The best books about Polio

3 authors have picked their favorite books about Polio and why they recommend each book.

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By David M. Oshinsky,

Book cover of Polio: An American Story

In a clear presentation, Oshinsky’s presents the gripping history of the conquest of poliomyelitis. The new and advanced role of the media’s impact and widespread community participation is detailed as is the terror of polio, efforts to understand the virus, and the disease it caused. The intense and competitive effort to find a cure adds to the story. Lastly, this book describes how the polio experience led to the establishment of government oversight for new drugs.

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.

Small Steps

By Peg Kehret,

Book cover of Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio

Peg Kehret brings humor and a genuine can-do attitude to her memoir about being struck by polio when she was twelve years old, leaving her paralyzed in both her arms and legs. The story of her fight to recover and to walk again is enriched by her friendship with fellow patients, the generous love of her family, and the care of a determined nurse. Peg is neither saint nor grouch—just someone you like as much as you admire. This is a feel-good book about a feel-bad topic. 

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.”

The Remember Box

By Patricia Sprinkle,

Book cover of The Remember Box

I laughed out loud reading The Remember Box. Though the story is serious, Sprinkle captured the concerns and problem-solving that 11-year-old girls have in a time in history, 1949, when life in the South was confusing for those families who took a stand against prejudice.

The author sprinkles Carley’s sense of humor throughout the novel, such as describing an imaginary friend her young neighbor has. You grow to love and understand Carley.

That Carley’s Uncle Stephen is a minister, and the novel describes the difficulties of applying God’s word to real-life issues, makes the book even better. As Carley deals with the loss of her mother to polio, she must decide if she wants to embrace her uncle’s Christian faith or reject it.

Who am I?

I am a Bible college graduate whose faith has always been a practical matter. Because I learned to find the “so what” of the Bible, when I became a teacher of the Bible in the public schools of Rowan County, North Carolina, my elective courses had waiting lists for students to get in to. As I now teach in Maine, I found I could continue to share a practical Christian faith through my writing. The books I have listed here do the very thing that I seek in my own writing.

I wrote...

The Bottle House

By Susan Grant,

Book cover of The Bottle House

What is my book about?

Stefan Krause, a personal injury lawyer, spirals downward in the wake of losing both his wife to cancer and a critical court case. Stacy Meadows, a behavioral healthcare nurse, discovers her husband in an affair with her best friend Aubree. The board members at the Christian school where Debbie Young teaches confront her about her negative attitude. They stipulate they will only offer her a continuing teacher contract if she agrees to Christian counseling and treatment.

Driven to Bethany R & L Behavioral Healthcare Center, these three wounded individuals seek healing. Can Chaplain Joseph Miller and his mysterious collection of bottles aid in their recovery and help them find what they need from the Great Physician?

War and Millie McGonigle

By Karen Cushman,

Book cover of War and Millie McGonigle

Even though I lived across the country from San Diego where this story takes place, and even though I was several years younger than Millie McGonigle, the picture of home front USA during WW2 is familiar in many ways. Soldiers and sailors filled the streets of Chicago, and kids scanned the sky for “enemy planes.” There was the fear of polio, the struggles with rationing, and the shortage of bubble gum. 

This story is filled with humor and memorable characters. But most memorable of all is Millie, who tries to deal with the death of a grandmother and her worries about the war getting closer to home. And even though she’s obsessed with drawing in her Book of Dead Things, she comes to understand what her grandmother had told her when she said, “Whatever is lost stays alive if you remember it.”

Who am I?

I grew up on Chicago’s home front during WW2. President Roosevelt wanted everyone—adults and children—to do their part for the war effort. So we neighborhood kids formed a Victory club, where we marched around singing, “Let’s Remember Pearl Harbor,” and other patriotic songs. And though we had fun, we understood the meaning of the gold stars in the windows, and knew that terrible things were happening on the other side of the world. There are so many wonderful books set during this time period, and I can never read enough of them. These books, along with my memories, are what inspire me to write historical fiction of my own.

I wrote...

