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Pickle Me This

November 2, 2018

Dr. Jo, by Monica Kulling

With her latest book Dr. Jo: How Sara Josephine Baker Saved the Lives of America’s Children, Monica Kulling continues to write fascinating (and often feminist!) biographies of remarkable figures who should be better known. We were huge fans of her Spic & Span, a biography of Lillian Gilbreth, who was not only the real-life mother of the Cheaper By the Dozen family, but she was also an efficiency expert, author, psychologist, industrial engineer, and inventor of the shelves inside your fridge door, the electric mixer AND the foot-pedal garbage can, which might make you wonder why all the books in the world aren’t about Lillian Gilbreth. But in the meantime, Dr. Sara Josephine Baker is worthy of a story of her own.

“People called Sara Josephine Baker a tomboy,” the book begins. “Jo did things that the quiet and polite girls of her day did not do…” From playing sports and skating on the Hudson River, to attending medical school—Jo’s interest in being a doctor underlined by the deaths of her father and brother from typhoid fever caused by a hospital dumping sewage in that same river. The importance of public health was also made apparent to Jo through these tragedies, and once she became a physician she realized that working as a health inspector would permit her to make an even greater difference. Kulling shows Jo working in Hell’s Kitchen in New York City, where disease spread quickly through tenement housing. And while the illustrations are cheerful and bright, the text doesn’t shy away from the realities of poverty and deprivation—Dr. Jo is called to a family whose baby dies of heatstroke, and another baby she visits has become blind from drops used to clear bacteria from its eyes. Kulling walks a perfect balance between message and story to deliver a picture book that readers of all ages will enjoy.

Kulling shows how Dr. Jo started the practice of licensing midwives to make births safe, organized stations where children could access clean milk, solved the problem of eye drops being contaminated with bacteria, and designed infant clothing that made for better temperature control. “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.”

One thought on “Dr. Jo, by Monica Kulling”

  1. Monica Kulling says:

    Thank you so much for this lovely review, Kerry! I’m honoured to have DR. JO. featured on your Friday blog. 🙂

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