I think most language arts teachers have a few go-to books that they use to integrate subjects. When get to the post-Revolutionary War period and need a historical fiction novel, I reach for Fever, 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson. The story takes place in Philadelphia during the yellow fever epidemic of 1793.
Summary of Fever, 1793Readers are introduced to Mattie Cook, a very typical teenager dreaming of her future, thinking about boys, - and fighting with her mother. Mattie's mother runs a tavern, and like many families, Mother and Mattie rarely see eye to eye. Grandpa lives with them and helps run the tavern. Polly is a girl that works for them. When Polly doesn't show up for work, Mattie assumes she is off flirting with the boys. Shockingly, Mother discovers that Polly is dead - taken by a quick fever. Soon, many people are passing along rumors of a fever running through the city.
Mattie is a very engaging character, and students quickly get swept up into her life. As the yellow fever outbreak becomes more evident in the story, students begin to ask for more reading time - they want to know what happens to her! Things get pretty dire for Mattie as she attempts to escape the city for the countryside. Eventually, Mattie finds her way back to the city. Will her family survive? Will they be able to keep the tavern?
Teaching Fever, 1793Anderson does an amazing job weaving in facts from the time period throughout the story. It is a very accurate portrayal of life at this time. Although the Cook family is fictional, the events discussed in the story are real.
The story does get a bit dark - after all, a lot of people died in the yellow fever epidemic. It is a bit graphic in parts, but most kids really just want to know what happens next. However, if you have a student that struggles with loss or handling death, the story may be too much. I have used this book with 5th graders toward the end of the year and 6th graders. This is not an easy read, so I do not recommend using it with below grade level readers.
Aside from a terrific plot and engaging main character, the book also has quotations from the time period at the beginning of each chapter. These quotes come from a variety of sources, but all are taken from historical documents. Many students had a difficult time understanding the quotes. However, teachers should spend time analyzing their meanings as the quotes often foreshadow events in the story.
I also recommend finding an audiobook version of the story. Students love to hear it being read in a colonial accent!
If you are interested in using Fever, 1793 in a literature circle, I do have a novel unit available in my TPT store.
What are your favorite books for integrating American history?