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When Truth Beats Fiction, a guest post by Alex Perry

My first draft of Pighearted was nothing like the novel that came out Tuesday. It was set fifty years in Houston’s future. I wrote a book about a pig genetically altered to be an organ donor. How could I set it in the present day? As I revised, got good advice, and researched deeper, I realized that my story could happen today. The high-tech gadgets I invented in my first draft were not nearly as interesting as the actual medical devices keeping patients alive. I grounded the novel and it became contemporary, but it was still speculative. After all, that kind of transplantation was still theoretical. No one had actually tried it. That is, until debut week. Five people contacted me with a link to the same news article. Pighearted came true. The real world scooped my book.

Pighearted is the story of a boy with a fatal heart condition and his best friend, the pig with the heart that could save his life. It centers a boy getting a life-saving heart transplant from a genetically-modified sentient pig. The pig was grown using the boy’s DNA to ensure that it had a human heart. As the boy and pig grow close, the boy realizes that his friend doesn’t just have a human heart, but also a human mind.

Pighearted speculated about the distant possibility of using pigs to grow organs, but last week a pig donated a genetically modified kidney to a woman. Her body accepted it in what might be a huge step forward in medicine. The lead investigator on the medical team Dr. Robert Montgomery is himself a heart transplant recipient trying to ensure others get the help he got. He says that 40% of people waiting on the transplant list die before they get an organ they need. There’s an urgent need to improve organ transplantation.

The surgery took a couple of hours

https://www.bbc.com/news/health-58993696

Transplanted hearts don’t last as long as they need to. Especially for kids. Childhood transplant recipients often need a second transplant later in life. Not to mention, there is a constant threat of rejection and the side effects of the life-saving anti-rejection medication. And that’s for the most fortunate people that were able to survive the list.

The solution the scientists in Pighearted try is probably too ethically fraught to ever become a viable treatment. Creating an animal that is part human blurs the line between what is a person and what isn’t. Then, killing something that is part human escalates the dilemma, but it seems like Dr. Montgomery and that medical team found a different solution.      

             

The kids that read Pighearted are going to take those next steps and make the next advances. They might be inspired by Dr. Montgomery’s story, or they might connect to fictional characters that could push them to make the next breakthrough. Science education doesn’t need to stop at the science teacher’s door. In high school and college, I loved taking interdisciplinary classes. The strict delineation of school subjects didn’t make sense to me. It was easier for me to get excited about a topic that connected to other subjects and felt relevant. That’s the basic premise behind the pedagogy of interdisciplinary learning. Ideally it would allow students to study a topic from multiple angles. For example, Pighearted could fit into a science class as easily as it could fit into an English class.

I’m glad I rewrote Pighearted and set it in the present day. Years of teaching taught me to never underestimate what students are capable of, and I had to learn the same lesson again as an author. I’d underestimated the entire scientific community. The world is advancing and changing faster that I can make sense of it, so I hope that my book and others like it can reach deep into this changing world and help make sense of it. I needed to write a book that reached across the campus and touched on subjects in other classes. I thought I was setting the story just barely beyond our current technology to hook my readers with cutting-edge science. I didn’t expect for science to surpass my book before it came out, but I’ve never been happier to be wrong.

Meet the author

Alex Perry used to teach sixth grade in Houston, but now she writes books for kids everywhere. Pighearted is her debut novel. She lives in Arkansas with her husband, daughter, and two huge dogs. You can visit her at alexperrybooks.com or follow her on twitter @alextheadequate.

About Pighearted

Charlotte’s Web meets My Sister’s Keeper in this charming story told from the alternating perspectives of a boy with a fatal heart condition and the pig with the heart that could save his life.

Jeremiah’s heart skips a beat before his first soccer game, but it’s not nerves. It’s the first sign of a heart attack. He knows he needs to go to the hospital, but he’s determined to score a goal. Charging after the ball, he refuses to stop…even if his heart does.

J6 is a pig and the only one of his five brothers who survived the research lab. Though he’s never left his cell, he thinks of himself as a therapy pig, a scholar, and a bodyguard. But when the lab sends him to live with Jeremiah’s family, there’s one new title he’s desperate to have: brother.

At first, Jeremiah thinks his parents took in J6 to cheer him up. But before long, he begins to suspect there’s more to his new curly-tailed companion than meets the eye. When the truth is revealed, Jeremiah and J6 must protect each other at all costs—even if their lives depend on it.

