40 Days of Book Praise, Day 5

RamonaGravitarFor 40 days, I am choosing a book from my personal book shelves. It will be a book that is insightful, intriguing, or illuminating about women. I will write why I think this book is a positive one and worth a read. This isn’t advertising for me or to promote any of my friends. It’s simply praise for good books.

Day 5, Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio by Peg Kehret

small steps

The first chapter of this memoir by acclaimed children’s author Peg Kehret ends with a chilling sentence: “When I woke up, I was paralyzed.”

The story begins on a Friday morning at school, in  1949. Twelve-year-old Peg is so eager to attend the Homecoming parade that afternoon, she tries to ignore the odd twitch in her leg during choir class. With terrifying speed, the twitch becomes her leg collapsing, which becomes her sent home with a high fever, which becomes her knees unresponsive to a rubber mallet, which becomes a spinal tap, which becomes a diagnosis: polio. The most terrifying thing of all? These moments happened in a little more than one day.

Over the next year, Peg would be hospitalized and isolated from her family. Her personal belongings were burned—even a favorite teddy bear and her copy of Anne of Green Gables. She suffered high fevers, muscle spasms, and painful rehab sessions; she spent time in an iron lung and, later, a wheelchair. She roomed with other girls stricken during the polio epidemic of the 1940-50s. Some of those girls would die. Some would never walk again. Peg lived. She walked. She fulfilled her childhood dream of being a writer, publishing dozens adventure and animal rescue stories for children, and continues to write. She wrote this memoir so others would understand what it was like to be a normal seventh-grader one morning, and paralyzed and fighting for your life by the next night.

Why is Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio a good read for women? A survivor story is a good read for everyone, and there is humor and many poignant young girl moments. This book also addresses powerlessness–in this case, a child at the mercy of a disease and under the rule of adults–and it is certainly timely. Peg Kehret’s courage in sharing her first-person account of a terrifying time in history benefits all of us who take good health and scientific advancements for granted.



10 thoughts on “40 Days of Book Praise, Day 5

  1. Hi Ramona:

    At the end, could you put name of books and authors on one page for easy reference. I started making a list and lost it twice. Regards, Kathryn


  2. Another must-read. I read Kehret’s CAGES years ago and booktalked it to middle school classes, but I’ve not read any of her others. I wish more adults read (knew about) children’s lit (in addition to Harry Potter, etc.). It’s some of the best literature out there, and it doesn’t get the respect it deserves. My opinion, but I’m sure I’m right.


  3. This sounds like a good memoir to read.I am so glad there is a polio vaccine now. One of the members in my class got polio. He was a twin, and his brother didn’t get it. Eventually, he was able to walk and graduated with us, but later in life he suffered from weakness in one leg. He’s still able to drive, but uses a walker now.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ramona, I’m so glad you chose this book for your list. I had polio when I was 7. It was then considered a “mild” case and was much like a bad case of the flu with consequences no one understood at the time.

    We now know that, because there is a lasting and continuing effect of polio on motor neurons, no case is mild. Each case presents differently. My seven-year-old “mild case of polio” became post polio syndrome (PPS) quadriplegia in middle adulthood.

    Motor neuron loss continues over the lifespan for everyone. If you lose 40% of your motor neurons due to polio you will continue to lose motor neurons and will lose different abilities with missing axon connections depending on their locations. If you’re someone like me and you exercise harder and stronger than anyone you know you will lose those connections between neurons faster.

    This story is not one I want to write about, but I’m grateful for all the people who do. Along with helping me prevent further damage wherever possible, they have helped me understand what I must expect and adjust to.


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