The Great Trouble

Eel, an orphan, and his best friend Florrie must help Dr. John Snow prove that cholera is spread through water, and not poisonous air, when an epidemic sweeps across their London neighborhood in 1854.

6 thoughts on “The Great Trouble

  1. Keith says:

    I read “The Great Trouble” for a class that I am taking in young adult literature. I was not sure what to expect, as this is a new area of learning for me. I suppose that I have read historical fiction in the past without really paying attention to the fact that I was reading historical fiction, however, this is the first time that I read something with the purpose of considering the book as a teaching tool, so I was ready to learn something new. To say that I was pleasantly surprised, would be an understatement. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel. I imagined what it must have been like to live in the mid 1800’s, in a world that is far different from my present day existence. The author does an excellent job of bringing the imagery of those days to life. I really empathized with Eel, and his struggle to make enough money to protect his brother from their stepfather. I also enjoyed learning about this type of writing, where an author takes an event and weaves a tale around it to make the event come alive. I would have loved to have this sort of book available to me as I was growing up. I liked the use of scientific investigation, that the children employed as they helped Dr. John Snow to determine who had consumed the contaminated water. This is huge as a teaching tool for young readers. They have a chance to participate and discuss the why’s and how’s of deductive thinking. In the words of the famous movie reviewers, I give this novel by “Deborah Hopkinson” TWO THUMBS UP!

  2. Molly says:

    I thought Eel to be a triumph against so much adversity. His private mystery delicately interwoven within situations of diversion greatly enhanced his need to be ever flexible in his abilities to make it through a day. This is all before the Great Trouble arose. I was already swept up by Eel. I considered young boys today arguing about having to take out the garbage before playing a video game, or before their moms drive them to a ball game practice. I can relate Eel to characters such as William Woodruff in his autobiography, Road to Nab End and Beyond Nab End. These characters, like my own Mum growing up in London during the early WWII days gave up the luxuries of warm clothes, dry rooms, many nutrients in basic foods and education. The perseverance demonstrated by characters who overcome their difficult lot inspires me not only to turn the page, but to see the nuances of these strengths that are inherent in all of us. I guess that I felt, while reading The Great Trouble that Eel didn’t have the time to reflect on his own pain. “Fight or Flight…” This young hero certainly did not toil in his fight to love those he lost or to fight for those he may still help. The cholera was obvious and could certainly be used to supplement many science topics. I have to encourage social studies teachers to consider the importance of the decision of that town council meeting. I feel that this could spark much inquiry in a social context. I really enjoyed many aspects of the Great Trouble and recommend it!

  3. Julianne says:

    I love historical fiction, exploring and further investigating the history that is made poignant through a narrative. The Great Trouble, by Deborah Hopkinson, certainly did not disappoint. Her skillfully written tale is a fantastic read for all ages!

    Eel is a very real and authentic character, whom I feel children and young adults can connect with and build an instant connection. His journey and experiences provide great vehicles to discuss various themes, such as perseverance and responsibility. All of the interactions and events in the story are well laid out and carry the reader through many emotions, building to Eel’s victorious ending in which he seems to beat all odds.

    After closing this book, my mind continued to turn and ponder the historical events Hopkinson relayed through her story. The story provided multiple avenues for me to continue to travel down and study, as my interest in this historical tragedy was peeked. Is this not a true compliment to the author?

  4. Karen Matis says:

    The Great Trouble is a great novel to promote understanding of how different life is for children who don’t have the supports and/or rights that American children enjoy. With the recent outbreak of the Ebola virus, there’s also an easy connection to current events bridging the century plus gap between the novel’s setting and my classroom students. Eel is very conscientious about avoiding “trouble.” Eel knows right from wrong, but when it comes to his brother, those lines gray. A novel that offers an opportunity to further look at epidemics, child labor, and Dr. John Snow brings story line variety for students.

  5. deborah says:

    I love historical fiction. I love being transported to another time. I love feeling as though I am a minor character int he text, learning new things as the characters move on and learn as well. I love the little insights and knowings the author brings to text that few of us know yet come to appreciate as eel move through the novel.
    Deborah Hopkinson has done careful research in order to write a convincing novel about Eel, a mudlark, living in London, 1854, a time when cholera took the lives of many. She thoughtfully weaves in the true story of Dr. John Snow, the Rev. Henry Whitehead, and Dr. William Farr into the fictional stories of Eel, his brother Henry, Thumbless Jake, Fisheye and others. But that is where I was disappointed. There are missing pieces in their stories and it bothered me through out the story. Perhaps I am wrong to want to know more background on the fictional characters – since it really was their story to tell in order to educate the reader about cholera. I wanted to like Eel more than I did. I wanted to feel his fear in trying to hide from Fisheye, to feel his loss over a childhood friend, to feel the love he had for his brother but I just didn’t. Sigh.
    I agree with Charlene when she says there are opportunities to compare environmental and health issues from the past to today. If that is how the teacher intends to use the text, then it may be a good one to choose. But I want a text to do more. I wanted to celebrate Eel’s recognition of his own talents and I couldn’t get there.
    I won’t dismiss the book. I think it has a lot of benefits and could attract young readers and teach a good lesson in science and hygiene. Eel just didn’t do it for me.