ISBN-13: 9780316538770
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 10/26/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Fun Fiction can Sell STEM, a guest post by Susan McCormick

How to stimulate an interest in STEM and health-related fields? My middle schooler’s science class was waiting to be dazzled by the chicken wing dissection. As a doctor, writer, and mother classroom volunteer, I was certain this demonstration of the exciting connection between muscles and tendons and bones would lead to awe and wonder and a gush of queries about the wide world of science and scientific careers. I opened and closed the wing, placed it in their hands, showed them the thin strips of tissue coordinating all the action. Did I see sudden passion? Fascination? Jumping-over-the-desk enthusiasm? No.

They would definitely want to hear about my journey to becoming a doctor, then. And they did. They had polite questions and inciteful comments. But they never showed the same interest in chicken wings or medical school as they did about another topic they were studying. Mythology. Greek gods. Beasts with multiple heads. Fathers who swallowed their children whole. The kids learned it in humanities, but they already knew everything there was to know and then some. Why? Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief series. If there was an obvious career path involving mythology, it would be flooded.


The author with medical school books from the preclinical years.

Fiction offers a framework to package knowledge into an engaging read. Most information is interesting in its own right but enticing and engrossing when embedded in a story. Add adventure and suspense and humor and a kid who could be any of us, and it is no wonder why The Lightning Thief is such a success.

Was there such a fiction series about medicine? The human body? Ailments and health? The excitement of biology or chemistry or engineering or math? Excluding books that deal with video games, very few.

Who would have thought mythology could be so popular? A good story provides the bridge. Books can make science and medicine appealing, too. Cool. Popular. Kids know about scientists and white coats and laboratories. Boring stuff. Savvy kids even know about years of laboring at an experiment before it comes to fruition, if it ever does. Endless learning in medical school, then residency, then fellowship. Multiple botched rocket launches until one finally takes to the skies. Medication trials that look promising, only to close at the last minute due to side effects. Kids also need to know the flip side, the importance, the relevance, the satisfaction that comes from small successes and all those years.

The need for the objectivity and critical thinking that science provides has never been more glaring than today. The demand for future scientists, for inventors, for health-care workers is great. We children’s authors can embrace our role in the challenge. I set out to create a thrilling tale weaving in maladies much like The Lightning Thief weaves in mythology. In The Antidote, Alex Revelstoke discovers a family secret. He can see disease. And not just disease, but injury, illness, anything wrong with the body. He sees skin melt away to reveal the organs beneath, much to his shock and horror. He comes from a family of doctors with this extra gift, going back generations, helping, healing. But Revelstokes are locked in a centuries-old war with ancient evil itself, an entity called ILL, the creator and physical embodiment of disease. Alex is the last Revelstoke. Alex, plus a special dog and a mysterious girl, must battle ILL and his new super disease, worse than polio, worse than smallpox.


The author’s dog, Albert the Newfoundland, who was the inspiration for the dog in the story.

Kids learn about polio and smallpox in school through FDR and through the devastation infections brought to American Indians. Kids have encountered disease. A grandma had a heart attack, an uncle had an ulcer, a friend has a food allergy. They hear about appendicitis and diabetes and sudden death in young athletes. These illnesses appear in The Antidote’s adventure, described and explained even as the action unfolds. I threw in hidden safety tips like how to do a Heimlich maneuver and when to use an AED, an Automated External Defibrillator. Young people can only gain by understanding more about the body, health, and medicine.

In no other time in recent history, not since the polio epidemic of their grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ generation, have the world’s children been directly, incredibly affected by disease, death, and the fear that accompanies it. The Antidote speaks to this, not with anything specifically about the current COVID-19 situation, but with the story winding through pandemics and infectious diseases of the past like plague, polio, smallpox, Spanish flu, measles, leprosy, etc. An added informative section at the end describes these diseases in further detail for curious readers. The COVID-19 pandemic is horrific, but not unique, and it helps knowing there have been times in history like this, and that science came through and the world prevailed.


The author heading out to give COVID-19 vaccines at a mass vaccination site

The events of 2020 have forced kids to experience disease firsthand, but also see firsthand the healers and scientists who are heroes and who have sparked a worldwide interest in science. Whole career fields were revealed to young people who knew nothing of them before. Frontline responders, EMTs, doctors, nurses, and technicians all helped diagnose and treat. Mechanical engineers designed negative pressure rooms in hospitals overnight and refitted schools and buildings with new airflow systems. Biomedical and other engineers rethought ventilators and oxygen saturation monitors. Research scientists, vaccine makers, and virologists discovered the virus, created the testing, produced the vaccines. Computer scientists developed programs to register people for vaccinations, then worked out the bugs and the crashes. Kids saw science save the world, and many will choose a career in science themselves.

