We’re entering an era where the beginning of COVID-19 is actually a part of history, which feels incredibly weird to me. Nevertheless, it’s clear that the world’s success in overcoming the dangerous beginning stages of the virus was in motion long before the virus showed up. In Never Give Up by Debbie Dadey, illustrated by Juliana Oakley (Millbrook Press, 2023), we learn just how years of development led to the rapid testing and implementation of the COVID-19 vaccine.
The subtitle of this biographical picture book is Dr. Kati Kariko and the Race for the Future of Vaccines, and it tells the story of a determined woman who had an idea and sought to make it work. Kati’s story begins in a small one-roomed home in Hungary, and brings her into the lab developing the COVID-19 vaccine, to her success (obviously!).
But her story is not a simple A-Z journey. Rather, during the 1980s and 1990s, she consistently faced pressures to abandon her idea. She was even demoted from a university assistant professor back to researcher, due to her refusal to abandon her idea of using mRNA to develop a vaccine. Because she began working on these ideas and developing a basic mRNA vaccine for flu, when the call for a COVID-19 vaccine appeared, her company was better prepared to develop and produce a vaccine in a timely manner.
As we all know, the vaccine was developed, tested, and approved in 10 months, instead of years. What a blessing to so many people. Dr. Kati Kariko’s dedication to her scientific ideas has saved many, and I’m personally grateful for her perseverance.
I will admit that I am not clear on the the specifics of how an mRNA vaccine works, although my high school has done an extensive research paper on mRNA so he got it right away. I understand the basics, and this picture did a good job of not overwhelming the young reader with the science. In general, it matched the audience very well. I love that the end matter included a timeline of Kati’s life and the vaccine development, stages and information about vaccines, a glossary of scientific terms, source notes, and a long list for further study, which includes videos and picture books just right for the elementary and middle grade audience.
Everything about this book provides a great introduction to one of the heroes of the COVID-19 crisis, and is a valuable and important contribution to children’s picture books. Home school parents could use Never Give Up as a part of science unit about cells, DNA, vaccines, and other essential microbiological concepts.
I received a digital review copy of Never Give Up.