The best books about diseases

5 authors have picked their favorite books about diseases and why they recommend each book.

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Ani's Light

By Tanu Shree Singh, Sandhya Prabhat (illustrator),

Book cover of Ani's Light

Ani’s Light by Tanu Shree Singh with art by Sandhya Prabhat is about the depression and sadness when Mom is gone to the hospital for chemotherapy. This gentle picture book shows the reader that often fear makes us want to “hide” and find someplace safe.  But little by little the reader sees the importance of reaching out to others and slowly facing and talking about the fears that hurt one’s heart. 

Ani's Light

By Tanu Shree Singh, Sandhya Prabhat (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Ani's Light as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Ani's stuck in a dark cloud. His friends and family try to brighten his mood, but nothing helps. When his mother finally comes home, missing her hair, Ani's light gets brighter and brighter, chasing away his dark cloud. The unconditional love between Ani and his mother shines through as the two enjoy their precious time together, whether it's forever, or just for now. Includes a Note to Parents and Caregivers explaining ways to help a child cope.

This sensitive, hopeful story will help kids explore their sadness when a close family member is undergoing medical treatment, while highlighting sources of…

Who am I?

I believe stories help heal our hearts and give us “new eyes” to see ourselves and others. I write to celebrate the courage shown by children as they meet challenges, perhaps the loss of a parent or a friend, the sting of rejection because of being “different.” Stories show us how others face fear or failure. Stories help us celebrate who we are. As a child psychologist, I worked with families and educators on the Pacific island of Saipan to develop programs for students with disabilities so all children could continue their education. My books have been given a variety of awards but the best reward is when a child reading one of my books, smiles, and says, “I am in this book.”


I wrote...

I Will Dance

By Nancy Bo Flood, Julianna Swaney (illustrator),

Book cover of I Will Dance

What is my book about?

Eva longs to dance. But unlike many young people, Eva is in a wheelchair. She has Cerebral Palsy (CP). She doesn’t know what dance looks like for someone who uses a wheelchair but Eva is determined to dance, not alone, not pretend, not imagine. In this picture book we follow Eva’s journey from her first tentative decision to try to audition for an all-abilities dance company to the scary moment of actually “rolling into” the studio, and eventually to becoming a true part of a dance community, a dancer! 

Rules for Stealing Stars

By Corey Ann Haydu,

Book cover of Rules for Stealing Stars

Haydu’s voice in Rules for Stealing Stars feels incredibly authentic to the middle-grade age group. The main character, Silly, walks a fine line between being childish enough to believe in magic, and old enough to begin to question her deeply dysfunctional family situation. Silly’s honest, first-person narrative beautifully expresses both the wonder of the escapist worlds to which she travels, as well as the trauma of living in a dysfunctional household. Haydu expertly weaves together this child-like voice and fantastical story with underlying themes of trauma and dysfunction to create a whimsical, yet meaningful story.

Rules for Stealing Stars

By Corey Ann Haydu,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Rules for Stealing Stars as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the tradition of Sharon Creech and Wendy Mass, Corey Ann Haydu's sparkling middle grade debut is a sister story with a twist of magic, a swirl of darkness, and a whole lot of hope. Silly is used to feeling left out. Her three older sisters think she's too little for most things-especially when it comes to dealing with their mother's unpredictable moods and outbursts. This summer, Silly feels more alone than ever when her sisters keep whispering and sneaking away to their rooms together, returning with signs that something mysterious is afoot: sporting sunburned cheeks smudged with glitter and…

Who am I?

I am a middle-grade author and hold a Master of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults. As an artist of multiple disciplines, I have always been fascinated by the tiny details in the world around me and the ways I can connect those details to how I understand myself, my experiences, and the human experience. Some may find such interests odd, eccentric, “whimsical,” perhaps, but I believe these fascinations inspire the most unique stories—stories that can only be told by the artist who is noticing, connecting, reflecting, creating. When I’m not writing, I enjoy teaching art and dance to elementary students.


I wrote...

The Serendipity of Flightless Things

By Fiadhnait Moser,

Book cover of The Serendipity of Flightless Things

What is my book about?

Amidst the 1971 Troubles in Ireland, twelve-year-old Finn lives in a world of her own, weaving fairytales and waiting for her father to return from war. While her storyteller grandmother, Nuala, revels in the safety of their quiet village life, Finn craves adventure. When Nuala passes away, Finn is shipped off to an American town to live with her long-lost mother. When strange things start happening, Finn tries to ignore the feeling that something isn't right, but she begins to notice that her surroundings have an uncanny resemblance to her grandmother’s famous folktale, The Children of Lir, where a scorned mother turns her children into swans. But Finn stopped believing in those stories long ago...could they actually be true?

