October 25 – 31
The year is 1793, the location is Philadelphia, the event is a yellow fever epidemic. Meet Matilda Cook, a teen girl growing up in a time when Washington lived in town and often rode up and down the street. Her mother runs a coffeehouse with her grandfather, so when the epidemic hits, Matilda is reluctant to leave and wants to stay to help her mother out. However, when her mother falls ill, she orders Matilda to leave the city and take refuge in the country. This is a story of self-discovery, survival, and love. Will Matilda be able to see all of her dreams come true?
Anderson, L.H. (2000). Fever, 1793. New York: Aladdin Paperbooks.
I like reading historical fiction books like this when they are based on historical events that seemed to catch the country off guard, especially with last year's swine flu panic. This book made me start to think about what it would be like to just get sent away with no immediate means of checking on loved ones and relying only on hope for their survival. I definitely had a strong appreciation for our modern conveniences at the end of this story, but it made me start to wonder if maybe we're a bit too dependent on them.
From Book Report:
This coming-of-age novel resounds with the voices of ordinary people who endured a tragedy now relegated to a footnote in American history. The idyllic life of 14-year-old Mattie Cook changes dramatically during a yellow fever outbreak in Philadelphia during the late summer of 1793. In the course of four months her mother contracts the disease and is separated from the family, Mattie's grandfather dies of the fever, and Mattie becomes responsible for maintaining the family's business, a coffeehouse. The Philadelphia of George Washington and Charles Willson Peale lives in the vibrant word pictures the author creates. Members of the Free African Society are accurately credited with providing food, nursing the sick, and caring for children orphaned during the epidemic. Each chapter begins with quotes from books, diaries, and journals from the period. An afterword provides additional insight into to the people and events of the period. The story features a strong female protagonist and well-defined characters. The plot moves at a fast pace as the horrors of the unexplained pestilence grip the city. This well-researched novel provides a fascinating view of those tragic months in Philadelphia history; it would coordinate well with historical fiction units or thematic units on the resilience of human nature in adversity. This book should be part of every library collection. Highly Recommended. 252 pages LINWORTH PUBLISHING, c2001.
[Review of Fever, 1793]. (2001 January 1). Book Report, pp 54.
From School Library Journal:
Gr 6-10 The sights, sounds, and smells of Philadelphia when it was still the nation's capital are vividly re-created in this well-told tale of a girl's coming-of-age, hastened by the outbreak of yellow fever. As this novel opens, Matilda Cook, 14, wakes up grudgingly to face another hot August day filled with the chores appropriate to the daughter of a coffeehouse owner. At its close, four months later, she is running the coffeehouse, poised to move forward with her dreams. Ambitious, resentful of the ordinary tedium of her life, and romantically imaginative, Matilda is a believable teenager, so immersed in her own problems that she can describe the freed and widowed slave who works for her family as the 'luckiest' person she knows. Ironically, it is Mattie who is lucky in the loyalty of Eliza. The woman finds medical help when Mattie's mother falls ill, takes charge while the girl is sent away to the countryside, and works with the Free African Society. She takes Mattie in after her grandfather dies, and helps her reestablish the coffeehouse. Eliza's story is part of an important chapter in African-American history, but it is just one of many facets of this story of an epidemic. Mattie's friend Nathaniel, apprentice to the painter Master Peale, emerges as a clear partner in her future. There are numerous eyewitness accounts of the devastation by Dr. Benjamin Rush and other prominent Philadelphians of the day. Readers will be drawn in by the characters and will emerge with a sharp and graphic picture of another world.-Kathleen Isaacs, Edmund Burke School, Washington, DC; 256pg. CAHNERS PUBLISHING, c2000.
Isaacs, K. (2000 August 1). [Book Review of Fever, 1793]. School Library Journal, pp 177.
Library Setting Uses:
Ask the nearby schools for cooperation if possible, but this would make a great essay contest for middle school and/or high school students. Possible prompt: If there was a sudden outbreak of a disease in the United States, what would you and your parents do and how do you think your cell phones and other modern devices would impact communication during this time period.