The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel

The Great Trouble : A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel 

By: Deborah Hopkinson

Age Range- 10 & up 
Pages- 272 
Published - January 1, 2013
Genre- Historical Fiction 

The Story

Eel is an orphaned mudlark. He works several jobs to help support his younger brother.

A historical picture of Mudlarkers in London 

When he gets a regular job at a brewery, things are starting to look up for Eel. He finally has a place to stay and he has regular food to eat.

One day, just as things look are looking up, Eel is accused of stealing from his boss at the brewery.

 Eel is on the verge of loosing his livelihood and a place to live. His only hope is to find a kind tailor who Eel has been working odd jobs for to vouch that he did not steal from his boss.

As Eel goes to look for the tailor,  Eel comes upon something much more & it is something that will change his life forever. He finds that the tailor is dying of the terrible Blue Death. It is the beginning of an outbreak that will change history & Eel's life.

Without the tailors word, Eel can no longer live at the brewery. So Eel turns a local Dr. for help. The Dr. gives Eel a place to live in exchange for his help is solving and stopping the rapid Blue Death from spreading. It is up to the Dr. & Eel to find out what is causing this epidemic before it harms the people that Eel cares for most.

Book Trailer 

The Review 

I was not expecting much from this book. I thought it would be a flat story line that would not offer much, but I was pleasantly surprised. This book was action packed  had many different layers to the story. The main three layers of the story are:

1. Eel's survival & need to support his brother- Eel struggles to work different jobs to stay alive & to keep from living on the streets.

2. Eel vs. evil street man- I will not give away who this evil enemy is, but it is a big twist in the story

3. Mystery of the epidemic- This layer is the main component that drives the story, but it is a compelling one. What I like best about this, is that it is based off a true story. Dr. Snow was a real person who wrote a book about this epidemic that hit London.

This Day in ‪Water History‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ 6/16/1858-Death of Dr. John Snow of Broad Street pump fame; Father of Modern Epidemiology. If the discoveries of Dr. John Snow had been accepted and followed by engineers, sewer planners and drinking water providers beginning in 1854, millions of deaths would have been avoided.  Snow was only one person trying to overcome the juggernaut of the miasma theory.  He was far ahead of his time.‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Dr. Snow 

If you do read this book, be sure to read the true facts at the end of the book. It is a great point to spark a discussion.

I know after I read this book, all I could think about were ways we could use it with the STEM & history curriculum, I thought this book was fantastic for that! My education mind started to think of some curriculum ideas that educators could use with this book. Here are some of the links that I found to be useful.

Resources about Dr. Snow from Department of Epidemiology

Background Information for Educators

Lesson Plan

Overall I would have to give this book three stars.

I think this book will be used in the curriculum & its story line makes it easy to do so.  I look forward to including it into my Missouri Mark Twain Nominee discussion.

If you are not an educator, I think this book would be a great story for anyone who enjoys mystery, historical fiction, and plot driven novel.

Discussion Questions 

Why do you think Dr. Snow trusts Eel so much? What are some ways that Eel shows that he responsible?

Throughout the book, Eel overcomes a lot of hardships. What keeps him hopeful & keeps him moving forward?

Why wouldn’t the people believe Mr. Snow’s theory about the pump being the culprit for the spread of the Blue Death?

What is Dr. Snow’s hypothesis and how does he try to go about trying to prove it? Do you use the same method?

There were many villains in this story.  Who posed the biggest threat to Eel?

Was Eel afraid of getting Cholera? How did he avoid or expose himself to the disease?

Why did people think that Cholera was spread in the air? Are there times that people believe things just from what they have heard?

If you lived on Broad street during this epidemic, what would you have done?

Why did the people trust Reverend Whitehead more than Dr. Snow?

Dr. Snow is an exceptional scientist. What makes him a great scientist? Dr. Snow wanted to stop the spread of disease and ease pain. If you could make any scientific discovery, what would it be? What kind of new discoveries and new technologies do you think will exist in the future?

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Have you read this book? What did you think of it?

Until next time,


1 comment

  1. I was surprised by this one too and it has so many great curriculum connections. It's also a great way to introduce nonfiction to fiction readers.