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Old Times October – Plague Fiction

These are the things I know about the pestilence.

It swarms around those who catch it, like a cloud of flies. If you find yourself caught in the cloud – or look in the eyes of somebody who is sick – or offend God – or are loved by someone who offends God – or walk in a particular place when the wind blows in the wrong direction – you die too.

You can travel far from the city where your family died, thinking yourself safe, only to reach a place of sanctuary and fall down dead, bringing the sickness down around you.

From All Fall Down – A Story of Survival by Sally Nicholls

I love teaching about the Black Death of 1348-9 and the Great Plague of 1665-6 and enjoy find new interpretations of it.  Today, doing History research I found this resource that I will use next time I teach the Black Death

Then I came across and read in one sitting,  All Fall Down – A Story of Survival by Sally Nicholls which had just come into the library. Hence, my idea for today’s blog – fiction about the Plague. Please note – some of these are books about 1348 and others about 1665.

Firstly, All Fall Down is the story of 14 year old  Isabel and her family as face the 1348-9 plague in a small village north of York.  I liked this novel from the start as the author’s description of life on a medieval manor was so vivid that I could almost draw a map of where Isabel lived. Sally Nicholls also covers the roles of people in a village, the difference between villeins (serfs) and freemen and the trade origins of surnames (i.e. Baker, Smith etc.).    That is, it had many teachable moments in it! Beyond this the plot of Isabel watching her near and dear confront the horror of the plague was engaging, at times suitably horrific but predictable. Nevertheless, an enjoyable read.



Another novel set in the 1400s is Deborah Ellis’ A Company of Fools, which I read last year.  I remember the premise of the two boys Micah and Henri travelling around France, at the time of the Plague but I can’t remember great details except I know it had good descriptions of the flagellants. I don’t remember disliking it, but it didn’t have the same resonance as her other work (such as Parvana).


Moving to the plague of 1665, is Malcolm Rose’s Kiss of Death which I loved because of the time slip between present day and 1665 and the twist at the end.  I love the idea of consequences.  This is how Good Reads describes it…..

On a school trip to the plague village of Eyam, Seth is moved by the story of how villagers sacrificed their lives to the dreaded Black Death. Kim and Wes are more interested in what they see at the bottom of the wishing well – money!

But when they snatch the coins they also pick up something they hadn’t bargained for, and as the hideous consequences of their theft catch up with them all, Seth is forced to face a terrifying truth. Has Eyam’s plague-ridden past resurfaced to seek revenge?

Finally to Geraldine Brook’s Year of Wonders, which is also about the village of Eyam and the plague of 1665. In some ways, this work is so good it has been spoiled by  success…..  That is, it is on the VCE/Yr12  list and so the sheer joy of reading such quality historical fiction is ruined by the need to analyse it.  Still, the bonus is there are so many accessible resources (e.g. study guides) out there supporting students to read it .

On my to read list is  Doomsday Book by Connie Willis which is another time travel/consequences book that seems to review and rate very highly .


About hgtl

I am a secondary English/History teacher (BA DipEd, MA (Education) and a Teacher Librarian (MEd). I LOVE to research and through this site aim to -Support the introduction of the Australian Curriculum (especially in History) through sourcing quality and varied internet based sources (research guides) - Support teachers through conducting education based literature reviews - Provide suggestions on useful Web 2.0 tools - Offer other services such as curriculum writing, library collection assessment, novel recommendations (see my blog


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