Fever, 1793

Laurie Halse Anderson. Fever, 1793. New York: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2000.

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"For everything there is a season, remember? When the frost comes, the fever will vanish. We just have to find a way to make it until then." --- (Fever, 1793, p. 177)

It's August of 1793. The coffee shop owned by Lucille Cook is bustling with businessmen. News of President Washington's upcoming visit to Philadelphia is traveling up and down the streets. As fourteen-year-old Matilda "Mattie" Cook is soon to find, this exciting news isn't the only thing ravaging the streets; friends are falling ill and dying in a single day from a mysterious illness. City-dwellers are fleeing to the country side to take shelter from the dreaded yellow fever. Fishermen and merchants stop pulling their carts to market to sell their goods. Mattie's grandfather and mother wonder if Philly has gone mad as business in the coffee shop slows to crawl. However, after a close encounter with the fever, Mother decides Mattie is safer in the country until the first frost. But when Mother herself falls victim to the fever, Mattie is suddenly forced into the adult world, making crucial decisions that could potentially save ---or end--- her life.

A coming-of-age novel, Laurie Halse Anderson's Fever, 1793 ties together history and growing pains in a story about family, friends, and the will to live. A historical novel about the 1793 yellow fever epidemic that occurred in Philadelphia, the book offers a look inside a sickly Philadelphia through the eyes of an adolescent girl who thought her greatest dream in life was to travel to France, not survive an epidemic. Gripping and rampant like the fever itself, the plot rages on as Mattie tries to save the coffee shop, her mother and grandfather, and herself. Battling disease, hunger, thieves, and other terrors, Mattie struggles through the end of summer in hopes to see the first frost and the end of the fever.

Though initially the historical context may seem daunting, Anderson does wonders to modernize the dialogue. Occasionally splashing a bit of 1793 vernacular color into the mix, Fever, 1793 paints a simple-yet-intricate piece of art. Though students may "harrumph" at the "necessary" and find "addle-paded nitwit" as "balderdash," they will most certainly relate to the spunky narrator in many ways, from her dislike for chores (What teenager doesn't dread chores?) to her deep-set desire to protect those that she loves. Students will be thoroughly captivated by this fast-paced story. Ultimately, Fever, 1793 is a page-turner that all students will enjoy, and be excited to read! Huzzah!

Recommendations for Teachers
Laurie Halse Anderson's historical fiction novel Fever, 1793 follows the story of fourteen-year-old Matilda "Mattie" Cook as she witnesses firsthand the devastating effects of the yellow fever sweeping through Philadelphia shortly after the end of the Revolutionary War. The story accurately depicts the life of an American teenager in 18th-century United States, as well as vividly describes both the city of Philadelphia and the impact of the raging epidemic upon its citizens. Students will be able to relate to many of the things that Mattie struggles with during the novel, such as her mother's high expectations, the death of a family member, and finding her inner strength to accomplish things she'd never imagined having to do. This book would most likely resonate best with preteen readers in a middle school setting, due to the age of the protagonist and its low-difficulty reading level. This novel could easily be linked to historical studies on the early years of the United States of America, and can give students an idea of what life was like for young adults during this time period. Listed below are several activities and projects that educators can use while teaching a unit on Fever, 1793.


  • What Happens Next? --- Prior to introducing the project, discuss as a group how the novel ended and what the students think will happen to Mattie in the future. Have your students write a 3-6 page epilogue set a year after the novel ended. Students should follow the format of the book by writing from Mattie's perspective (first-person) and use the vocabulary and vernacular of the time period. If any students wish to write from a third-person perspective or from another character's perspective, they should meet with you to explain what they wish to show through another perspective. In their epilogue, students should answer the following questions: What has happened in the past year to Mattie, her family, her friends, and the coffee shop? Is anything different from what Mattie had imagined her future to be like? How has Mattie changed from the girl that she was before the fever struck (i.e. views, abilities, values, etc.)?

