The Giant-Slayer by Iain Lawrence (Red Cedar Club Book)

I was born a few years before Dr. Salk introduced the first polio vaccine. My mother tells stories about waving at my father through the hospital window after the births of myself and later on, my sister. No one was allowed in for fear of spreading polio. I was too young to recollect the atmosphere of terror, but children I went to school with carried visibly the remnants of their battle with the disease.
Through this book I have come to understand a time in my own history much clearer.
I picked it up because so many of my Red Cedar Club readers have raved about it. They were not wrong. 
Laurie Valentine is a young girl at the time of the polio epidemic. Her mother has died and her father is a fundraiser for the March of dimes in the battle to defeat polio. Laurie is left alone most of the time.
When Dickie, a younger boy, moves into the neighborhood, she makes her first friend. Then Dickie comes down with polio and ends up living at the Bishop – a hospital for children with polio. Laurie disobeys her father’s orders and goes to visit him. She finds him in a room with other children surviving inside iron lungs. To ease her own discomfort, and to help them pass the time, she begins to narrate a story about a giant named Colosso and Jimmy the Giant-Slayer. The captivating tale is populated with mythical creatures from many different regions and cultures.  There are gnomes, trolls, griffins, dragons and minotaurs.
As the saga unfolds there is an intertwining of the reality of the children’s lives and the story. Dickie, Chip, Carolyn and Jimmy find themselves represented in the characters as Laurie weaves them, miraculously, into the tale. Reality becomes even more blurred with Dickie's claim to dream the events and predicaments they find themselves in prior to Laurie telling them. Then disaster strikes, and the children must continue the story to save their friend.
Iain Lawrence melds historical fiction with fantasy in this book. His gift is that while the fantasy of the story provides counterpoint to the harshness of the polio ward, it also integrates them. Yet what makes the novel especially profound is that as the children engage in conversations about the story and their roles within it, readers are forced to examine the power of story - and our capacity to become creators and actors in our own tales.

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