Now is the time. Young people are interested in science. Children’s authors and books with engrossing STEM stories can encourage this interest. While steeped in science, though, at heart The Antidote is an adventure, with good vs. evil, and I want kids to enjoy the story. Enough to be part of the inspiration.

Meet the author

Susan McCormick is a writer and doctor who lives in Seattle. She graduated from Smith College and George Washington University School of Medicine and served as a doctor for nine years in the US Army before moving to the Pacific Northwest and civilian practice. In addition to The Antidote, a timely middle grade medical fantasy, she writes The Fog Ladies cozy murder mystery series. She also wrote Granny Can’t Remember Me, a lighthearted picture book about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. She is married with two boys, neither of whom can see disease. She loves giant dogs and has had St. Bernards, a Mastiff, Earl, and two Newfoundlands, Edward and Albert. Unlike the dog in the book, they had no special powers, except the ability to shake drool onto the ceiling.

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About The Antidote

Twelve-year-old Alex Revelstoke is different. He can see disease. Also injury, illness, and anything else wrong with the body. This comes in handy when a classmate chokes on a hot dog or when the janitor suffers a heart attack unclogging a gooey science experiment gone awry. But Alex soon learns his new ability puts him and an unsuspecting world in peril. Throughout time, Revelstokes have waged a battle against ancient evil itself. A man, a being, an essence–the creator of disease. Alex has seen its darkness. He has felt its strength. He does not want to fight. But Alex is the last Revelstoke. The war has just begun.

ISBN-13: 9781509235667
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Publication date: 05/05/2021

Middle Grade

Book Review: The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science by Joyce Sidman

Publisher’s description

Bugs, of all kinds, were considered to be “born of mud” and to be “beasts of the devil.” Why would anyone, let alone a girl, want to study and observe them?

One of the first naturalists to observe live insects directly, Maria Sibylla Merian was also one of the first to document the metamorphosis of the butterfly. In this visual nonfiction biography, richly illustrated throughout with full-color original paintings by Merian herself, the Newbery Honor–winning author Joyce Sidman paints her own picture of one of the first female entomologists and a woman who flouted convention in the pursuit of knowledge and her passion for insects.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

girl whoThis is a stunningly beautiful book about a woman I knew nothing about. Great for a 5th-7th grade audience.

Maria Merian had always been curious. Insects fascinated her. Her father ran a publishing shop, so young Maria was always surrounded by intellectuals, explorers, and free-thinkers at the shop. When Maria was only three, her father died. Her mother remarried, this time to an artist whose specialty was painting ornamental flowers. He took the time to teach Maria how to draw. Flowers and other plants filled their home and garden, and so did insects. At this time, people were unsure of the origin of insects, believing they spontaneously generated. Maria took it upon herself to study these insects, trying to figure out how they were created, birthed, and what changes they underwent. Despite gender restrictions at the time, and having to focus on things like running a household and preparing to be married young, Maria continued her studies and her art. She helped her husband open an engraving and publishing firm, where they published books of Maria’s flower and insect prints. Word spread about her insect collection, with people bringing her specimens to study. Her new book focused entirely on insects and refuted the idea that they spontaneously generate. Maria continued to learn, collect, and paint, eventually working independently as an artist and a businesswoman.

Though I wasn’t at all familiar with her before this book, I’m totally fascinated by the boundaries she traversed to pursue her passion. She was truly doing groundbreaking work. Aside from the main narrative about Maria’s life, there is ample information about other things of the era (religion, art, women in the workforce, witch hunts). There are also photos, engravings, maps, and paintings in the book, include a great many paintings and prints done by Maria. A glossary, timeline, quote sources, bibliography, and index round out this utterly compelling and gorgeous look at a pioneer of science. A great addition for all middle school collections. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780544717138
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 02/20/2018

Breaking Barriers: Wonder Woman and the Bold Women of Medicine, a guest post by Susan M. Latta

bold womenWonder Woman is a strong female comic book character but there is more to her than muscle. She boldly and intelligently outsmarted her enemies. When Warner Bros./DC Comics blockbuster movie Wonder Woman came out earlier this summer I began to think about the characteristics shared between Wonder Woman and the women in my YA nonfiction book Bold Women of Medicine: 21 Stories of Astounding Discoveries, Daring Surgeries, and Healing Breakthroughs, Chicago Review Press. (For Amanda’s review of this title, please pop on over here.)

 

Wonder Woman and the Bold Women of Medicine were controversial when they first appeared and remain so today. They were both unrestrained by the social norms of the era. The women medical pioneers weren’t supposed to be interested in science or medicine; many men and women considered these subjects much too advanced or gruesome for a woman. The treatments medical women perfected; whether it was Sister Elizabeth Kenny’s polio treatment, or Helen Taussig’s research in treating babies with serious heart defects, or Virginia Apgar’s assessment of newborn health, all proved that women could and did have a stake in medicine.

