Fever Year: The Killer Flu of 1918 by Don Brown. September 3, 2019. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 96 p. ISBN: 9780544837409. Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 1020.
New Year’s Day, 1918. America has declared war on Germany and is gathering troops to fight. But there’s something coming that is deadlier than any war.
When people begin to fall ill, most Americans don’t suspect influenza. The flu is known to be dangerous to the very old, young, or frail. But the Spanish flu is exceptionally violent. Soon, thousands of people succumb. Then tens of thousands . . . hundreds of thousands and more. Graves can’t be dug quickly enough.
What made the influenza of 1918 so exceptionally deadly—and what can modern science help us understand about this tragic episode in history? With a journalist’s discerning eye for facts and an artist’s instinct for true emotion, Sibert Honor recipient Don Brown sets out to answer these questions and more in Fever Year.
Potentially Sensitive Areas: Harsh realities of war
Booklist (July 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 21))
Grades 7-10. As WWI neared its end, the world began another war. From army camps to the world’s great cities, Brown presents the terrifying influenza pandemic of 1918 as a three-act tragedy. Brown follows the disease’s lightning-fast spread carefully, capturing both its large scale and daily effects on a full one third of humanity. Pertinent historic details and quotes heighten the drama, from the denial by authorities—“don’t even discuss it . . . talk of cheerful things,” advised the Philadelphia Inquirer—to the blind search for a cure based on a faulty nineteenth-century theory. Brown is comics’ premiere chronicler of historical catastrophes, and he knows that the story requires emotional investment. This he finds by, for instance, highlighting the common bravery of nurses and volunteers, and making keen visual choices: a double-page splash showing “the life of the city stopped,” and intimate panels depicting family corpses laid to rest “in a corner of the household.” A somewhat abrupt ending relating a scientist’s efforts in 1995 doesn’t detract from the urgency of the tale.
Horn Book Magazine (November/December, 2019)
Brown (most recently The Unwanted, rev. 9/18) here turns his attention to the deadly Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, which brought “sickness to a third of the planet and death to millions of people.” The book, in comics format, is billed as “a tragedy in three acts.” Act I covers the first half of 1918 and describes the disease’s probable origin in the United States; Act II, the longest section, covers the second half of 1918 and details the inexorable spread of the infection throughout the world; Act III covers 1919 as the epidemic finally begins to fade away-leaving in its wake “incalculable” misery and sorrow. In his illustrations, Brown has a knack for dramatizing details with striking visual angles that produce maximum emotional impact while still conveying solid, accurate information. His text succinctly traces the evolution of the medical disaster with statistics and anecdotes woven in, while his somber, muted palette expertly captures the mood of the period (“America was at war…People had decided to ration happiness along with beef and chicken”). Source notes and a bibliography are appended.
About the Author
Don Brown is the award-winning author and illustrator of many picture book biographies. He has been widely praised for his resonant storytelling and his delicate watercolor paintings that evoke the excitement, humor, pain, and joy of lives lived with passion. School Library Journal has called him “a current pacesetter who has put the finishing touches on the standards for storyographies.” He lives in New York with his family.
His website is www.booksbybrown.com.
Great Flu Epidemic Lesson Plans
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