order to fill!

  4. Sherry, what about that book Years of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks? It has been on my TBR list for a while. Two of my kids were assigned it to read for a microbiology class as first year college students as an example of how the bubonic plague affects lifestyle.

  5. It’s not for younger kids – too graphic – but “Return to Laughter”, by Elenore Smith Bowen, is one of the best novels (based on a true accounts of smallpox in the 1950’s in Africa) I’ve ever read. A wonderful, funny, terrifying story of the power of disease, cultural differences, and redemptiom.

  6. Yes, Year of WOnders is good, but as with the book Sandy recommended, it’s for adults, I think. I read it last year or the year before, and although I didn’t write a review, I liked it.

  7. Small Steps is WONDERFUL! Also check out The Apprenticeship of Lucas Whitaker by Cynthia DeFelice which takes a look at the superstitions surrounding consumption (TB.)

  8. Thanks for including Blue in your list. My next book, Healing Water is about leprosy in Hawaii in mid 1800’s. Pub date is Spring ’08.

  9. Danielle

    Question: I’m looking for a book I read as a child…it involved a plague that killed anyone over age 12 and the children were all left to ‘run the world’…I don’t know the title or author or too many more details, except that the kids were using the family car to get around until they ran out of gas. Does anyone know this book? thanks for any info!

  10. Joel

    Wow, Danielle, I’ve been looking for this book for ages as well. I finally found it a week ago! It’s Empty World by John Christopher.

  11. Deven

    Oh my gosh Danielle, I’ve been looking for that same book as well. I also remember that one of the kids gets shot towards the end and the main charater is a girl.
    The book “Empty World” is different from the one we are looking for, I think (thank you for trying though Joel!)

  12. Deven

    Wow, I just found it, how odd.
    Its called “The Girl Who Owned a City” by O.T. Nelson

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