Some Other Now

By Sarah Everett,

Book cover of Some Other Now

This story’s protagonist, Jessi, remains one of my favorite YA protagonists; she’s the sort of girl I would’ve loved being friends with as a teenager. And the Cohen boys… it’s no wonder Jessi is so enamored with them both! A poignant narrative centering around unimaginable tragedy, Some Other Now combines two of my favorite romance tropes: the boy next door and the love triangle. It’s a story about best friends, broken families, and love in all its fiercest forms, written with thoughtfulness and lyricism.

Some Other Now

By Sarah Everett,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Some Other Now as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Before she kissed one of the Cohen boys, seventeen-year-old Jessi Rumfield knew what it was like to have a family - even if, technically, that family didn't belong to her. She'd spent her childhood in the house next door, challenging Rowan Cohen to tennis matches while his older brother, Luke, studied in the background and Mel watched over the three like the mother Jessi always wished she had.

But then everything changed. It's been almost a year since Jessi last visited the Cohen house. Rowan is gone. Mel is in remission and Luke hates Jessi for the role she played…

Who am I?

I’ve been reading YA since I was a young adult myself, and I’ve always favored stories with a strong romantic angle. As a kid, I loved The Baby-Sitters Club’s starry-eyed Stacey and Sweet Valley High’s boy-crazy Jessica; as an adult, I flock to the romance section of bookstores and libraries. When the urge to try my hand at writing struck, I drafted young adult romances without even considering other categories or genres. I will always choose a meet-cute, witty banter, and sizzling chemistry over fast-paced action, clever twists, and high-concepts plots. When it comes to reading and writing, I love love! 


I wrote...

Kissing Max Holden

By Katy Upperman,

Book cover of Kissing Max Holden

What is my book about?

After his father’s life-altering stroke, Max isn't himself; his long-time friend Jillian doesn’t know how to help. When Max climbs through her window one night, Jill knows she should send him away, but when he leans in for a kiss, she can’t resist. Caught in the act by her dad, Jill swears it'll never happen again. 

But with her parents fighting constantly and her dream of culinary school up in the air, Jill starts spending a lot of time with bad-boy Max. And though he has a girlfriend and her dad disapproves, not kissing Max is easier said than done. Will Jill follow her heart and let their friendship blossom into more, or will she stop kissing Max Holden once and for all?

Book cover of When You Trap a Tiger

This was a touching book about a mixed Korean girl who tries to help her sick grandmother, Halmoni, get better through the power of stories. With a bit of magical realism and Korean folklore brought to life, Lily finds her own voice (so she is no longer what she describes as a “QAG – quiet Asian girl”) and begins to understand her own ancestry. Like Lily, I found a connection to my heritage via stories and folklore.

When You Trap a Tiger

By Tae Keller,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked When You Trap a Tiger as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE NEWBERY MEDAL • NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
WINNER OF THE ASIAN/PACIFIC AMERICAN AWARD FOR CHILDREN'S LITERATURE
 
Would you make a deal with a magical tiger? This uplifting story brings Korean folklore to life as a girl goes on a quest to unlock the power of stories and save her grandmother.

Some stories refuse to stay bottled up...

When Lily and her family move in with her sick grandmother, a magical tiger straight out of her halmoni's Korean folktales arrives, prompting Lily to unravel a secret family history. Long, long ago, Halmoni stole something from the tigers. Now…

Who am I?

I grew up in Ottawa, Canada, a child of immigrant parents, and I’ve always been curious about other cultures and far-off places. Moving to Hong Kong gave me the chance to explore my Chinese cultural roots and learn the language. I spent 14 very happy years in Hong Kong and my experiences there were the inspiration for my middle-grade debut, The Not-So-Uniform Life of Holly-Mei. Like the character Holly-Mei, I love dumplings, bubble tea, and field hockey. The books I chose are ones that reflect my experience of being born and raised in a new world.


I wrote...

The Not-So-Uniform Life of Holly-Mei

By Christina Matula,

Book cover of The Not-So-Uniform Life of Holly-Mei

What is my book about?

Holly-Mei Jones couldn’t be more excited about moving to Hong Kong for her mother’s new job. Her new school is right on the beach and her family’s apartment is beyond beautiful. Everything is going to be perfect... right?

