Wednesday, October 29, 2008

An American Plague by Jim Murphy


Plot Summary:
AN AMERICAN PLAGUE describes the Yellow Fever Epidemic that swept through Philadelphia in 1793 killing much of the population. The book describes Philadelpia at that outset of the epidemic, its social and political atmosphere, the response to the disease, the effects of the illness, and the lack of a cure. The sentiments during that time period are revealed through an array of first-hand accounts. The book concludes with a chapter dedicated to modern outbreaks and the possibility of another epidemic. The book also includes an extensive annotated bibliography and an index.

Critical Analysis:
Murphy's book relects all the qualities needed for an excellent informational book: accuracy, organization, design, and style. The book starts by creating the atmosphere that made the Yellow Fever ripe for occurrence, the confusion of diagnosis, the symptoms of the disease, nursing needs, and the after effects of the epidemic on the people and city of Philadelphia. He continues the story to the present day about the continuing issues related to Yellow Fever making this historical event relevant for readers today.

Murphy writes in a clear, detailed manner that engages the reader by presenting details that conjures up the political and social atmosphere of the fledgling United States. He relies on primary sources such as newspapers, maps, personal correspondence, and church documents to help tell the story of the epidemic. Murphy also relies on engravings, drawings, cartoons, and portraits to provide visual resources for readers. The images provide visual references to help readers connect names to faces while also making the victims of the epidemic come alive. The information presented is from direct sources that are listed in an annotated bibliography and an index is also included.

AN AMERICAN PLAGUE is an outstanding book that is well-organized and presented in an effective, engaging way and is an asset to any collection.

American Library Association Notable Books for Children 2004
Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards 2004
James Madison Book Award 2004
NCTE Orbis Pictus Award 2004
Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award 2004
School Library Journal Best Books of the Year 2003

Review Excerpts:
Booklist: “History, science, politics, and public health come together in this dramatic account of the disastrous yellow fever epidemic that hit the nation's capital more than 200 years ago.“

Publishers Weekly: “This comprehensive history of the outbreak and its aftermath lays out the disputes within the medical community and, as there is still no cure, offers a cautionary note.”

School Library Journal: “Students will become immersed in the dramatic narrative as they read how fear and panic spread throughout the country's capital. The author masterfully weaves facts and fascinating stories in describing the course of the disease and the heroic roles played by a few doctors and the free African-American citizens of the city.”

Voice of Youth Advocates: “This book represents nonfiction at its best. Although the subject matter does not cover typical teen reading choices, Murphy's book is extremely accessible and readable. The story is captivating, and the writing is straightforward. Readers come away with a sense of the era as a whole and a keen picture of the overall devastation brought by yellow fever.”

-Combine this selection with FEVER 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson
-The author provides an excellent annotated bibliography that provides suggestions for further readings in areas such as medical, non-medical, yellow fever literature both fiction and non-fiction, George Washington's problems, African Americans, plagues, and mosquitoes. These resources can be accessed by different students depending on where there interest lies. Students can do further research and present it to the class.

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