A few years ago, while working at the public library, I came across the book in the Nonfiction section called The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson.
The book chronicles the cholera epidemic on Broad Street in London in 1854, and how Dr. John Snow used observation to finally discover the source of this deadly disease. It was extremely well written with an easy to follow time line – some people skip nonfiction because they think it might be like a text book, but that isn’t the case with this book.
Dr. John Snow
Snow’s research revealed that the epidemic centered around the Broad Street pump.
Until Snow’s efforts to solve the mystery, people believed that bad smells or miasmas caused illnesses like cholera.
Fast forward to last year. I try hard to read a little from many authors and when I find one I like, I expand my collection of their titles. Deborah Hopkinson is an author that I first discovered in the picture book section. Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek and Apples to Oregon are great picture books based on true events (and funny!) When a student asked for more historical fiction about epidemics, I looked Hopkinson’s titles up and was pleasantly surprised to find The Great Trouble: the Mystery of London, the Blue Death and a Boy Called Eel.
Hopkinson has created a boy that lives next to the Broad Street pump and has to watch as his neighbors and friends begin to fall victim to the blue death. Eel is extremely smart and and resourceful, a necessity since he is hiding serious secrets about his past. It is his idea to ask Dr. Snow to help on Broad Street, and though Snow cannot cure the victims, he enlists Eel’s help to find the cause of the disease.
Hopkinson tells the story of what happened very faithfully, even with the addition of fictional characters. She also tells it in a way that isnt too difficult or graphic for elementary students.