It's 1954. Eleven-year-old Carol Ann worries about getting the new polio vaccine, just recently developed by Dr. Jonas Salk. She's also worried about getting polio. More Than a Pinch, Less Than a Bee Sting is a clever and fitting title for this story of life during the 1950s. The book is 143 pages long and includes black-and-white photographs of some of the daily happenings depicted in the story. Carol Ann's Aunt Ruthie, a pathologist in Los Angeles, was involved with finding the cure for polio. This makes the young girl all the more aware of the events surrounding this breakthrough discovery.
The author mixes real and fictional characters to give readers a glimpse into a simpler yet sometimes scary time. Although the book is written for the middle grades, older readers who remember the 1950s will get a kick out of the references to Mighty Mouse, Betsy McCall paper dolls, the Mobile flying horse gas stations, I Love Lucy, and other memorabilia of the times. The "duck and cover" drills of the Cold War remind readers that those years were not the innocent times we baby boomers would like to remember them as.
More Than a Pinch, Less Than a Bee Sting could be put to good use as a read-aloud in a history unit study of everyday life during the post-World War II years. However, the reader will need to overlook the sometimes corny slang and the author's need to explain the meanings of ordinary objects. It seems silly for an 11-year-old boy to explain what a drumstick is while standing with his friends around an ice-cream truck. Every kid in this scene knows what a drumstick is. The explanation is clearly for the reader. This and the overuse of '50s slang words (a "boss" hole, "boss" waffles, and "I'm digging this root-beer Popsicle") occasionally distracted me from the story.
While this book provided an overall look at life in the 1950's "the freedom children enjoyed, the slower-paced lifestyle, the memories of black-and-white television” I was disappointed that more of the story didn't revolve around the polio vaccine itself and the significance of this work. Especially today, when the pro-immunization and anti-immunization camps are polarized, it would be beneficial to read a book from the viewpoint of those who lived in fear of some of the world's most dreaded diseases. Parents in the 1950s experienced the joy of knowing their children might escape polio and other diseases with a little shot that hurt "more than a pinch, less than a bee sting."