Maybe not. It feels like everywhere she turns, there are new rules to follow and expectations to meet. On top of that, the most popular girl in her grade is quickly becoming a frenemy. And without the guidance of her loving Taiwanese grandmother, Ah-ma, who stayed behind in Toronto, Holly-Mei just can’t seem to get it right. It will take all of Holly-Mei’s determination and sparkle (and maybe even a tiny bit of stubbornness) to get through seventh grade and turn her life in Hong Kong into the ultimate adventure!

Snowflake, AZ

By Marcus Sedgwick,

Book cover of Snowflake, AZ

A totally distinctive coming-of-age novel, set in a desert community where people with environmental illnesses are forced to live, far away from the everyday chemicals and wireless gadgets which make them sick. The author gets so much right about the emotional fallout of this falling away from the normal: the ache that never quite goes for the old life that has been lost; the new bonds that form between disparate characters finding themselves in the same boat; the corrosive extra layer of societal contempt and disbelief (“of course it’s all in the mind…”). which makes these already devastating illnesses even harder to bear - and the lurking temptation of suicide. I gasped with recognition on almost every page. It’s a YA novel, but who cares?

Snowflake, AZ

By Marcus Sedgwick,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Snowflake, AZ as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Ash boards a Greyhound bus heading to the place where Bly was last seen: Snowflake, Arizona. Six thousand feet up in the wide red desert, Ash meets Mona, her dog, her goat, and her neighbors, and finds stepbrother Bly, too.

In their ramshackle homes, the walls lined with tinfoil, almost all the residents of Snowflake are sick. But this isn't any ordinary sickness: the chemicals and technologies of modern life are poisoning them. They call themselves canaries, living warning signs that humans have pushed the environment too far, except no one seems to be taking their warnings seriously. The healthy…


Who am I?

I used to be part of the establishment, working in Whitehall for the UK government. Then I became the ultimate outsider, with light sensitivity so extreme that many people dismissed it as “all in my head.” Years on, turns out I've had a physical illness all along – but one only recently recognised. Now I know what I’m dealing with (Mast Cell Activation Syndrome), I’m much better.  My journey’s made me fascinated by the way establishments of all kinds – corporate, political, scientific – react to new uncomfortable truths, and how often they’ll opt for gaslighting and "psychological" labels to keep those truths at bay.  


I wrote...

Girl in the Dark: A Memoir of a Life Without Light

By Anna Lyndsey,

Book cover of Girl in the Dark: A Memoir of a Life Without Light

What is my book about?

I was in my early thirties when my skin gradually became excruciatingly sensitive to light. The condition grew so extreme that I had to spend most of my time in a totally blacked-out room. I tried everything to get out of the dark: doctor after doctor, hypnotherapy, weird diets, internet pills. Lying in darkness, my skin on fire, I often planned my suicide.

My book is about how - somehow - I survived. The love and humour of my partner and my family. The talking books which took me to different worlds. And, during brief periods of improvement when I could venture out (like Dracula) at dusk and dawn, the overwhelming, breathtaking beauty of our own.

What Happens at Night

By Peter Cameron,

Book cover of What Happens at Night

Anyone who reads one Peter Cameron book will read them all. In his latest novel, a married couple ends up at a grand hotel in a strange European country of fading glory, amid guests who are both eccentric and troubling. At times it’s hard to know whether what is happening is really happening; at times it’s all too acid and real. I hesitate to call this book a comedy, because it’s unsettling. But it’s also magical and memorable, and you won’t want to check out and depart its pages.

What Happens at Night

By Peter Cameron,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked What Happens at Night as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A couple find themselves at a fading, grand European hotel full of eccentric and sometimes unsettling patrons in this "faultlessly elegant and quietly menacing" allegorical story that examines the significance of shifting desires and the uncertainty of reality (Garth Greenwell, author of Cleanness).

An unnamed American couple travels to a strange, snowy European city to adopt a baby. It’s a difficult journey that leaves the wife, who is struggling with cancer, desperately weak, and her husband worries that her illness will prevent the orphanage from releasing their child.

On arrival, the couple checks into the cavernous and eerily deserted Borgarfjaroasysla…

Who am I?

As much as I enjoy traveling to real places in fiction, I find that authors who ask me to inhabit a world of their own making make me think more deeply, and these are also the novels I dream about when I’m not actually reading them, the pages I cannot wait to return to when I can pick up the book again. By exiting the world we inhabit, and occupying a world very much like our own, I end up reflecting more thoughtfully about the contemporary moment, and in a way, feel more connected. I tried to create such a world in The Stranger Game, and this is something I hope to do again in a future novel.


