Jill Paton Walsh,
A Parcel of Patterns
(G.K. Hall, 1983;
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1992)

"A parcel of patterns brought the plague to Eyam." This is the first sentence of Jill Paton Walsh's book, A Parcel of Patterns, which won the ALA Award for Best Book for Young Adults. Much of the material in this book is based on truth though many characters are fictional.

In Derbyshire, England, in a village named Eyam, there is a new parson in 1665 to replace the old one. The parson's wife orders a dress from the local tailor who sends to London for a packet of patterns. When they arrive, the tailor spreads them out to dry for they are damp from the rain. The tailor begins to work, but he is destined to be the first victim of the plague. Mall Perceval, from a good family and able to read and write, sets down the events that trace the progress of the strange illness that comes to the village people. She has a small band of sheep to keep her busy in the fresh air of the hills where her flock grazes. She watches the town from afar as the plague moves through it. The two parsons make an agreement to control travel from Eyam to the outside world. No one is to leave to endanger thousands of lives in other places. There is no one else of consequence to say that it might be better to leave Eyam than to stay.

The plague is only part of this story. The differences between the two parsons is one thread and the state of medical knowledge in 1665 is another. The author uses an English idiom that is true to the period in its formality and dignity. Young adults are the target audience here, but the story will please readers of any age.

- Rambles
written by Jean Marchand
published 14 February 2004

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