 

In 1939, Superman starred in the first comic book to showcase just one character, followed by Batman later that same year. And in 1941, Wonder Woman, an Amazon who hailed from an island of women only “came to the United States to fight for peace, justice, and women’s rights.”[i] Much like Batman and Superman, Wonder Woman also had a secret identity as a shy secretary named Diana Prince.  But as Wonder Woman, she was resilient.  And what more could the world want than a strong female character that still possessed tenderness and compassion.

 

William Moulton Marston, a trained psychologist, expert in lie detection, and a man influenced by several strong women including Margaret Sanger, (who heavily influenced the comic book character) created Wonder Woman. He was raised by strong women and predicted that one day women would rule the world.

 

The original inspiration behind Wonder Woman was women’s fight for equal rights. Marston believed that a woman must break the “chains” and free herself. And the same went for Wonder Woman except that if she didn’t use her power for the greater good, she’d be forced to return to weakness (and chains).

 

Clara Barton, 1904 (Library of Congress)

Clara Barton, 1904 (Library of Congress)

Wonder Woman was more than just a comic when she first appeared, included in each issue was a feature titled, “Wonder Women of History.” This insert heralded a real life heroic woman who possessed the same Wonder Woman qualities of “daring, strength, and ingenuity,” that in the early 1940s, qualities that were not usually attributed to women. Incidentally, Florence Nightingale was the first “Wonder Woman of History,” followed by Clara Barton, and Elizabeth Blackwell, all three of which I profiled in my book Bold Women of Medicine.

The bold women of medicine displayed strength in the ways they pursued science and medicine. Many of the medical pioneers shied away from the tenderness Wonder Woman exposed, and in that way, they are different. When women first entered the male-dominated medical world, they felt they had to be void of emotion because they believed that was the only way they would succeed.

 

Mary E. Walker in Dress Pants Uniform [Credit] Wikimedia Commons

Mary E. Walker in Dress Pants Uniform [Credit] Wikimedia Commons

Marie Zakrzewska, nicknamed Dr. Zak because she tired of Americans mispronouncing her name, was the third woman to be granted a medical degree in the United States. She was initially not promoted in her first career as a midwife because the professors believed she had a snippy nature and angered too quickly. But she did not behave any differently than the men, her “fault” was that she was a woman.  Dr. Zak (almost sounds like a superhero), pushed women to become scientific thinkers and not rely on traditional female qualities of comfort and nurture to care for the sick. She believed woman must behave as “male physicians” or they wouldn’t succeed.

Mary Edwards Walker, a civil war surgeon, refused to be constricted by clothing traditions of the 1800s. She donned pants, covered by a long coat-like dress. Mary didn’t care what others thought of her; she only wanted to serve. She was the only woman ever to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, which in fact was stripped from her shortly before she died because she didn’t meet the combat qualifications. The medal was restored to her posthumously in 1977 by President Jimmy Carter.

 

Edna Adan Ismail with nursing graduates of the Edna Adan Maternity and Children's Hospital in Hargeisa, Somaliland

Edna Adan Ismail with nursing graduates of the Edna Adan Maternity and Children’s Hospital in Hargeisa, Somaliland

Like Wonder Woman, many of the Bold Women of Medicine do practice both the rigors of science and the art of compassion. Dr. Catherine Hamlin and Midwife Edna Adan Ismail, both still practicing, see women being mistreated every day and do their utmost to both stop the abuse and heal with surgery and care. Dr. Sister Anne Brooks, an osteopathic physician who is also a nun, before her recent retirement, fought illness with both touch and tough love. She provided education to the poverty-stricken citizens of Tutwiler, Mississippi so that they could return to good health. But if they didn’t comply, her blatant question was “to ask them if they’ve bought their coffin yet.”

 

Bertha Van Hoosen, 1948.[Credit]Rochester Hills Museum at Van Hoosen Farm

Bertha Van Hoosen, 1948.[Credit]Rochester Hills Museum at Van Hoosen Farm

The Bold Women of Medicine believed that they had every right to pursue the study of science, even though men didn’t believe women could handle the difficulty of a medical education. If women were admitted to lecture hall and surgical theaters, it was believed they might “contaminate” the male students. Many of the male and female medical students fainted while watching surgeries and Bertha Van Hoosen was one of those women. She said, “I am not only going [into the surgical amphitheater] but I am going to stay until I faint, and when I come to, I am going to remain, no matter how many times I faint.”