My Chocolate Year: A Novel with 12 Recipes

By Charlotte Herman, LeUyen Pham (illustrator),

Book cover of My Chocolate Year: A Novel with 12 Recipes

What is my book about?

It’s 1945, Chicago, and Dorrie Meyers is starting fifth grade. This is the year of her teacher’s annual baking and essay contest, Sweet Semester. The winners will get their names and pictures published in the Chicago Daily News, and money collected from the baked goods will go to feed hungry children in Europe. Dorrie is determined to win. And she knows one thing for sure. Whatever she bakes, it has to be chocolate. In time, Dorrie meets her cousin Victor, an immigrant from Europe, who has survived the Holocaust. And he is about to teach Dorrie that a loving family and a safe homeland are the sweetest things of all. With some top-secret tips from Victor’s family’s bakery, Dorrie might just have the sweetest year of her life.

The Scars That Have Shaped Me

By Vaneetha Risner,

Book cover of The Scars That Have Shaped Me: How God Meets Us in Suffering

Between suffering from polio as a child, post-polio syndrome as an adult, betrayal, the loss of a son, and a husband who left soon after – Vaneetha Risner has endured unimaginable suffering. For that reason, her honest words about suffering have left an incredible impact on me as I’ve endured my own. She doesn’t “preach” to us as if we need to get our act together, but she writes with compassion, honesty, and comfort as one who’s been there. Despite having every reason to be angry and bitter at the people who have hurt her and God himself, she is full of wisdom, grace, and joy, and shares about the hope she has that has enabled her to endure. 

Who am I?

I believe the Bible is God’s Word, that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world, and that he loves us. But after enduring years of physical, mental, and emotional pain, special needs in one of our children, two job losses, and a degenerative ankle, I’ve struggled to understand why he’s allowed it. Over the years, God has been teaching me that there is more to our suffering than meets the eye. And what we see as pointless, God promises to redeem and use for his good purposes. As I’ve grown to trust Jesus, he’s changed me, and given me comfort, hope, and joy in the midst of my sorrows. 

I wrote...

Hope When It Hurts: Biblical Reflections to Help You Grasp God's Purpose in Your Suffering

By Kristen Wetherell, Sarah Walton,

Book cover of Hope When It Hurts: Biblical Reflections to Help You Grasp God's Purpose in Your Suffering

What is my book about?

Sarah and Kristen have walked through, and are walking in, difficult times. So these thirty biblical reflections are full of realism about the hurts of life—yet overwhelmingly full of hope about the God who gives life.

This book will gently encourage and greatly help anyone who is struggling with suffering—whether physical, emotional, or psychological, and whether for a season or for longer. It is a book to buy for yourself or to buy for a member of your church or friend. For anyone who is hurting, this book will give hope, not just for life beyond the suffering, but for life in the suffering. Each chapter contains a biblical reflection, with questions and prayers, and a space for journaling.


By Jonathan M. Berman,

Book cover of Anti-Vaxxers: How to Challenge a Misinformed Movement

Since my mother had polio before vaccinations were available I am especially involved with the issue of vaccination. This book does not pull any punches in taking to task the anti-vaccination movement; by exploring and unpicking its historical, psychological, and sociological basis the author provides a convincing account of the scientific and post-Enlightenment argument in support of vaccine development. He explores the values underlying anti-vaccine sentiments but also offers hard statistical data on the dangers presented when vaccines are avoided. There are many winning arguments in support of the development of vaccinations especially the evidence of the resurgence of diseases such as polio and measles in places where they have been, and are, opposed. 

Who am I?

I founded Critical Metaphor Analysis, an approach that has become well known in English language studies. My books Corpus Approaches to Critical Metaphor Analysis, Politicians and Rhetoric: The persuasive power of metaphor, and Analysing Political Speeches have over 5,000 citations. I am also ranked first on Google Scholar on political rhetoric. I have always tried (though not always successfully) to write in an accessible style to reach out to audiences beyond academia. As well as lecturing, I assist in the training of Westminster speechwriters. I love languages and speak French, Spanish, Moroccan Arabic, and Malay with varying degrees of incompetence; I have rediscovered the pleasure of watercolour painting.

