Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Terrible Typhoid Mary

Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America
Susan Campbell Bartoletti
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015  229 pgs
Grades 5-8
Narrative Non-Fiction

Veteran author of non-fiction for young people, Bartoletti offers an account of the life of "Typhoid Mary " and the spread of typhoid and other contagious diseases in turn of the century America. Mary worked as a cook in the early 1900's in many different affluent houses in and around New York City. It was discovered that the houses in which she served had several cases of typhoid, although Mary herself was never struck. Famous disease tracker, George Soper, discovers Mary working at yet another New York City kitchen and with the Board of Heath's support demands that she agrees to testing. Mary refuses and what ensues becomes a bitter battle over the government's responsibility to keep the public safe and the civil rights of a citizen. Mary is eventually taken into custody and imprisoned at a now-defunct hospital facility on a New York City island. It was discovered that the typhoid bacteria was living in Mary's gallbladder and, although she never contracted the disease herself, she was a carrier, infecting others through her cooking. The eventual outcome of Mary and the other players, as well as the history of public health as it applies to this groundbreaking case, and the handling of contagious diseases at the time is all included. A photo album as well as extensive notes, bibliography and index round out the volume.

We have all heard of "Typhoid Mary", but do you really know the truth behind the legend? Mary was a real person and her responsibility of spreading the disease and the sensationalism of the case as reported by the "yellow journalism" of the times are carefully traced by researcher and writer Bartoletti. This is a work of non-fiction, yet is highly readable and narrative in nature. Bartoletti writes in a way that will both educate and entertain young people. She is very mindful of wording parts of the narrative embellished for the sake of the story to read "Mary might have thought..." or "perhaps Mary might have...", carefully documenting the parts of the story know to be fact and backing them up with sources. Beyond the framework of Mary's life, there is a history of the spread of contagious diseases in turn-of-the-century New York, especially among the cramped immigrant neighborhoods and a scientific background of how typhoid grows in the body. Kids will read this book for fun. Both non-fiction and fiction lovers alike will enjoy this book. There is enough science and history in the book to make it educational, yet it remains highly readable and an all-around great story. Wide margins and large print keep the pages turning easily and generous pictures sprinkled throughout the volume and offered in a separate section at the end add further appeal. A perfect fit for the core curriculum, Terrible Typhoid Mary will find a place both in school and public libraries.

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