I wrote...

The Stranger Game

By Peter Gadol,

Book cover of The Stranger Game

What is my book about?

Rebecca’s on-again, off-again boyfriend, Ezra, has gone missing, but when she notifies the police, they seem surprisingly unconcerned. They suspect he has been playing the “stranger game,” a viral hit in which players start following others in real life, as they might otherwise do on social media. As the game spreads, however, the rules begin to change, play grows more intense and disappearances are reported across the country. Curious about this popular new obsession, and hoping that she might be able to track down Ezra, Rebecca tries the game for herself. She also meets Carey, someone who is willing to take the game further than she imagined possible.

A thought-provoking, haunting novel, The Stranger Game unearths the connections, both imagined and real, that we build with the people around us in the physical and digital world, and where the boundaries blur between them.

Ida B

By Katherine Hannigan,

Book cover of Ida B: And Her Plans to Maximize Fun, Avoid Disaster, and (Possibly) Save the World

Ida B is one of the first books with a homeschooler that I loved (and I’m pretty sure I cried a lot). Ida B loved being homeschooled and is so upset about being sent to public school that she wears black and sits in the corner refusing to participate. I might have done the same thing if my parents put me in public school! But I love her public school teacher. She cares about Ida B so much.

Ultimately, Ida B isn’t about school, though; it’s about Ida B’s growth and her relationships. That’s what makes it a good book. Like my character Hannah, Ida B has a vivid imagination and fights change in her life. I loved this book.

Ida B

By Katherine Hannigan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Ida B as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Poignant tale of a 9-year-old girl's emotional journey after her idyllic life is shattered by her mother's illness.

Ida B's life is perfect: she is home-schooled by loving parents on a beautiful farm with its own orchard, creek and mountain (well, a pile of earth too tall to be called a hill). Left to her own devices in this rural haven, she talks to the trees in the orchard and sends miniature rafts down the creek, to which she attaches notes like "What is life like in Canada? Please respond". But the idyll is shattered when Ida B's mother develops…


Who am I?

I was homeschooled from the beginning until I graduated from high school, and I’m now homeschooling my family. I also teach writing and English to kids from around the world, many of whom are homeschooled. As a kid, I loved fantasy and adventure stories, but I didn’t really like realistic stories because I wasn’t familiar with things like homeroom or class periods. I have loved finding books with characters who are homeschooled, especially if homeschooling is portrayed accurately. I also love stories about relationships, so stories with strong family ties and deep friendships are meaningful to me. I hope that both homeschoolers and other schoolers can enjoy these book picks!


I wrote...

Best Friends Playbook

By A.W. Downer,

Book cover of Best Friends Playbook

What is my book about?

What do touchdowns and tea parties have in common? Absolutely nothing.

Eleven-year-old football superfan, Hannah Taylor, has watched her friends leave the homeschool group one by one. It was okay, at first, because she always had Beth, her best, best friend. They were a team for science experiments, for co-op classes, and on the football field. But just as they’re starting sixth grade, Beth’s parents put her in private school. Now Hannah is the only middle schooler left in the homeschool group. She’d better come up with a new play fast. The only kids even remotely close to her age don’t like football, and they don’t play sports. They play princess. And they want Hannah to join their team.

Natural History of Infectious Disease

By Macfarlane Burnet, David O. White,

Book cover of Natural History of Infectious Disease

This provides the reader with the background to understand what happens when a pathogen invades both an individual and a society. It’s an absolutely brilliant book by a Nobel laureate scientist, one of my all-time favorites on any subject.

Natural History of Infectious Disease

By Macfarlane Burnet, David O. White,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Natural History of Infectious Disease as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Provides a biological inquiry into the causes and spread of infectious disease and its impact on human survival

Who am I?

John M. Barry was the only non-scientist ever to give the National Academies of Sciences Abel Wolman Distinguished Lecture, and he advised the Bush and Obama White Houses on pandemic preparedness and response. He is an award-winning and #1 New York Times best-selling author whose books have also involved him in policy making. The National Academies of Science named The Great Influenza the year’s outstanding book on science or medicine.


I wrote...

Book cover of The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History

What is my book about?

“Barry will teach you almost everything you need to know about one of the deadliest outbreaks in human history.” -Bill Gates

At the height of World War I, history’s most lethal influenza virus erupted in an army camp in Kansas, moved east with American troops, then exploded, killing as many as 100 million people worldwide. It killed more people in twenty-four months than AIDS killed in twenty-four years, more in a year than the Black Death killed in a century. But this was not the Middle Ages, and 1918 marked the first collision of science and epidemic disease.

