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

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about the book

great trouble a mystery of london blue death and a boy called eel


This tale is equal parts true history, survival adventure, medical mystery, and Dickensian novel. The main event, a deadly epidemic, is very real. It raged in Victorian London during the sweltering August of 1854.

Thirteen-year-old Eel, an orphan, is just trying to survive after running away from Fisheye Bill Tyler, his cruel stepfather. The nastiest man in London, Fisheye runs a band of beggars, pick pockets, and petty thieves, and Eel took something that Fisheye considers his “property”. He’ll do anything to get it back. To shake Fisheye off his trail, Eel fakes his own drowning.

Finding a refuge on grimy Broad Street, Eel barely squeaks by. He runs errands for the Lion Brewery, takies care of Dr. John Snow’s research menagerie, and scavenges along the edge of the filthy Thames River for anything he can sell. He is labeled a mudlark—a dangerous stinky job—but a bucket of coal bits gets Eel one shilling toward the four he needs each week to hide Fisheye’s “property”.

Just when life starts to feel a little safer, Fisheye discovers that Eel is still alive. The determined thug is on Eel’s trail again, and now the boy has to be even more crafty and careful.

To make matters worse, cholera, or the “Blue Death”, has hit Broad Street. It is believed to be spread through bad air, but Dr. Snow theorizes it is transmitted through contaminated water. He enlists Eel and his friend Florrie, to interview the people crammed into the poor Soho neighborhood and gather evidence to support his claims. If they figure out how the disease is spread, maybe they can save lives.

Eel’s past is catching up with him way too fast, and Fisheye is closing in! More and more people sicken, with a death toll of over six hundred. Time is of the essence! Can the desperate orphan get the information Dr. Snow needs to convince the Governors to shut down the Broad Street water pump before the entire neighborhood is wiped out—and still keep the “property” out of Fisheye’s greedy clutches?


about the author

Deborah Hopkinson is the award-winning author of more than 45 books for young readers including picture books, historical fiction, and nonfiction. Her favorite books are about how ordinary people in history changed the world.

Deborah, the oldest of three girls, was born and raised in Lowell, Massachusetts. She loved to read so much that she’d hide a novel behind her big history textbooks and read in class. She always knew she would be a writer.

Her middle grade novel, The Great Trouble, A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel, has received several awards, including the Oregon Spirit Award and an NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People.

Deborah likes presenting at schools and conferences and is passionate about encouraging young readers to think like historians. She received a B.A. from the University of Massachusetts and an M.A. from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. A former professional in higher education fundraising, Deborah and her husband, winemaker Andy Thomas, live in West Linn, Oregon and have two grown children.

Inspiration for The Great Trouble came when Deborah stumbled across a book written by Steven Johnson, The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic—and How it Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World. It is the true story of Dr. John Snow and the Broad Street cholera epidemic of 1854. Before that, she had never even heard of Sr. John Snow.

Snow’s research revealed that all the deaths on the map he compiled were clustered around the Broad Street water pump. Closing down the pump changed how human waste is handled in cities and forever changed scientific investigation techniques. John Snow became known as the pioneer in the field of public health. Deborah traveled to London and found Broadwick Street, once called Broad Street and the location of the contaminated water pump. Deborah loves doing the research for her historical novels!

Sources :
Author website
Author biography: McElmeel
Author interview: Powell’s
Meet the author video: AdLit
Book trailer: The Great Trouble…

Also by Deborah Hopkinson:
Courage & Defiance : Stories of Spies, Saboteurs, and Survivors in World War II Denmark. Scholastic. 2015.
Titanic : Voices from the Disaster. Scholastic. 2012.
Into the Firestorm : A Novel of San Francisco, 1906. 
Alfred A. Knopf. 2006.
Up Before Daybreak : Cotton and People in America. Scholastic Nonfiction. 2006.
Shutting Out the Sky : Life in the Tenements of New York, 1880-1924. 
Orchard Books. 2003.


read more!


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The Great Death by John Smelcer
In the winter of 1917, Millie and her younger sister, Maura, are forced to rely on each other when a sickness brought by white settlers takes the lives of all the others in their native Alaskan village. Can they survive on their own as they make their way south through the frozen landscape? Will they be able to find someone else alive?



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Young Matilda, the daughter of a coffeehouse owner in Philadelphia, can only dream of a better life. But her ordinary life is changed forever when the yellow fever epidemic ravages the city. Her grandfather and her widowed mother decide to stay, but when her mother falls ill, Mattie flees the city. What will happen to her if she becomes ill, too?