Cover Reveal: June Almeida, Virus Detective! The Woman Who Discovered the First Human Coronavirus by Suzanne Slade
Without a doubt, the world was turned upside down by coronavirus this year. When news of this strange virus broke early last spring, I was shocked by how quickly Covid-19 seemed to be spreading across the globe. Grappling to understand the situation, many questions filled my mind. As a children’s author, I could only imagine the many questions children might be struggling to answer. With news stories citing different dates as the beginning of this crisis, one question seemed particularly puzzling: When did this “new virus” first appear?
Weeks later, I found a startling fact in a National Geographic article—coronavirus wasn’t a new virus! In fact, it was discovered back in 1964. By a woman! Even more surprising, by a woman who’d never gone to college. This brilliant woman named June Almeida had left school at age 16 to help support her family, yet somehow went on to make groundbreaking discoveries in the field of virology.
I could hardly believe it. Like many phenomenal scientists before her, June Almeida was another “hidden” woman who’d made invaluable contributions to science. History books had overlooked her.
June’s pioneering research only recently came to light because of its relevance to Covid-19. Her work helped scientists identify the virus that was causing Covid-19 as a coronavirus. It’s also helping researchers today develop medicines and vaccines to fight the current pandemic.
I also discovered that coronavirus is actually a family of different viruses. One type of coronavirus may cause a nasty cold, while others are the culprits behind dangerous illnesses such as SARS, MERS, and Covid-19.
As a woman who’s spent years working in a STEM field, I couldn’t wait to share June Almeida’s incredible story with children. I also wanted to provide accurate, easy-to-understand information about coronavirus to help curious readers find answers to their questions during this stressful time.
Now the publishing process for a picture book usually takes about 3 to 4 years, or sometimes longer. But I felt this book needed to be available for curious readers much sooner (even though Covid-19 was likely to be around for years to come.)
So I set aside my other writing projects and began researching June full time. After a bit of Google-sleuthing, I located June’s daughter in England and reached out to see if she’d help with the project. She kindly provided key primary sources, along with photos of June through the years. My favorite shows June working with an electron microscope, the powerful tool she used to find and create detailed images of coronavirus.
While studying her coronavirus pictures, June noticed each virus blob had tiny circles around it. She thought it looked like a crown. The Latin word for crown is “corona,” so she and a few others decided to name it “coronavirus.”
The more I learned about June Almeida, the more excited I became about sharing her inspiring story with young readers. After weeks of research, I finally began writing. That sparked even more research, followed by seemingly endless rounds of edits.
Fortunately, it didn’t take long to find the perfect publisher for this project—Sleeping Bear Press. I’d worked with them before, so I knew they’d do an outstanding job on this important book. Plus, their team was extremely excited about the topic and ready to move mountains to get the book out in less than a year—an astounding feat in the publishing world!
Their design team launched an illustrator search to find someone who could convey detailed science content, share June’s energy, personality, and drive, and meet aggressive deadlines. And the team couldn’t have found a better illustrator for this daunting job. Elisa Paganelli soon began a research journey of her own, which resulted in detailed, fun, engaging, accurate, colorful, informative, and just plain gorgeous illustrations!
So without further ado, here’s the glorious cover for June Almeida, Virus Detective! The Woman Who Discovered the First Human Coronavirus (releases March 15, 2021.)
This picture book shares the story of virologist June Almeida who …
- pursued her passion for science despite leaving school at 16,
- overcame many hurdles because she was a woman in a “man’s field,”
- created the first image of the human coronavirus,
- received a doctor of science degree based on her groundbreaking work,
- and worked tirelessly in the battle against viruses such as rubella, hepatitis B, and HIV.
Today her work is helping in the fight against Covid-19!
Suzanne Slade is the award-winning author of more than 100 books. An engineer by degree, she loves sharing her passion for science by writing books about pioneering women in STEM. Some of her recent titles include Out of School and Into Nature: The Anna Comstock Story and A Computer Called Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Helped Put America on the Moon. Find out more at suzanneslade.com.