Picture of the book Fever 1793, and the text "Learning through Literature: a guest blog post"
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Learning Through Literature: Epidemics in World History with Fever 1793, by Laurie Halse Anderson

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This guest post has been written by Yvie, who blogs at Homeschool On the Range.

World history has been shaped by its epidemics…cholera, smallpox, influenza, yellow fever, the plague, and now coronavirus are just a few diseases that have swept entire nations.  What exactly is a pandemic, and how does it differ from an epidemic?

In this literature-based unit study, Yvie Field, author at Homeschool On the Range, is taking middle and high schoolers on a thrilling ride through the major epidemics in world history.  You can assign the reading and classwork to one student, or read the book aloud and learn together as a family!

Vocabulary Words

miasma, bilious, noxious, fractious, odiferous, abate, placid, puckish

Read: Fever 1793, by Laurie Halse Anderson

In Fever 1793, an epidemic of fever sweeps through the streets of 1793 Philadelphia.  During the summer of 1793, Mattie Cook lives above the family coffee shop with her widowed mother and grandfather. Mattie spends her days avoiding chores and making plans to turn the family business into the finest Philadelphia has ever seen. But then the fever breaks out. Disease sweeps the streets, destroying everything in its path and turning Mattie’s world upside down. At her feverish mother’s insistence, Mattie flees the city with her grandfather. But she soon discovers that the sickness is everywhere, and Mattie must learn quickly how to survive in a city turned frantic with disease.


The word ‘pandemic’ comes from the Greek ‘pan,’ meaning ‘all,’ and ‘demos,’ meaning ‘people.’  WHO (the World Health Organization) uses a six-stage classification system to show how a virus becomes a pandemic.  It starts with infecting animals, then moves from animals to a few people, then begins to spread between people.  This is an epidemic (meaning ‘upon the people.’) After this, the area affected begins to spread until it is worldwide.  This worldwide exposure is called a pandemic.

Some of the worst plagues throughout world history include:

  • Typhoid Plague of Athens – 430 BC
  • Antonine Plague of the Roman Empire (believed to be smallpox) – 165-180 AD
  • Plague of Justinian in Europe (first outbreak of the bubonic plague) – 541-740 AD
  • Black Death in Europe – 1300 -1350 AD (killed 30-60% of the population)
  • Third Pandemic of Bubonic Plague in China & India – 1800
  • Cholera in India – 1816-1826
  • Spanish Influenza (worldwide) – 1918-1919 (affected 25% of world population)
  • Asian Influenza (milder than Spanish) – 1957
  • Hong Kong Influenza – 1968 (over one million deaths)
  • HIV/AIDS Pandemic (worldwide) – first diagnosed 1981 (over 32 million deaths since first diagnosis)
  • COVID-19 (worldwide) – 2020 (total death rate yet unknown)

Learn through Video

Critical Thinking

  • Foreshadowing is an advance sign or warning of what it to come in the future. In our reading, why is it significant that a mosquito in the opening chapter bites Matilda? What might the mosquito bite foreshadow?
  • In the book, when the news spreads that the President is back in town, the people begin to come back home.  How is the President’s arrival a sign of hope?

Extra Credit


  • How well do you wash your hands?  For this experiment, you’ll need soap, washable paint, and a hand towel.  Cover both of your hands in paint (like hand lotion), including the backs of your hands, around your fingernails, and in between your fingers.  Then let the paint dry for about five minutes.
  • After five minutes, rinse your hands with warm water and observe how much paint is left.  Then rinse them while rubbing them together.  How much paint is left now?  Next, use some soap and rub your hands together to the count of ten.  How much paint is left?  Finally, use soap and rub your hands together to the count of thirty.  Is there any paint left?  (If so, wash it all off before continuing.)
  • You probably found that rinsing your hands with only water did a poor job of removing the paint. Soap helps to break down the paint, making it easier to remove, along with germs (bacteria and viruses).  However, even with soap, you have to do a good job washing your hands to remove all the paint. This includes washing them for more than just a few seconds, and getting into all the nooks and crannies where the paint (and germs) can hide.


  • Choose an epidemic from world history.  Draw a map of the world (or region), and illustrate how the virus spread.  Write facts about this epidemic (be sure to include dates) around the edges of your drawing.

Yvie from Homeschool on the Range Yvie is a veteran homeschooling mom and the high school counselor for The Homeschool House, a non-profit organization.  She helps to create unit studies and enjoys helping other families on their homeschool journey.  When not teaching or counseling, she enjoys reading, spending time in her garden, and traveling the country with her boys.  You can find her at Homeschool On the Range, on FacebookInstagram, or PinterestUse coupon code 10OFF2021 to take 10% off any of her Unit Study Bundles through 12/31/2021.

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