Murphy, Jim. An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793. Clarion, 2003. 165pp. Lexile 1130.
In 1793, yellow fever swept Philadelphia, then the nation’s temporary capital, a tragedy brilliantly recounted in this Sibert Award Winner and Newbery Honor Book. The topic is inherently intriguing and Murphy’s enthusiasm for the topic comes across clearly. The author brings to life key figures like Dr. Benjamin Rush and lesser known ones such as members of the Free African Society who nursed the sick. The dynamic text, which targets the reader’s senses with quotes about sights, sounds, and smells, looks at how yellow fever came to the city, how it spread, and how various segments of the city reacted. Doctors tried to treat it, with very limited knowledge, disagreeing with each other on the best approach. With the national government centered in Philadelphia, the political consequences were severe. A readable open design effectively uses maps, newspaper clippings, etchings, and other visuals that combine with the excellent writing to make this one of the best nonfiction books for teens.
Fiction tie-ins: Pair this with Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson or Path of the Pale Horse by Paul Fleischman (out of print), both excellent novels about the yellow fever epidemic, set in Philadelphia.