STEM Friday

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Books

STEM Friday: Plagues, pox and pestilence


The Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize is the UK’s only award solely for books about science for children and young people. The books which have made this year’s shortlist are:

5 of the shortlisted books for the Royal Society Young People’s Book Award

The winner will be announced on 15 November 2012.

I’ve started reviewing them all (my review of the Usborne book, my review of the Dawkins book), and today it’s the turn of the most stomach churning one of the lot – Plagues, pox and pestilence by Richard Platt, illustrated by John Kelly.

Warning: If you’re of a nervous or squeamish disposition, you may wish to look away now.


Ok. I did warn you!

Ebola, HIV, the Black Death, Leprosy, Malaria, Tuberculosis – you want a grim, deadly disease? This book has them by the bucketful. Hand wipes or a sick bowl? Unfortunately not, but don’t let this stop you picking up Plagues, pox and pestilence for it presents a truly fascinating history of some of the world’s most horrible diseases, what causes them and what we can do to stop the spread of them.

Readers are invited into the Pox Lab where Dr Scratch (a flea), Professor Ratticus (a rat) and Lab assistant Mozzy (a mosquito) guide us through a richly and entertainingly illustrated discussion of germs and how germs work and spread, introducing us to different protists, bacteria and viruses. Lots of case studies follow, each describing a certain disease, its known history and the scientists involved in the discovery of its causes, preventions and cures (where they exist). The irony of having three of the biggest spreaders of disease teach us about germs is just one of the fun aspects of this book which keeps it utterly readable, despite any stomach flips you may experience as you turn the pages.

Along the way you’ll learn why we don’t all die when there’s a pandemic, how flying corpses were used as germ warfare in the the 14th century, the benefits of catching tuberculosis (let’s just say, in a funny twist of fate, you won’t need to worry about catching leprosy) and what may have been behind the behaviour of the “witches” of Salem, Massachusetts in the 17th century.

This is a fascinating and fabulous book. The topic is utterly engaging in a slightly terrifying way, and whilst the book will score highly with readers who like a little bit of “grossness”, author Platt never veers into gratuity or scaremongering. It’s a stylish looking book, brilliantly designed and produced – it couldn’t look less like a textbook, packed as it is with amusing and detailed full-page cartoon images (supplemented with several photos). The book has been produced in association with London’s Science Museum, and the use throughout of Common Era dates, and the inclusion of a glossary and index all add up to create a very well thought-out, serious contender for the Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize.

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7 thoughts on “STEM Friday: Plagues, pox and pestilence

  1. Zoe, this book looks delightfully disgusting. There’s great science involved in this. At NC Teacher Stuff, I have posted a review of an iPad book, Alligator at Saw Grass Road:

  2. At Booktalking I’m reading How to Be an Ace Bike Mechanic

  3. Zoe, I loved this book and blogged on it in another post. Today at SimplyScience I have Scorpions by Sandra Markle.

  4. Pingback: Scorpions « SimplyScience Blog

  5. That book looks amazing! I have to check it out!
    My blog post today is to remember Sally Ride, the first American woman in space.

  6. Thanks for hosting today. It’s good to see the Royal Society’s picks.

    I have a Basher Science book that was released last month, Technology: A Byte-Size World