Sharing some 'Fever'-inspired musings

Published: Sunday, January 30, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 30, 2005 at 12:35 a.m.
Poor Philadelphia. They've got a winning football team at the moment. But over the years, Philly has gotten more than its share of being the brunt of some joke.
Even President Reagan, when he was being wheeled into the operating room after the assassination attempt in l981, said, "I'd really rather be in Philadelphia."
Could Philadelphia's first knockout punch have been the yellow fever epidemic in 1793? Maybe that was the beginning of its reputation as being the last place anyone would want to be?
In any case, renowned children's author Laurie Halse Anderson gives us this story about Philadelphia that few of us were aware of before reading "Fever 1793."
Anderson's meticulously researched novel was written for what is called "middle-grade," which covers those late elementary school ages and all of middle school.
Ally Dickinson, an eighth-grader at Westwood Middle School in Gainesville, puts it this way: "This book is definitely a 'tear-jerker.' It was a fabulous story with characters that were compassionate, caring and strong. I had never heard of yellow fever before this book and realized what a tragedy it must have been. It was terrible that so many people died. This book is a 'must-read,' and I recommend it for fourth to eighth graders."
When I asked Ally to fill us in on her favorite things to do and where she likes to read, she tells us, "My hobbies are reading, acting and talking. I like to go to Barnes and Noble to read. I just grab a book I like, sit in one of those big, comfy chairs, and read."
If you have a middle-schooler at your house, here's some fodder for dinner-table conversation that won't get either of you in trouble.
In other words, discussing a book is a neutral subject that doesn't have anything to do with dirty rooms, unfinished chores or less-than-stellar report cards.
Start with, "How about that book, 'Fever,' by Laurie Anderson? And how about that Silas? Have you ever secretly cleaned up after a pet as the main character, Matilda, does when she begins telling us the story in the summer of 1793?"
I can guarantee that your kid will look at you with a whole new appreciation that you might just be cool. (Silas is the cat that eats his breakfast mouse on Matilda's bedspread.) Here are other questions guaranteed to make your middle-schooler think that you might be smart, after all.
  • What is the name of the coffeehouse Matilda's family owns? (The answer is given away in the second question.) And what famous president lived only two blocks away? (Hint: He couldn't tell a lie.)
  • Matilda says, "Mother couldn't prepare a meal fit for pigs. I found this amusing, considering our last name was Cook."
    So who is doing the cooking at the coffeehouse? (Hint, she bought her freedom.)
  • What ambitions does Matilda share with Donald Trump? (Answer next week, just in case you don't figure it out.)
  • When the novel opens in 1793, how many years had it been since Philadelphia had a case of yellow fever? (Look on page 21.) One of our readers sent this message: "I am new to Ocala and saw your column in Sunday's Star-Banner. I don't understand how the book club works. Please advise, as I would be interested in taking part. Is this done online or do I first need to get the book at the library, or can I read the book online and then send in my thoughts? Awaiting your answer, Ella Krajewski."
    Ella, wait no more. Find "The Known World" or "Fever 1793" anywhere you can - at a bookstore or online bookstore, or check it out from the library.
    Read along with us and tell us not only what the book makes you think, but also what it makes you feel.
    We're into stretching our brains through the magic of the imagination muscle and into expanding our emotional landscapes.
    If you go on vacation and miss your paper, you can keep up with this book club by subscribing to the newsletter on my Web site, I send out the column online each Monday morning after I feed my livestock.
    To read ahead, look at what we have on tap for February and March - an all-Florida read with the novels "The Schooling of Claybird Catts," by Janis Owens, "Lay That Trumpet In Our Hands," by Susan Carol McCarthy, and "The Barefoot Mailman" by Theodore Pratt.
    We're eager to hear your voice here. Join our novel conversation.
    We are reading two exciting novels that enrich our sense of American history: "The Known World," by Edward P. Jones, and "Fever 1793," by Laurie Halse Anderson. Join in on the discussion by sending your comments to or Box 1408, Alachua, Florida 32616.
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