Random (but not really)

Friday, May 8, 2020

Kid’s Books and Death and Illness

Last night during my bedtime reading about the flu epidemic of 1918, I came across a mention of cholera, which jolted loose in my brain The Velveteen Rabbit. And then I remembered The Secret Garden, which opens with the little girl’s family all dying of cholera. (The Velveteen Rabbit is scarlet fever). Which immediately brought to mind a scene from the Little House books, where they all suffer from some terrible illness on more than one occasion. (I was remembering a scene where everyone is sick and Laura (while dreadfully ill) has to go to the well to fetch everyone water.)

What struck me is that when I was reading these books, all of this seemed completely normal–people got sick and died. I mean, how many kids’ books centered around plucky orphans of unknown providence?

In retrospect, it seems weird to me, these deaths that all but casually happened in the background, but then it seemed normal. After all, my grandmother talked about family members who died as kids.

I’m sure there are other such books I read as a kid, but these came immediately to mind. I have memories of reading about a polio epidemic, and tuberculosis (consumption) but I can’t remember any specific books off the top of my head.

Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams- scarlet fever
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett – cholera
Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder – scarlet fever, malaria (Was the malaria in By The Banks of Plum Creek?)
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott – scarlet fever

Of course, I feel like I jumped immediately from kids books to Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple, so I guess all my childhood reading was full of death.

Epidemics in Children’s Literature

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