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*The Giant-Slayer* by Iain Lawrence- young readers fantasy book review
The Giant-Slayer
by Iain Lawrence
Ages 10-13 304 pages Delacorte November 2009 Hardcover    

At first glance, a typical reader may assume from the title and cover that Iain Lawrence’s The Giant-Slayer is a work of fantasy, yet it is actually a splendid piece of historical fiction with a fantastical story entwined, allowing the characters to not only escape their harsh reality but also tying them together, giving them strength to face overwhelming circumstances.

Laurie, the story’s main character, is growing up in a very protective environment: her father and nanna are trying to protect her from the polio epidemic which attacks their community every summer. Her father, a major player in the fundraising activities of the March of Dimes and their polio-related medical research, is absorbed with his campaign - researchers are on the cusp of developing an effective vaccine.

When Laurie’s only friend, Dickie, contracts polio and is confined to an iron lung, Laurie is devastated, yet the bonds of their friendship compel her to visit him in the local polio hospital. To pass the time, Laurie begins to tell a story to Dickie and the other two children in the respirator room about a giant named Collosso and a giant-slayer named Jimmy.

Inventing the story as she goes, Laurie incorporates the children in the hospital into the story. Her tale begins to take on a life of its own, as each child who listens sees themselves in the story. The story becomes a greater part of the book, just as it becomes a large part of the minds and lives of the children in the hospital.

As the book continues, the background of the children in the hospital is unveiled, and the story of the giant-slayer grows in importance and significance as their lives appear to be attached to the story. When tragedy besets Laurie and she is no longer able to tell the story, the other children continue the story, never giving up on the quest to slay the giant and free the people of his tyranny.

Written for middle-grade and older students, the reader needs to have reached a level of maturity in which he or she can understand the complexity of a story within a story. At first, the narrative of the giant-slayer seems separate, a diversion for the children in the iron lungs. Eventually, it becomes clear that the giant is polio and the children all play a role in overcoming this terrible monster.

The Giant-Slayer gets to the heart of what it was like, from a child’s point of view, to suffer from polio - from the fear catching the disease in public places to the desperation when diagnosed, the pain and treatments, and the wide-ranging, sometimes positive, sometimes tragic outcomes.

Moreover, the power of the widespread national concern, high-stakes fundraising and medical research and eventual virtual eradication of the disease gives the reader hope for cures for other diseases. An author’s note concludes the book with more information about the history of polio. Children who enjoy The Giant-Slayer and have an interest in polio will also enjoy Blue and Comfort by Joyce Moyer Hostettler.

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  Kristine Wildner/2010 for curled up with a good kid's book  

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