 

 

 

 

As I researched these women, I found that perseverance was a common trait. Yes, they were smart and well educated but they never gave up. Every one of them fought or still fights insurmountable odds, and that is what I admire most about them. Even today there are ongoing challenges for women in medicine, especially in terms of wages. The 2016 Medscape Physician Compensation Report states that overall, women physicians make 24 percent less than their male peers.

 

Dr Catherine Hamlin with trainee midwives at the Hamlin Fistula Hospital, Ethiopia 2009. Photo: Lucy Horodny, AusAID

Dr Catherine Hamlin with trainee midwives at the Hamlin Fistula Hospital, Ethiopia 2009. Photo: Lucy Horodny, AusAID

Each new generation of women in medicine leads the way, encouraging more women to choose work in a health-care field. The bold women of medicine don’t have Wonder Woman’s special powers, but they work diligently to become today’s real-life wonder women.

 

 

 

 

 

[i] Lepore, Jill. The Secret History of Wonder Woman. New York: Vintage Books, A Division of Penguin Random House, 2014, Introduction.

 

Meet Susan M. Latta

Photo Credit: Sarah Pierce

Photo Credit: Sarah Pierce

Susan Latta earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and Mass Communications from Iowa State University and her masters in business administration from Drake University. She has worked in several fields including advertising for a large agency in St. Louis, Missouri, and in marketing and finance for the family business, McGarvey Coffee in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She earned a master of fine arts in writing for children and young adults from Hamline University. In addition to Bold Women of Medicine, Susan has written on history, biography, and geography for Appleseeds and Faces magazines and completed freelance work for Heinemann Leveled Books and ABDO Publishing. Susan has three adult children and lives with her husband and two Golden Retrievers in Edina, Minnesota.

Connect with Susan online: 

Twitter @lattasusan, Instagram suslat, Facebook Susan McGarvey Latta

Book Review: Bold Women of Medicine: 21 Stories of Astounding Discoveries, Daring Surgeries, and Healing Breakthroughs by Susan M. Latta

Publisher’s description

ra6Meet 21 determined women who have dedicated their lives to healing others. In the 19th century, Florence Nightingale and Clara Barton—the “Lady with the Lamp” and the “Angel of the Battlefield”—earned their nicknames by daring to enter battlefields to aid wounded soldiers, forever changing the standards of medicine. Modern-day medical heroines such as Bonnie Simpson Mason, who harnessed the challenges of her chronic illness and founded an organization to introduce women and minorities to orthopedic surgery, and Kathy Magliato, who jumped the hurdles to become a talented surgeon in the male-dominated arena of heart transplants, will inspire any young reader interested in the art, science, and lifechanging applications of medicine. Lovers of adventure will follow Mary Carson Breckinridge, the “nurse on horseback” who delivered babies in the Appalachian Mountains and believed that everyone, including our poorest and most vulnerable citizens, deserve good health care, and Jerri Nielsen, the doctor stationed in Antarctica who, cut off from help, had to bravely treat her own breast cancer. These and 15 other daring women inspire with their courage, persistence, and belief in the power of both science and compassion.

Packed with photos and informative sidebars and including source notes and a bibliography, Bold Women of Medicine is an invaluable addition to any student’s or aspiring doctor or nurse’s bookshelf.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

bold womenThis is a great book to have on display during Women’s History Month, or as part of your science display, or to have at the ready for students needing to do a biographical report on someone possibly less well known. Have a careers section in your library? Stick this face-out there. Does your school have a health careers class or track, as the high school I used to work at does? Make sure that teacher and their students know about this book. While some readers will likely read this whole thing from cover to cover, it will probably be most useful for those looking for information about one specific woman or time period. Though the biographies are brief and include pictures as well as sidebars, it’s still a lot of information to absorb. The book includes the women many have heard of, like Elizabeth Blackwell, Clara Barton, Florence Nightingale, and Virginia Apgar, but also includes many more that may be less well know. One chapter is dedicated to Rebecca Lee Crumpler and Rebecca Cole, the first African American women physicians (circa 1860-ish). Others include Civil War surgeon Mary Edwards Walker; Native American (Omaha tribe) doctor Susan LaFlesche Picotte; Catherine Hamlin, a gynecologist who worked in Ethiopia from 1959 on; Edna Adan Ismail, a Somaliland pioneer in the movement to end female genital mutilation, and many more. An interesting, thorough look at the lives, careers, and achievements of these inspirational women. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781613734377

Publisher: Chicago Review Press, Incorporated

Publication date: 09/01/2017

Series: Women of Action Series