Tu Youyou’s Discovery: Finding a Cure for Malaria by Songju Ma Daemicke, illustrated by Lin


Tu Youyou’s Discovery: Finding a Cure for Malaria by Songju Ma Daemicke, illustrated by Lin. Albert Whitman, 2021. 9780807581117

Rating:  1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4

Format: Uncorrected proof

Genre: Biography 

What did you like about the book? Nobel Prize-winning researcher Tu Youyou is introduced in this picture book biography.  Youyou grew up in China, and was stricken ill with tuberculosis at the age of 15.  She was healed by a combination of modern medicine (antibiotics) and more traditional Chinese herbal remedies, which inspired her to pursue a career in medical research.  When a global malaria outbreak began spreading in 1969, Youyou knew she needed to help.  She visited patients throughout China, and learned that Western medicine was not effective in fighting the malaria symptoms. Then one patient reminded her about a plant called qinghao, which was known to reduce fevers.  Youyou brought the plant back to her lab, along with hundreds of other herbs, and conducted experiment after experiment to no avail.  She was determined to find success using the qinghao, and conducted nearly 200 trials (different temperatures, different combinations, etc.) before achieving her goal.  Youyou gave credit to her whole team for the 1971 discovery, but other scientists later found out that she was the primary researcher on the project, leading her to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2015.  The medicine developed from Youyou’s work is still used worldwide today, and has saved millions of lives since it was first approved.

Tu Youyou’s story will be valued as a lesson in persistence, particularly as she faced prejudice from her male peers and the scientific community, which did not give much credence to traditional medicines.  The straightforward writing is a little bit dry and technical at times, but the cartoon-style illustrations help to convey the human struggles and triumphs.  A comprehensive timeline of Youyou’s life and career alludes to some of the challenges she faced as she worked in China during the Cultural Revolution, and there is also a note delineating the scientific method and how Youyou’s work is a ‘shining example’ of it.  

Anything you did not like about the book? No

 To whom would you recommend this book?  A great readaloud for science teachers in grades 2-4 to illustrate the scientific method, and a welcome addition for biography collections where more women, scientists, and people of color are needed!  Connections can also be made with current events. 

Who should buy this book? Public and elementary school libraries

Where would you shelve it?  Biography

 Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles?  No

 Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City:  Leigh Russell King, Lincoln Street School, Northborough, Massachusetts.

Date of review: July 30, 2021

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