The Great Trouble Review & Blog Tour

Author: Deborah Hopkinson
Publisher: Knopf (September 10, 2013)
Source: Copy for Review
Audience: Grades 5th to 8th
Keywords: Historical Fiction, Europe, 1800's, Epidemics

Description of the book:
Eel has troubles of his own: As an orphan and a "mudlark," he spends his days in the filthy River Thames, searching for bits of things to sell. He's being hunted by Fisheye Bill Tyler, and a nastier man never walked the streets of London. And he's got a secret that costs him four precious shillings a week to keep safe. But even for Eel, things aren't so bad until that fateful August day in 1854—the day the Great Trouble begins. Mr. Griggs, the tailor, is the first to get sick, and soon it's clear that the deadly cholera—the "blue death"—has come to Broad Street. Everyone believes that cholera is spread through poisonous air. But one man, Dr. John Snow, has a different theory. As the epidemic surges, it's up to Eel and his best friend Florrie to gather evidence to prove Snow's theory before the entire neighborhood is wiped out. Part medical mystery, part survival story, and part Dickensian adventure, Deborah Hopkinson's The Great Trouble is a celebration of a fascinating pioneer in public health and a gripping novel about the 1854 London cholera epidemic. Backmatter includes an author's note, time line, and further reading suggestions.

My thoughts:
When I read a book, I have a checklist in my head to determine if I liked it and why.  The checklist for Deborah Hopkinson's newest book The Great Trouble would look a little like this:

      Historical Fiction that makes you want to know more about the subject.  -  check
      Description of the setting that makes you actually feel like you experienced it.  - check
      Characters that your care about and would want to know (or not).  -  check
      Mystery and intrigue.  - check
      Book that sucks you in and you can't put down.  -  check

Yes, this book has it all.  As a 5th grader, I would have been thoroughly fascinated with Eel (the main character), the setting of London in 1854, and what was happening at the time to the individuals of this city as a result of the Cholera epidemic.  I guess the adult me is still intrigued by the same things.  Since no one seems to have created a machine which would allow me to travel through time, I will have to travel to different time periods through books.   And when you think about it, travel through books has its advantages. 

In The Great Trouble, Hopkinson from the beginning paints a very real picture of life for the poor and working class of Victorian London.  It is really not a great place to be in some ways.  Most of the time there is not enough food or clean water.  The sewage and waste disposal system was - well non-existant, and it really was a smelly place.  Aside from making me appreciate modern bathrooms, plumbing, and sewers,  I was really thankful for my life versus the life of many people during that time period. 

Hopkinson then introduces readers to the very real concern of cholera and disease during that time period.   She also has created memorable fictional characters such as Eel, his best friend Florrie, Thumbless Jake, and Fisheye Bill Tyler, and paired them with the very real Dr. John Snow, Jane Weatherburn (Dr. Snow's housekeeper), and Rev. Henry Whitehead.   There are characters that you love, and ones that you will emotionally feel for, and ones that you just plain won't like.  It is the emotional connection to the characters that also fuels the readers interest in these individuals, and in their plight.

By adding in the race to discover what causes cholera as well as what is causing the spread of cholera, readers have a gripping story that will keep them reading.  At the end of the book, readers can learn more about the actual historical figures in the book by reading the author's note.  There is also a timeline, and additional resources to investigate.

Look for The Great Trouble at your local public library or pick up a copy at your community bookstore.  When possible, please consider an independent bookstore.   

Check out this Meet the Author video by AdLit:

Find out more information about author, Deborah Hopkinson visit her website:

Consider pairing the picture book A Boy Called Dickens by Deborah Hopkinson (see my review here)  with The Great TroubleA Boy Called Dickens is set in a London, though a bit earlier than 1854, and the illustrations provide students with a visual and a sense of place for that time period.  Adult readers looking for more information about the Cholera Epidemic and Dr. John Snow might want to check out The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson. 

If you are interested in the Teacher's Guide, click here.

To visit all of the stops for The Great Trouble Blog Tour, see the schedule below:
September 10 – Sharp Read
September 11 – Librarian in Cute Shoes  
September 12Random Acts of Reading  
September 13Styling Librarian  
September 14Kidlit Frenzy  
September 15Busy Librarian  
September 16{Eat the Book} 
September 17Nerdy Book Club

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday - Turtle in Paradise

Author:  Jennifer L. Holm
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Children (May 2010)
Grade Level: 4th to 7th
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Personal Copy
Award: Newbery Honor 2011

Description from GoodReads:
Inspired by family stories, two-time Newbery Honor winner and New York Times bestselling author Jennifer L. Holm beautifully blends family lore with America's past in this charming gem of a novel, rich in historical detail, humor, and the unique flavors of Key West.

