Friday, October 28, 2022

Vampire Worms! The perfect Halloween reading

Who needs a scary Halloween book about zombies when there are true stories that will make your skin crawl and give you the heebie-jeebies? 

American Murderer is one such book. Subtitled “The parasite that haunted the south,” it’s the most recent in Gail Jarrow’s Medical Fiascoes series. Just released last month from Calkins Creek, it's the perfect scary read for kids 10 and older. 

The first book in the series, Blood and Germs follows the advances in medicine during the Civil War. Twice as many men died from microbes and parasites as were killed by battles. While it begins as a medical fiasco, the war ended with advancements in surgical techniques and medical care that set the bar for decades. 

In the second book, Ambushed! The Assassination Plot Against President Garfield, Jarrow details the medical mistakes made in the aftermath of Garfield’s assassination. A series of faulty diagnoses and outdated treatments eventually led to the president’s demise.

American Murderer hits closer to home – the backyards and school yards of the American south. It focuses on microscopic worms living in the soil. Invisible vampires that enter your body through your bare feet, travel to your intestines, and stay there for years sucking your blood and draining you of energy. 

Yes, there are gory photos of the victims! 
Yes, there are gross diagrams and photos of the vampiric worms! 

But mostly it’s a story about the scientist who discovered the worm and played a role in educating the public on treatments and eradication: Charles Wardell Stile. As a boy, Charles was a curious naturalist. Like other boys in the second half of the 1800s, he collected specimens for his bedroom nature museum. I enjoyed reading about the time he decided to boil the flesh off a dead cat so he could add the skeleton to his museum – a time-honored way of cleaning the bones… as long as you remember to take the pot off the stove before it burns into a stinky mess (and I say this from experience).

Separating people’s bare feet from the microscopic worms sounds easy: have people wear shoes, and provide outhouses that don’t leak. But in the late 1800s and early 1900s, that was easier said than done. For one thing, shoes cost money. For another, people wondered who were those know-it-all Yankees coming down to tell them how to live? Fortunately, there was medical treatment – if doctors could reach the people who needed it most. 

These days, there is very little risk of getting hookworm disease in the United States, due in large part to the advances in sanitation and waste control. Unfortunately, according to new research, we are not rid of that blood-sucking vampire worm just yet…

You can find out more about Gail Jarrow and her books at her website, Thanks for dropping by today. On Monday we'll be hanging out at Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with other  bloggers. It's over at Greg Pattridge's blog, Always in the Middle, so hop over to see what other people are reading. Review copy provided by the publisher.

And remember to wear your shoes when you head out on Halloween night…. 


  1. The stuff of nightmares for sure! Honestly I will never be able to read this one. But I know some kids who would probably enjoy it!

  2. Yikes! I think this is far too scary for me! :) Seriously it sounds totally fascinating, and I think lots of kids would really enjoy it. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Double yikes! Do think this series is for older kids. A friend of mine went to South America on a medical mission trip. She was bitten by something on her side. Weeks after she turned home she'd wake up yelling something is eating her side. Painful. When they finally opened up her side they were shocked at a very large worm of sorts that was eating away. It's now preserved in a jar in her husband's office.

  4. Oh my, this is the stuff of nightmares LOL This comes after just reading about Detroit canceling a trick-or-treating event due to a cockroach infestation and not wanting the larvae to be spread on people's shoes into their home.

  5. Gail certainly has a niche in bringing unusual medical anomalies to light! Thanks for there review. Her books are well written.

  6. This sounds like a book I'd like to spend time with, although maybe not in one sitting. Great share on this week's addition of MMGM.

  7. I love Gail's books. I need to get this one. That cover! Thanks for your review.

  8. Worms like these are what nightmares are made of. Great stuff for Halloween, though. Thanks for sharing.

  9. This sounds like a book that kids would like. Some of the titles of Gails books sound really appealing for kids. Thanks for sharing this one this week.