Tag Archives: plague

The difficult second book

17 Oct

So often, the second book in a series disappoints. It fails to live up to the expectations of the first. Or, maybe it fails to cover new ground, while maintaining the energy and character of the first. Kevin Sands has managed to do all three in The Mark of the Plague,  sequel to The Blackthorn Key.

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Publisher’s Summary: Christopher Rowe is back and there are more puzzles, riddles, and secrets to uncover in this follow-up to the Indie Next pick The Blackthorn Key, which was called a “spectacular debut” by Kirkus Reviews in a starred review.

The Black Death has returned to London, spreading disease and fear through town. A mysterious prophet predicts the city’s ultimate doom—until an unknown apothecary arrives with a cure that actually works. Christopher’s Blackthorn shop is chosen to prepare the remedy. But when an assassin threatens the apothecary’s life, Christopher and his faithful friend Tom are back to hunting down the truth, risking their lives to untangle the heart of a dark conspiracy.

And as the sickness strikes close to home, the stakes are higher than ever before…

I really liked this first book and, though prepared to be disappointed, I was entranced by the second. There are several reasons why I liked them both.

First, they are set in Restoration London. That’s the period marked by the return of Charles II as king (1660–85) following the period of Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth.This is a setting rarely explored in children’s & YA lit, so more power to Sands for choosing an interesting time and place.

Second, they both have mysteries involving codes and ciphers. I had a period growing up when I was obsessed with codes and ciphers and checked out the few books our small library had multiple times. I know that there are many middle grade readers out there who feel the same, decades after my youth.

Third, Christopher is an apothecary’s apprentice. The whole apothecary thing is interesting. In fact, several other book series for this age group are about apothecaries:

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Forest of Wonders by Linda Sue Park and the Apothecary  series by Maile Meloy.

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Finally, I love the fact that Christopher is an apprentice. Although we have lots of stories of cruel masters, Christopher found an excellent one in Benedict Blackthorn.

Like The Blackthorn Key,  the problem is wrapped up in  The Mark of the Plague. Both books could be read as stand alones. I don’t know if there is a third book in the works, but, based on these two, I would read whatever Kevin Sands publishes next.

Plague!

17 Apr

In October 2015, a teenage Oregonian was diagnosed with bubonic plague. Seriously.

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That week, we did some reading about it and the history of the plague in the every-other-day Reading Enrichment class I taught. The kids were fascinated and horrified, just as I’d hoped they’d be.

A few months later, when I was at the ALA Midwinter Meeting in Boston, I picked up an arc of Gail Jarrow’s  Bubonic Panic: When Plague Invaded America.

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I shared my arc with my students and added it to my classroom collection. It has been out a lot! The final book was published earlier this month and has already received starred reviews from School Library Journal and  Kirkus Reviews, and is a Junior Library Guild selection.

Chapter one opens with a personification of the disease.

The killer was a master of stealth. It moved undetected, sneaking from victim to victim and always catching its targets by surprise.

Their end usually came after three or four horrific days of suffering. For a few – the ones spared that agony – life drained away in hours.

Jarrow is a superb storyteller and the rest of the book reads like a medical thriller. The book includes disturbingly fascinating photos and  drawings that will have readers of all ages turning pages quickly, then rubbernecking to learn more.

Writer’s workshop these last few months have been about informational writing and we’ve spent a lot of time discussing text features and the layout of modern informational texts. Bubonic Panic incorporates the best of these, without becoming distracting.

There is ample back matter, including  a glossary, timeline, further resources, author’s note, bibliography, source notes, picture credits,and index, all of which will lead to further investigation.

Publisher’s Summary: In March 1900, San Francisco’s health department investigated a strange and horrible death in Chinatown. A man had died of bubonic plague, one of the world’s deadliest diseases. But how could that be possible? Bubonic Panic tells the true story of America’s first plague epidemic—the public health doctors who desperately fought to end it, the political leaders who tried to keep it hidden, and the brave scientists who uncovered the plague’s secrets. Once again, acclaimed author and scientific expert Gail Jarrow brings the history of a medical mystery to life in vivid and exciting detail for young readers.

 

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