And the Band Played on

By Randy Shilts,

Book cover of And the Band Played on: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic

This book characterizes the discovery and spread HIV and AIDS. Shits an investigative journalist provides an extensive look into the disease itself, the politics and politicians battling to control or ignoring the disease. Also discussed are the events that shaped the pandemic leading to its expansion or its control. 

And the Band Played on

By Randy Shilts,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked And the Band Played on as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Upon its first publication more than twenty years ago, And the Band Played on was quickly recognized as a masterpiece of investigative reporting.

An international bestseller, a nominee for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and made into a critically acclaimed movie, Shilts' expose revealed why AIDS was allowed to spread unchecked during the early 80's while the most trusted institutions ignored or denied the threat. One of the few true modern classics, it changed and framed how AIDS was discussed in the following years. Now republished in a special 20th Anniversary edition, And the Band Played On remains one…


Who am I?

Michael B.A. Oldstone was head of the Viral-Immunobiology Laboratory at The Scripps Research Institute, devoting his career to understanding viruses, the diseases they cause, and the host’s immune response to control these infections. His work led to numerous national and international awards, election to the National Academy of Science and the National Academy of Medicine. Oldstone served on the SAGE executive board of the World Health Organization and as a WHO consultant for the eradication of polio and measles.


I wrote...

Viruses, Plagues, and History: Past, Present, and Future

By Michael B.A. Oldstone,

Book cover of Viruses, Plagues, and History: Past, Present, and Future

What is my book about?

More people were killed by smallpox during the twentieth century--over 300 million--than by all of the wars of that period combined. In 1918 and 1919, the influenza virus claimed over 50 million lives. A century later, influenza is poised to return, ongoing plagues of HIV/AIDS, COVID, and hepatitis infect millions, and Ebola, Zika, and West Nile viruses cause new concern and panic.

The overlapping histories of humans and viruses are ancient. Earliest cities became both the cradle of civilization and breeding grounds for the first viral epidemics. Michael Oldstone explains the principles of viruses and epidemics while recounting stories of viruses and their impact on human history. This fully updated second edition includes new chapters on hepatitis, Zika, and contemporary threats such as the impact of fear of autism on vaccination efforts.

Invincible Microbe

By Jim Murphy, Alison Blank,

Book cover of Invincible Microbe: Tuberculosis and the Never-Ending Search for a Cure

This nonfiction book on tuberculosis, published the same year as my book, begins with the discovery of a skull marked by the scars of tuberculosis. Turns out it belonged to a young man who died over 500,000 years ago from the disease. The authors trace the devastating effects of tuberculosis to modern day when our drugs can no longer fully guarantee treatment. This book tells a fascinating, yet worrisome, story about a most dreaded disease.

Invincible Microbe

By Jim Murphy, Alison Blank,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Invincible Microbe as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Who knew the biography of a germ could be so fascinating?”—Kirkus (starred review)

This is the story of a killer that has been striking people down for thousands of years: tuberculosis. After centuries of ineffective treatments, the microorganism that causes TB was identified and the cure was thought to be within reach—but drug-resistant varieties continue to plague and panic the human race.

The "biography" of this deadly germ and the social history of an illness that could strike anywhere are woven together in an engrossing, carefully researched narrative. Includes a bibliography, source notes, and index.

This medical detective story is…


Who am I?

I am an author fortunate to be alive because of emergency medical treatments I received as an infant, treatments not available to one of my older sisters who died as a result. That I grew up in Rochester Minnesota—home to the world-famous Mayo Clinic where my father worked as a pediatric endocrinologist—also may have increased my awareness of how illness and its medical treatments can affect a young person’s life. 


I wrote...

Breathing Room

By Marsha Hayles,

Book cover of Breathing Room

What is my book about?

In Breathing Room, twelve-year-old Evelyn Hoffmeister must leave her twin brother and parents to seek treatment for tuberculosis at a Minnesota sanatorium in 1940. Evelyn struggles to adapt to the sanatorium’s many rules— “Trying to stay alive at Loon Lake felt like it was killing me already”—but in time she forges new friendships as she faces life and death challenges.

When I wrote Breathing Room, the idea of people isolating themselves and wearing masks for fear of contracting a contagious disease seemed remote. And then Covid arrived. My readers can now understand firsthand many of the fears and frustrations of my characters. Kirkus Reviews called Breathing Room, “A quiet, sober story of a genuine heroine who survives a devastating disease with grace.”

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