Life isn't like the movies, and eleven-year-old Turtle is no Shirley Temple. She's smart and tough and has seen enough of the world not to expect a Hollywood ending. After all, it's 1935, and jobs and money and sometimes even dreams are scarce. So when Turtle's mama gets a job housekeeping for a lady who doesn't like kids, Turtle says goodbye without a tear and heads off to Key West, Florida, to stay with relatives she's never met.

Florida's like nothing Turtle has ever seen. It's hot and strange, full of wild green peeping out between houses, ragtag boy cousins, and secret treasure. Before she knows what's happened, Turtle finds herself coming out of the shell she has spent her life building, and as she does, her world opens up in the most unexpected ways.

A few weeks ago, I had the wonderful opportunity of being at the ALA Youth Media Awards Press Conference where the Newbery Award & Honor winners were announced.  Up until the Newbery announcement, most of the books receiving recognition were ones that I was familiar with and many I had read.  And then the Newbery winners were announced.  I sat expectantly, wondering if one of my favorite middle grade books would take home the big prize.  Then the announcement was made.  I was perplexed.  There was one winner (MOON OVER MANIFEST) and four honor books.  I had read one (ONE CRAZY SUMMER), heard of two (MOON OVER MANIFEST & HEART OF A SAMURI), and wondered how I had missed the other two.  It appears that I wasn't the only one surprised by the Newbery Committee's selections.  Even my wonderfully stocked local indie bookstore seemed to be caught short without some of the award winners.  Fast forward two weeks later, I have now acquired all of the books that won and I am carefully reading through them.  However, I am going to share with you one of those "how had I missed this" books - TURTLE IN PARADISE.

Jennifer L. Holm, well known for her Babymouse series and a previous two-time Newbery Honor Winner,  takes a step back into her family history to create the story of 11 year old, Turtle living in Key West in 1935.  When I opened up the book, it was kind of late and I intended only to read a chapter or two to get a feel for the book; however, before I knew it, I had read over half the book.  From the first chapter in, Turtle captures your heart.  She is spunky and tells it like it is.  There are no stars in this young girl's eyes but as the reader you don't seem to mind because there is plenty of life and spirit in Turtle.  I found myself chuckling aloud at some of her comments.  When Turtle finds herself in Key West at the small home of her mother's sister (an aunt she has never met) surrounded by 3 boy cousins, and their dog, life is about to become more interesting. 

Holm does an amazing job creating both Turtle's voice, which the reader gets caught up in right from the first chapter, and her setting.  The heat and humidity of a Key West summer along with the depression era feel comes through in a huge way.  It seems that everyone in this part of Key West has a nickname (Beans, Kermit, Slow Poke, Pork Chop, etc.) and her cousins have a gang, but not your usual gang.  They are called the Diaper Gang because they have a secret formula for curing diaper rash and have created a business out of taking cranky babies out for a stroll. I do have to admit that this part conjured up for me old Little Rascal episodes where Spanky and the Gang had some scheme going on.  It does really make you realize how different life is now 75 years later.  Though if you are interested in knowing the secret ingredient in how to cure diaper rash, you just might want to give the book a read. 

Despite Turtle's initial reluctance to be on Curry Lane, she begins to come into her own and learns that maybe home and belonging doesn't have to resemble a Little Orphan Annie comic strip to have meaning.  I will have to say I was surprised at the ending.  Or maybe more precisely, how quickly the story ended.  Granted I am not a fan of books dragging on and on, but in this case, I wasn't ready to leave Turtle and her family and friends.  If I could have begged for a few more chapters, I would have.  Alas, I have to believe that Holm has her reason for ending it where she does.  The book does include some interesting pieces of history about the area and photographs from the author's family which add a beautiful touch to the book.

How I might use this at school:  I can already imagine this book as a wonderful read aloud with a group of 4th or 5th graders or in a book group discussion.  I would love to see the reaction of the students to Turtle and her cousins and their "adventures".  And it would be interesting to see what they think about the ending.  Children always have a way of surprising me with their insight and questions. 

It would also be interesting to see it as part of a Depression Era unit along with Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool, Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko, and On the Blue Comet by Rosemary Wells - all very different books set in the same time period

For more information on Jennifer Holm, you can check out her website

You can also find her on twitter: @jenniholm

* Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays were started by Shannon over at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe.  You can check out her Marvelous Middle Grade Monday choice and Giveaway Post here