|Image from MadWomanintheForest.com|
The summer of 1793 starts like any other for 14 year old Mattie Cook. Every morning she helps her mother and the cook, Eliza, cook food, brew coffee, and serve the men at the family’s coffee house in downtown Philadelphia. She hates getting up early and never misses a chance to slip out of the coffee house to visit her friends. But one hot August day everything changes. Polly, the hired serving girl, doesn’t come to work because she caught yellow fever and died in a matter of hours. Soon all of Philadelphia is consumed with panic and fear. People begin to flee the city to escape the disease. Even Thomas Jefferson and President George Washington leave town. Should Mattie’s family leave town as well? They might lose the coffee shop if they leave, but they might die if they stay. Then Mattie’s indefatigable mother comes down with fever. Now Mattie is really scared, she’s never seen her mother so weak and fragile. Surround by disease and death, young Mattie must learn to take care of herself and others who now depend on her.
Based on historical events, Anderson immerses the reader by telling the story in first person from Mattie’s point of view. The characters are well-rounded and immediately likable, which makes it all the more heart-wrenching when they are hit by yellow fever. The story is full of moral dilemmas that make this a great book for discussion (see discussion questions below). The chapters are arranged in chronological order. The date is printed at the beginning of each reminding the reader that this horrible epidemic devastated Philadelphia in a matter of a few months. Extensive research is obvious from the detailed notes in the appendix on the epidemic, famous people effected by the disease, and other historical events and objects. This is an excellent historical fiction recommendation for a reluctant reader because of the high-stakes plot and captivating characters. You might try using Anderson’s label, “Historical Thriller”, to hook readers.
Read an excerpt of the book and get drawn into Mattie’s story.
*Use this title for a book club or a history unit. Encourage students to discuss the moral dilemmas in this book. Try some of these discussion questions:
What would you do if you were in an epidemic?
Would you help your neighbor, even if it meant you could get the illness and die?
Would you leave the city?
Would you go back to the city?
*More books for kids about yellow fever and epidemics:
The American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of1793 by Jim Murphy
Outbreak!:Plagues that Changed History by Bryn Barnard
Plagues,Pox, and Pestilence by Richard Platt, Illustrated by John Kelly
The Fighting Ground by Avi
Finest Kind by Lea Wait
The Great Fire by Jim Murphy
*More middle grade novels by Anderson:
RECOMMENDED AGE/GRADE LEVEL
Age 11+ / Grade 6+
Also, shout out to BK for the great book recommendation!