October 21, 2013

On the trail of a deadly killer

By Deborah Hopkinson
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Historical fiction and mysteries hold high appeal for middle grade readers. The Great Trouble combines elements from both these genres in a story of one boy's efforts to stop the deadly 1854 Broad Street London cholera epidemic.

Ever since his parents' deaths, Eel's been making his own way with a combination of odd jobs, including cleaning animal cages for well-respected medical man Dr. John Snow.  When cholera strikes Eel's tenement-like neighborhood, most residents assume that poisonous air is to blame. But Dr. Snow believes the culprit is tainted water, and enlists Eel's help in proving his theory. Together with his friend Florrie, Eel must use the tools of scientific inquiry—including drawing maps, combing death records and interviewing residents—to demonstrate the accuracy of Dr. Snow's hypothesis and convince a local committee to close the Broad Street water pump before more victims sicken and die.

Even in the middle of this desperate race against time, Eel's personal troubles demand his attention too. Author (and BookPage reviewer) Deborah Hopkinson fills her tale with relatable characters, lots of suspense and plenty of details on the everyday life of an orphan living in Victorian London. Best of all, observant readers will notice that they have all the clues they need to find the solution . . . if, like Eel, they know the right questions to ask.

In a style that's increasingly becoming the gold standard for historical fiction for young readers, Hopkinson includes an extensive reader's guide at the back of The Great Trouble. In this guide, she outlines which parts of her tale are true and which are fictional, adding a timeline, three separate bibliographies, information about the book's characters and setting and finally a note about public health and the emerging field of epidemiology.

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The Great Trouble

The Great Trouble

By Deborah Hopkinson
Knopf Books for Young Readers
ISBN 9780375848186

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