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Fever 1793

By Laurie Halse Anderson

· Teachers
Fever 1793, by Laurie Halse Anderson

As we socially isolate to help contain the spread of the corona virus, I've seen many calls for epidemic-based literature from teachers. I was planning on using this post-American Revolution piece of literature later in the year, but right now it seems apropos.


A decade after the American Revolution, 14-year-old Matilda's life is completely up-ended by yellow fever, a deadly virus spread through infected mosquito bites.

First her best friend Polly dies, of causes unknown, then the local doctor speculates that he knows the culprit -- yellow fever.

The wealthy attempt to outrun the virus by retreating to their country houses, but as the virus is spread by mosquitoes, there is no escape.

For a short spate, life continues as normal -- cleaning out the fireplace, running to the market for eggs and apples to serve customers at her parents' coffeehouse, responding to invitations to tea.

But the tea collapses when one of the hosts does, and soon church bells are ringing non-stop to announce the deaths.

There's a list from the "College of Physicians" on steps to take to prevent it from spreading, which is hauntingly familiar. All of these steps, of course, are ineffective against mosquitoes.

Then Mattie and her grandfather stop a man from carting her mother, still alive, away in a wheelbarrow for the dead, and the disease runs rampant through her family. No one is left unscathed.

We loved this book for its accurate depiction of how pre-modern doctors dealt with a virus when the vector (what transmits it) was still relatively unknown. Part of the narrative is a French doctor who speculates that mosquitoes spread the disease, and that mosquito nets could be effective in halting its spread. Mattie herself speculates, at one point, that "frost kills the fever," never once thinking it kills the mosquitoes that spread it.

Teaching Resources

This book has the advantage of having been published for a while now, and there are some excellent FREE teaching resources available for it.

The publisher offers a discussion guide, which includes seven (7) discussion topics and additional ideas for projects involving research in history, English Language Arts, math and science.

Even better, on the author's website, there's a 45-page teaching guide, correlated to Common Core Social Studies standards, created by Nicole Boylan and Erin Fry, with excellent vocabulary and chapter discussion questions in batches of 5 chapters, approximately.

Toward the end of the guide, there's an absolutely awesome Performance Task: Examining Yellow Fever. Students read several different types of writing: an excerpt from the fiction book, a map of deaths, a letter from Thomas Jefferson, a doctor / author (2012) from Princeton University discussing yellow fever and why it came back, and a poem about the epidemic. Students then write an article as if they were a journalist of the time period. Students must evaluate all the information given to write their articles. It's absolutely brilliant!

In a separate link, one of the authors of the guide, Erin Fry, also provides a project assignment for the book with five options for students to research, complete with corresponding web page links. This document also contains chapter tests, without answers of course, but after reading the book, they will enable you to assess student progress and reading comprehension pretty quickly.

And finally, here's the link to FREE resources from the pay-for-teaching materials site, Teachers Pay Teachers: Fever 1793. Quite a few are being offered, no doubt to reel in your business during our period of social isolation. They're all great additions to teaching this novel, and I recommend you download them now, while they're free.

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