I wrote...

Metaphors of Coronavirus: Invisible Enemy or Zombie Apocalypse?

By Jonathan Charteris-Black,

Book cover of Metaphors of Coronavirus: Invisible Enemy or Zombie Apocalypse?

What is my book about?

This book explores the metaphors used by the media and by politicians during the Covid-19 era to understand how language shapes our moral reasoning and the role of language in policy formation and communication during a period of crisis. It analyses metaphors, metonyms, allegories, and symbols to gain insight into the moral basis for the decisions that people made during the pandemic. It draws on cognitive linguistics, history, social psychology, and literature for a multi-layered interpretation of the language of the pandemic and its social and political consequences. 


By Selina Alko,

Book cover of Joni: The Lyrical Life of Joni Mitchell

“Joni Mitchell painted with words,” begins this beautifully lyrical book on the well-known singer/song-writer. The colorful and imaginative collage illustrations jump off the page, telling the story of the girl from a small town in Canada who vanquished polio to go on to become a household name. Joni Mitchell used poetry to paint her feelings into song. We know her music and lyrics as a familiar soundtrack to our lives; now children can learn about the enigmatic spirit behind all that creative musicality.

Who am I?

As a picture-book writer and illustrator as well as a mother and teacher, the most important goal I can think of is fueling a child’s imagination with possibilities by providing true stories of trailblazing women. My reviews highlight remarkable women in the arts, government, sports, social work, and history. I hope you enjoy these books!

I wrote...

Steadfast: Frances Perkins, Champion of Workers' Rights

By Jennifer Merz,

Book cover of Steadfast: Frances Perkins, Champion of Workers' Rights

What is my book about?

When Frances Perkins witnessed New York City’s Triangle Factory fire in 1911, her desire to help the American worker transformed into a lifelong mission. Determined to fix workplace injustices at a time when women were discouraged from speaking up let alone having careers, she became the first woman in a U.S. Presidential Cabinet and the force behind the New Deal, vast programs that protect workers to this day.

In Steadfast: Frances Perkins, Champion of Workers’ Rights, writer/illustrator Jennifer J. Merz introduces readers to Frances Perkins’ extraordinary life and legacy. This book will delight children and adults alike with handcrafted art and an engaging true story. Fully annotated back matter provides a perfect opportunity to learn more. This is the inspiring story of a heroic trailblazer, the most important woman you may not have heard of—yet!


By Marguerite Henry, Robert Lougheed (illustrator),

Book cover of Mustang: Wild Spirit of the West

This true story was one of my favorites growing up, and I’ve read it many times. Annie is a polio survivor with a limp, but this doesn’t stop her from riding the range.  Neither does being a girl stop her from battling a terrible situation: the slaughter of mustangs. Annie risks her life to photograph mustang roundups and then takes the fight to the US government, finally getting a bill passed to prevent the inhumane treatment of wild horses. So inspiring!

Who am I?

I was four years old when I was given a pony. The freedom of roaming the countryside with her was amazing, and I was hooked! All horse breeds have supported humans; their strength and speed have enabled farming, war, travel, and settlement. Horses feature in the art, religion, and sports of diverse cultures. My Historical Horse series contains three books—each one is a completely different story about a specific breed of horse, and a fictional girl who loved it and depended on it, even to stay alive. Writing the books was like time-traveling with horses!

I wrote...

Cold Freedom

By Troon Harrison,

Book cover of Cold Freedom

What is my book about?

It’s 1945, and brutally cold in northern Europe. Young teen Eva and her purebred horse are fleeing hundreds of miles for their lives. Red Army planes bomb them and other refugees as they head onto the ice of the Baltic Sea. What will it take to survive? Eva’s little brother and sister grow weaker as grueling weeks pass. Their horses’ shoes are falling off, their legs are injured, their bellies empty. Yet Eva has promised her beautiful mare that one day she’ll canter in green fields. This dream is almost all that helps Eva face hunger, typhoid, and exhaustion.

Based on true events, this novel traces the history of Trakehner horses, which walked out of Prussia during WWII in an incredible feat of endurance.

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