  6. Charlene K. Endrizzi & Grace Klassen says:

    Charlene Klassen Endrizzi
    “I love research because it gives me the opportunity to learn new things. It’s a passion I hope to pass on to my readers.” Deborah Hopkinson, WOW Author’s Corner, Feb. 2015
    Last spring during Deborah Hopkinson’s visit at my son’s middle school, presentations throughout the day enabled readers to consider her keen desire to amass information before writing historical novels and picture books. I see her passion for offering accurate facts from the onset of The Great Trouble. I am not a reader who sneaks peeks at the last page but I suggest middle school teachers start with Hopkinson’s Author’s Note, filled with details she deftly sprinkles throughout her narrative. A parallel text by Kathleen Tuthill in Cricket Magazine adds another factual layer for adolescent readers to explore before diving into her engaging fictionalized account of a world health crisis. A complimentary picture book by Hopkinson, A Boy Called Dickens, further illuminates life in London during the 1800s.
    During science, health, history or English classes, I feel Deborah Hopkinson’s The Great Trouble offers middle school readers rich opportunities to build connections by comparing our world’s past environmental struggles with our cleaner, more efficient lives today. In the opening pages, readers are introduced to a scrappy kid, Eel, whose life as a mudlark, or scavenger, is fraught with danger. Dangerous working conditions are a common theme in the lives of child laborers such as Eel and Iqbal Masih. In the mid 1800s, children were naturally viewed as an inexpensive labor force within family units. But orphans, eking out a sub-par existence in London, drew a miserable and dangerous lot in life. Thank goodness Eel devoted only a few hours each day to mudlarking, scavenging scraps of coal or copper from the filthy Thames River, London’s septic system. His can-do spirit while working at his nobler “situations” (odd jobs at a brewery and cleaning lab animal’s cages for Dr. John Snow) urged me to start cheering for this hapless thirteen-year-old waif.
    Hopkinson’s skill at making characters jump off the page is conveyed through Eel’s thoughts early on. “I’d started to believe I could make something of myself someday.” Teenagers like my son and Eel constantly wonder and dream about their future. Yet Eel has the extra burden of caring for his younger brother and keeping him hidden away from their heartless step-father. His situation gains nobility when he stumbles upon a mysterious health crisis called the Blue Death, today known as cholera.
    As a teen I recall fantasizing about aristocratic times. I value Deborah Hopkinson’s ability to give teen readers an honest, sometimes harsh look at the vast differences between London’s social classes in the 1800s. If you happened to be one of the wealthy few, life was grand. Yet for many workers like Eel, getting ahead always seemed out of reach. Enter Dr. John Snow, one of several real-life characters the author weaves seamlessly into this mystery. Cited as the father of epidemiology, every teen should take time to learn about this miracle worker and activist who began a revolution to offer sanitary conditions in 19th century England.
    As my fondness for Eel increased, so did my appreciation for Dr. Snow who showed this former mudlark the respect he deserved, thus propelling him to use his investigative skills to help solve the mystery cholera thrust upon Soho residents.
    Grace Klassen
    Charlene, I too found Deborah Hopkinson’s masterful weaving of history and mystery compelling me onward at every turn of the page. My imagination was captured by hints of awful threats that heighten tension and expose the horrible conditions in which this mudlark exists. Like so many children who subsist in unimaginable environments (Stolen Dreams and Malala/Iqbal), this hero manages to find courage and show resilience in the face of unspeakable stress and fearsome working situations. By committing to greater causes, he transcends the reality that can result in despair and paralysis. No quitter, our Eel.
    In my classroom, character analysis is a regular part of our literary investigation and Eel makes a remarkable study of resilience, the ability to overcome and rebound from stress. Eel demonstrates all of the seven factors of resilience (Wolin & Wolin, 2000). His independence and initiative keep surfacing under pressure as he runs from the “monster” and strives to scrape enough coin together to protect his little brother Henry. The insight shown in the hard questions he poses for Dr. Snow show depth and persistence. His ability to “think outside the box” as he strives to survive, reveals his creative nature. Best of all, the strength of his love for Henry compels him to stand up and be counted under great duress. In committing himself to his sibling relationship, he finds the courage to face daunting abuse with humor and conviction, hallmarks of this moral man-child. The evidence steps off every page during deep reading and offers searching readers satisfaction in their dig for the truth.
    Furthermore, Hopkinson is clever with her judicious use of italicized text, used to reveal Eel’s internal dialog and evolution. I encourage developing readers to pay heed to these clues, keys to both the unfolding mystery and Eel’s growing transformation from victim to activist.
    I also empathized with Eel’s instinctive decision to blend the science of observation with the art of compassion. “Instead of looking with my eyes, I decided to see with my heart.” I also agreed when he realized the truth, “…the actions we take and the kindness we practice endure beyond our own lives.” As readers, we too are challenged to change, evolve and act with resolve in order to make a difference.

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