Review: Dr. Jo by Monica Kulling and Julianna Swaney

Dr. Jo: How Sara Josephine Baker Saved the Lives of America’s Children by Monica Kulling, with illustrations by Julianna Swaney
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Tundra Books/Penguin Random House Canada. Thank you!
Publication: October 9, 2018 by Tundra Books
Book Description:

Sara Josephine Baker was a strong girl who loved adventure. Growing up in New York in the late 1800s was not easy. When she lost her brother and father to typhoid fever, she became determined to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor. In Jo’s day, medical schools were closed to women, but times were changing, and Jo was at the forefront.

When she graduated in 1898, Dr. Jo still faced prejudice against women in her field. Not many people were willing to be seen by a female doctor, and Dr. Jo’s waiting room remained mostly empty. She accepted a job in public health and was sent to Hell’s Kitchen, one of New York’s poorest neighborhoods where many immigrants lived. There, she was able to treat the most vulnerable patients: babies and children. She realized that the best treatment was to help babies get a stronger start in life. Babies need fresh air, clean and safe environments, and proper food. Dr. Jo’s successes, fueled by her determination, compassion and ingenuity, made her famous across the nation for saving the lives of 90,000 inner city infants and children.

Monica Kulling (Mary Anning’s Curiosity) and Julianna Swaney‘s (Mermaid School) Dr. Jo tells the incredible and impassioned life story of Sara Josephine Baker, an American pediatrician who made remarkable achievements in her work with mothers, infants, and families living in inner-cities.

“Jo had wanted to be a doctor ever since she was ten years old, when a kind physician and his son, also a doctor, had taken care of her injured knee. The deaths of her father and brother renewed that dream.”

Through Kulling’s terrifically clear storytelling style and Swaney’s gorgeously soft art, readers are taken into the life of pioneering pediatrician Dr. Jo. We meet Jo as a child, happily skating with her brother; a playful joy soon followed by unimaginable heartbreak in her teens…heartbreak which only serves to increase her desire to become a doctor.  In Jo’s time- the late 19th century- women doctors were rare; fortunately, Jo was accepted into and able to attend the Women’s Medical College of the New York City Infirmary. Jo moves along in her career, becoming a health inspector and is assigned to Hell’s Kitchen. It is in her work serving the families of Hell’s Kitchen where Dr. Jo’s legacy takes off. Kulling, in a straightforward, concise and compassionate matter, takes readers through terrible hardships Dr. Jo saw facing down families with children (often immigrant families) who were living in poverty. In her determination and dedication to help mothers and infants living in harsher inner-city conditions, Dr. Jo revolutionized (among other practices): midwifery requirements; nurse care availability to new mothers; “milk stations” in cities to provide “clean, healthy milk” for moms and children; sterile eye drop applications for newborns; as well as the mass production of “safe baby clothes”.

“Dr. Jo understood the connection between poverty and illness. Throughout her life she worked tirelessly to improve the health of women and their children in New York and other big cities.”

Overall, Dr. Jo is a wonderfully written and beautifully illustrated title that serves to inspire as well as educate; an excellent title that captures attention and, with Monica Kulling’s storytelling, reads ever so smoothly even while delving into more significant subject matter. Julianna Swaney’s illustrations are delicate and so lovely, bringing a warm, hopeful feel to Dr. Jo’s story even when things take a sad turn. The general category of children’s biographies is continuing to grow, and in turn, we are seeing a (much-needed) boom in biographies (pictorial and other) of trailblazing women- women who are both known and under-the-radar. Be sure to add Dr. Jo to your list of must-read children’s picture book biographies, alongside titles such as Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli, Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein, Dream Big, Little One, the Little People, Big Dreams titles, and other such illuminating reads.

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Tundra Books/Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

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