  • Changing Views --- For this activity, students will be asked to rewrite a chapter of the book from another character's perspective. They should choose a scene in the book where Mattie is interacting with another character, then tell what happens in that scene from the other person's point of view. What about the event does the other character see differently than Mattie? This rewritten chapter should reflect the word choice and personality of the character, as well as this person's thoughts about Mattie. Possible character choices include Mother, Grandfather, Benjamin, Eliza, Nell, Silas the cat, etc. Students should make sure to reference which character's perspective they write from, why they chose to write from this character's perspective, and which chapter/scene they chose to write about. If time permits, students may be allowed to share their interpretations in class, allowing for group discussion about why certain characters see events differently.

  • Epidemic! --- Before introducing the assignment, have students choose the one person that they care most about. After they have chosen this person, tell the students that this person is deathly ill with a mysterious pandemic disease that is sweeping through their hometown. For this assignment, students will write their own 3-5 page "fever story" similar to that of Mattie's. What would the students do? How would they try to help their sick loved one? What might they do similarly, and what might they do differently? Students should write their stories in first-person narrative. Students should also describe the mysterious illness in their stories, such as its effects and where people believe that it comes from, as well as how people react to the tales of the disease and how they attempt to prevent becoming sick. This project could also be adapted for a creative writing class.


  • World Epidemics --- For this project, students will be split into small groups. Each group will be assigned or be allowed to choose a different epidemic or fever outbreak from around the world to research. Students should research the symptoms of the illness, the theoretical and actual causes of the sickness, the time period of the illness (as in how long the illness was raging in a particular place), and how the epidemic was eventually stopped. Students will give a 5 minute visual presentation based on what they find about their epidemic. Students should have at least three sources for their information, including one book, and should keep a list of their sources to hand in to you at the time of their presentation. After the presentations, the class can discuss possible epidemics in the United States. If another fever were to break out, what might be similar? What might be different?


  1. Philadelphia Press --- For this class project, your students will work together to create a newspaper. This newspaper, entitled whatever the students choose to call it, will be a newspaper created entirely of articles related to the yellow fever epidemic of 1793. Depending on how you'd like to run the newspaper, students can either pick what type of article they'd like to work on, or the articles can be assigned by you. Students should imagine that they are creating the newspaper during the fever outbreak. Though newspaper will be "produced" during the fever epidemic, but will be set up like a modern newspaper. Some article ideas include reports on the fever, opinion, advice columns, police and fire, obituaries, "interviews" with people, etc. Specific ideas include interviews with Dr. Rush and President Washington, a police account of the coffee house robbery, a report on the efforts of the Free African Society, and an obituary for Mattie's grandfather. Have students use their imaginations! If possible, students could add in images found on the Internet, or dress up as Philadelphia citizens and take related pictures. If time and resources allow, students could be split into subgroups based upon their category of article (i.e. all opinion together, all reporters together, etc.) and group editors could be assigned to proofread and give constructive feedback on the subgroup's articles. For this project, students will have to model their articles after those found in newspapers --- short and to the point, but informative. For this reason, all articles should be 500 words or less. If time permits, students could be assigned two differing types of articles to write. Students should be given time in class to work together on researching, proofreading, and editing their articles. This project could also be adapted for a journalism class.

  • Fever, 1793: The Play --- In this project, students will be split into small groups of four or five. Each group will receive a series of chapters from the novel and must create their own skit of the events of those chapters. Students will need to write a script together of at least 3 pages and each person in the group must play at least one character in the short skit. The scripts do not have to include every portion of the chapter, but should keep true to the events of the story and make it easy for the audience to understand what is occurring. After writing the script, the students will perform their skits in front of the class. Each group should have at least one prop, and every student must speak at least twice. Students should be graded on how well their script follows the events of the story, as well as volume and projection. Extra credit can be given if the students memorize their scripts. If possible, the skits could be recorded and put in order, making a movie of the students' performances.

