Winnie lives with her family–mother, father, grandmother, and her younger sisters–in a small-town in Texas, near Galveston. Her father is in charge of the local graveyard/burials. Clara, her grandmother, handles the girls because their mother is withdrawn and emotionally scarred- never the same after the 1900 hurricane. And Clara and Winnie butt heads like nobody’s business!
Winnie’s War takes place during the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918. Winnie loves living in Coward Creek, and the war overseas barely enters her life. But when the residents of the town begin falling ill, Winnie starts to panic. Her young sister has breathing problems and Winnie knows she can’t afford to get sick. Everyone is suddenly a potential carrier, someone to be avoided. And when her father continues burying the victims, Winnie is torn between what she knows is right and what she knows she should do. And as fair warning, I cried at the end!
This is a fantastic historical novel and perfect to read right now, with the H1N1 pandemic. Jenny Moss does a great job of weaving the historical aspects of the flu epidemic into the story of Winnie. The historical fiction aspect doesn’t take over the whole book, which sometimes turns off middle grade readers. I would love to pair this with Laurie Halse Anderson’s Fever 1793 and Jim Murphy’s An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 (Newbery Honor Book) for a neat set of “epidemic/pandemic” book clubs next year. As I realized during the H1N1 pandemic, most of my students have no background knowledge of past epidemics! In fact, the only reason some of my girls knew about the Spanish influenze epidemic is because Edward’s parents (in TWILIGHT) died of the flu!
I also think that my realistic fiction fans who enjoy “middle school” stories and coming-of-age tales will enjoy Winnie’s War. Winnie is a typical middle schooler, despite the difference in eras. She has a sweetheart, Nolan, whom she thinks she likes as more than a friend. She struggles with mean girls at school. And she has issues with her best friend. Because Jenny Moss doesn’t beat you over the head with historical aspects of the book the story flows neatly and can almost seem to take place now. I know how difficult that must be, but I think it paid off well!