The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, The Blue Death and a Boy Called Eel

Written by Deborah Hopkinson

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Eel is an orphaned boy on the streets of London with a precious secret to keep and a vile-tempered criminal stepfather searching for him. He sleeping under bridges and works as a “mudlark,” foraging what he can out of the filthy Thames River to sell.

In August of 1854, Mr. Griggs, a local tailor who treats Eel kindly and lets him do odd jobs for pence, gets ill suddenly. Only days later, he becomes more ill, turning his face and lips a blue hue just before he dies. Neighbors know it is the cholera, known as blue death, that has come to the hot, humid city. Most people of the time period believe that sickness is caused by the bad air.

Not Dr. John Snow (a real physician), he believes the deadly disease is carried in the water. He gets Eel to help him interrogate the neighbors who have lost family members, draw maps of the city and try to convince the town leaders to disable one centrally located water pump before the whole city dies.

The story is filled with intrigue, excitement and the scientific method put to work. Eel and his friends are instrumental in solving the life threatening riddle.

Literacy skills required to enjoy this novel are cause and effect, parts to whole relationships, main ideas with supporting details and separating fact from fiction. This book will work well for science book clubs as well as history and English classes. Librarians will want to include it in middle grade book clubs to discuss how science had to deal with myths and legends to help people realize that some illnesses were within their power to avoid and contain.

Extras: Endpages contain the timeline of the Broad Street Cholera Epidemic, Author’s Note, Related Reading Resources

  • Great TroubleTitle: The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, The Blue Death and a Boy Called Eel
  • Author: Deborah Hopkinson
  • Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 249 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-375-84818-6
  • Genre: Historical Fiction

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