Laurie Halse Anderson: the author behind Fever, 1793
external image images?q=tbn:ANd9GcS6HIHqtMHTG-90-u2tCjiqQkmw9-20Hp0qNsyX6vjCfaJwRsSMcwLaurie Halse Anderson was born on October 23, 1961 in Potsdam, New York. Anderson is a current American author, who writes for children and young adults literature. Anderson began her career as a freelance journalist and worked at The Philadelphia Inquirer in the early years of her career. During this time, Anderson also began to write children’s and young adult novels. Despite receiving stacks of rejection letters, in 1996 Anderson released her first children’s novel Ndito Runs, based on Kenyan Olympic marathon runners who ran to and from school each day.

She was first recognized for her novel Speak, published in 1999. Soon after, Anderson gained recognition for her artistic dealings with tough topics embedded with honesty. Anderson’s ability to creatively address often-avoided issues has allowed her works to be a safe outlet for young readers in learning about these issues. The tough themes of her novels --- including rape, family dysfunctions, body issues and disorders, and high academic pressures --- often create controversial discussions surrounding her novels. Laurie Halse Anderson takes her writing very seriously, although she often wishes she could write about lighter topics. She believes in speaking directly to teenagers addressing “their real concerns, fears, and frustrations." Anderson is an author who reads every letter, every e-mail message, every post sent to her by teens from around the world and responds by writing about what these young people express as most important to them — even if they want take her to places dark and painful.

She is best known for writing Speak in 1999, Fever, 1793 in 2000, Catalyst in 2002, Twisted in 2007, and Wintergirls in 2009. Anderson has also been nominated and won multiple honorary awards for her literary work. For her earlier works, Anderson was honored for her children’s picture books, which received numerous awards and were placed on the recommended reading lists. For the masterpiece Speak, Anderson won the Printz Honor Book Award, a National Book Award nomination, Golden Kite award, the Edgar Allan Poe Award, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Along with Speak, her award-winning titles have also included the book Fever, 1793, which she won the American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults selection and the Junior Library Guild selection. In 2008, Chains was selected for the National Book Award Finalist and in 2009 was awarded for its Historical Fiction the Scott O’Dell Award. For Speak, Fever, 1793, and Catalyst she won the Margaret A. Edwards Award in 2009.

Videos To Check Out

The following YouTube clips are all related to Laurie Halse Anderson and the book Fever, 1793.

This video is a clip from a Historic Philadelphia Documentary covering a segment on the yellow fever in 1793.

This video is a clip from the audio recording of Fever, 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson.

Additional Resources for Teachers, Parents, and Students:

About Laurie Halse Anderson
Anderson's blog This link connects directly to Anderson's personal blog.
Anderson's website This link connects directly to Anderson's website, "Mad Woman in the Forest". This link includes information about her schedule, her books, and much more.

Book Reviews
New York Times This link goes to the New York Times' review of the book.
Teen Ink Here's a review of Fever, 1793 from a young-adult literature website.
Publisher's Weekly This link connects to Publisher's Weekly Children's book review of Fever, 1793.

Social Networks
Twitter This link takes you straight to her Twitter page.
Facebook This link connects you with her Facebook page.

School Library Journal This is an interview with Laurie about Fever, 1793 and other of her novels.
Reading Rockets This link will take you to a video interview about Laurie's life and writing career that was previously only available on iTunes.
St. Petersburg Times This link connects you with an interview with Laurie about Fever, 1793.

Lesson Ideas
Teacher's Section This link goes to Laurie Halse Anderson's section of her website directed towards teaching Fever, 1793.
Fever 1793 Think link connects you to a series of guided questions that relate to Laurie's novel.

On Yellow Fever
The Diseased City This link takes you to a website that has complied information about yellow fever in 1793 using direct sources from people who survived the epidemic.
Yellow Fever This link connects directly to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and it discusses how yellow fever is transmitted, treatment, and much more
Contagion This link connects to Harvard University's "Historical Views of Diseases and Epidemics".

-- This page was created by Samantha Reeves, Gail Berkompas, Kyle Letot, and Paige Pierog. Check out their reviews for Ned Vizzini's It's Kind of a Funny Story and Veronica Roth's Divergent.