Polio, pandemic parallels poignant
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Local author Harriet Zaidman has written a contemporary middle grade novel about the 1953 polio epidemic in Winnipeg. While it focuses on poliomyelitis, Second Chances (Red Deer Press, 288 pages, $15, paperback) has unmistakable similarities to reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dale, the main protagonist in Zaidman’s novel, is a Grade 8 student and a goalie on the local Bantam B hockey team. He dreams of an NHL career. But when he’s stricken with polio and ends up in an iron lung at King George Hospital, his hopes are dashed.
The most gripping scenes take place in the hospital. But there is also the conflict between Dale and his father, who rejects the polio vaccine and refuses to let Dale’s younger brother get vaccinated. There’s also Charlene, the Métis patient who causes Dale to question his own commitment to anti-racism.
Zaidman is to be lauded for both championing the scientific verity of vaccines and speaking against the discrimination of Indigenous families in Winnipeg. Readers ages 9-12 will find enjoyment as well as education in this novel.
Helen Norrie is a former teacher/librarian with a love for children’s literature.