Letter Essay #7

“The Great Trouble” is Written by Deborah Hopkinson and 258 pages long. It takes place in 1854 London, England. It is about a famous cholera outbreak in London. Hopkinson primarily writes realistic-fiction books for children. She was born in Lowell, Massachusetts. She has received the Golden Kite Award for Picture Book Text, Storyteller Award


Eel is poor, and is known as something called a “mudlark”. A mudlark was someone who collected items, such as coal or rope, from the street or a river and used or sold them. Mudlarking took place in the Thames river in this book. In addition to selling things he found while mudlarking, he sweeps at Mr. Griggs’ tailor shop and cares for Dr. John Snow’s animals, a famous scientist in town.  With his money earned, he gives four shillings a week to a woman who takes care of his younger brother, Henry because they are orphans. Eel also worked at the Lion, a tavern at which he slept and ate, until he was fired after being falsely accused of being a thief when coins were found in his pocket. Eel stopped by Mr. Griggs’ tailor shop so Mr. Griggs could tell the owner of the Lion he was paying Eel to sweep his floors and proof he had not stolen the money. Inside, he found Mr. Griggs lying on a bed, weak and tinted blue. The next day, Mr. Griggs was the patient zero, also known as first to die, from an unknown illness. Dr. Whitehead, the towns ‘healer’, diagnosed him with cholera. People moved out of town, hoping to avoid the disease. Lime was put on the streets to “clean the air”, since they believed cholera was an airborne disease.


Dr. John Snow was a very famous doctor, because of his studies on chloroform, an early form of anaesthesia.  Eel headed to his house to clean the animals, also to tell Dr. John Snow about the cholera outbreaks. The Doctor is at a meeting, so Eel couldn’t talk to him. The next day, he meets Dr. John Snow and tells him about cholera. Shocked and horrified, he says to not drink the water. Dr. John Snow eventually comes to see the cholera outbreak himself and meets Rev. Whitehead. He tells him about his theory of cholera being a waterborne disease, which he puts down.   

Another mudlark in the book is Thumbless Jake, who makes a major appearance saving Eel from the antagonist Bill Taylor whose nickname is Fisheye. Fisheye is a thief. He also is Eel’s second father, after his biological died of disease. Fisheye wanted to recruit Eel and Henry, so Henry could beg and Eel could steal. Eel hid Henry from Fisheye and fakes his death. He is ratted out by a fellow mudlark, saying that Eel wasn’t dead, and his cover was blown.


Luckily, there have been no more cholera cases in London. Because of the intriguing story and likeable characters I would rate this book a 8/10, as it had some dull moments.

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