Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Friday, November 10, 2023

Masked Hero: How Wu Lien-teh Invented the Mask that Ended an Epidemic by Dr. Shan Woo Liu and Kaili Liu Gormley

Masked Hero: How Wu Lien-teh invented the Mask That Ended an Epidemic

Dr. Shan Woo Liu and Kaili Liu Gromley; Illustrated by Lisa Wee

MIT Kids Press, an imprint of Candlewick Press. 2023

This informational picture book biography takes place more than a hundred years before the COVID-19 pandemic. It is the story of Dr. Wu Lien-teh who is known for his expertise in germs and promoting masks to prevent the spread of diseases. 

Born March 10, 1879, in Penang, Malaya, Lien-teh wanted to grow up and become a doctor. At age seventeen, in 1896, he wins a scholarship that allows him to study at Cambridge University in England. After graduating in 1903, Lien-teh returned to his hometown of Penang, Malaya. Hoping to secure a job, he was met with discrimmination. “When he applied for a job, the authorities turned him away, saying it was open only to British citizens of European descent.” Still, that didn’t stop him. Lien-teh continued to study and later, moved to China to help lead a new medical college. 

In 1910, when a terrible disease swept into the Northeast area of China, the Chinese authorities requested Dr Lien-teh traveled to the city of Harbin to help. When Dr. Lien-teh discovered the disease was spread by bacterial germs when people coughed, “he had to think of a way to stop these germs — and fast.”

Using layers of gauze and cotton, Dr. Lien-teh created a thick mask that covered the entire face. Yes. There were those who refused to wear the mask, but those who did not, even doctors, became sick. With the support of the community, wearing a mask proved successful. As was the quarantining the city. No traveling in or out. Deaths dwindled and soon, by March of 1911, the plague was over. Dr. Lien-teh’s mask had stopped the disease from spreading in fewer than four months.

Because of his work in establishing hospitals and colleges throughout China that embraced medical advances, “…Lien-teh would be nominated for a Nobel Prize in 1935, the first person of Chinese descent to earn that honor.” 

Wee’s digitally created illustrations are colorful and complement the text.

An uplifting story that, hopefully, will spread the word that the decision to wear a mask is a positive decision, one that shows ones support for your community. 

The book is written by Wu Lien-teh’s great-granddaughter, Dr. Shan Woo Liu, and her daughter, Kaili Liu Gormley. 

Included is a timeline, a note from Dr. Shan Woo Liu, and a selected bibliography. 

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