What’s Your New Historical Novel, Run, About?

Run, an historical YA novel by Linda Aksomitis
Run, an historical YA novel by Linda Aksomitis

Run is my new historical novel for grades 6 & 7 in the Nitty Gritty Reading series, which should be arriving soon from New Zealand, where it’s published. The publishers are Heinemann Education, Reed Publishing, New Zealand. In 2008 these books will be distributed by Pearson International.

So what’s the new novel about? A few things, of course, but the key one is infantile paralysis (later known as polio), which the main character, Victoria, develops in the first chapter of the novel.

The time period is 1911, in a small town setting. One of the key historical things I drew from in the novel is the treatment an Australian nurse, Sister Kenny, used for infantile paralysis in 1911, based on her beginning nurse’s training and study of muscles. The treatment was in total opposition to what doctors of the time recommended (but this was her first encounter with the condition), so it took decades for the treatment to be taken seriously.

I was particularly interested in exploring infantile paralysis and the treatment, since my father was paralyzed for a year as a boy, and doctors later suggested he’d likely had infantile paralysis. I wanted to learn more about the disease, which had terrible epidemics into the first half of the 20th century, plus I wanted to learn more about Sister Kenny’s treatment, as it seemed likely my grandmother had followed a similar course of action, since my father walked again with no disability.

Run has two narrators, Victoria, who has infantile paralysis, and her new step-brother, Jacob, who has left the farm when his mother married Victoria’s father, and moved into town. Jacob longs to be back on the farm, and day-by-day grows to dislike helping Victoria’s father in the hardware store more than ever. Victoria is having a hard time accepting her new step-family, especially her step-mother, who is very different from her own mother, who died in childbirth.

Once Victoria is paralyzed, however, she has no one to turn to except her step-family, especially once her younger sister, Elizabeth, dies of the same disease, and her father is lost in his own grief. The doctor prescribes a treatment for Victoria that doesn’t alleviate any of the pain, so she’s forced to make a decision on whether to do as the doctor and Papa order, or take Jacob and his mother’s help. Can unschooled farm people know better than a doctor?

Jacob only has a limited education, but Victoria, who dreams of being a teacher, has been helping him prepare for school in the fall. So, when Jacob is in the next town picking up medicine for Victoria, he spends some of his earnings to buy the book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which he thinks may cheer her up and help him practice his reading. As they read the book together, both Jacob and Victoria learn a lot from Dorothy, the Tin Woodsman, the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow, and the Wizard, about Oz and life.

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