The Wonder Kid is one that I like to recommend when I speak to school groups about polio. It’s a lovely little book. Such a great size and so kid friendly with its comic strip feel. It is the story of Jesse MacLean who faced some serious life changing things one summer. As Jesse puts it:
Summer is when you’re supposed to have all sorts of fun, like one long recess…
Well, 1954, when Gramps moved in with us, was the summer of no fun—and it was all because of polio.
1954 was also the year that Jonas Salk conducted his field trial for the polio vaccine and one year later he announced the vaccine’s success. Meanwhile parents were deathly afraid for their children’s health and Jesse’s mom was no exception. So she kept him in the house as much as possible – no swimming whatsoever and only one trip alone to the picture show. Jesse spent his time drawing, visiting with his Gramps, and imagining himself strong like Charles Atlas.
Then grief strikes Jesse and polio does too. He feels weaker than ever. But in some ways he is just finding his own strength.
This story is about much more than polio. It is about relationships and how they carry us through difficult times, how the smallest things we say have a lasting impact on others, and how people who seem really tough on the outside may actually feel as vulnerable as we do on the inside.
Jesse shares this story in first person. His voice is “easy listening” – not in the relaxing sense of the word; there are some disturbing things in his story. But he shares them with humor and honesty and the reader cares about him right away.
The author note at the end is a really good overview of polio history.
Oh, and I loved this word of wisdom from Jesse MacLean:
Sometimes when a mean thought goes through your head, it’s better to zip your mouth closed.