The Invincible Microbe: Tuberculosis and the Never-Ending Search for a Cure is Jim Murphy’s new book, co-authored with Alison Blank. Murphy’s book The Great Fire is a Newbery Honor book and listed as a text exemplar for informational texts at the middle school level in the Common Core Standards Appendix B. Invincible Microbe would be an appropriately challenging read for 7-8th grade students. Murphy tells the history of TB in a blended text – with narrative and non-narrative language. Did you know that scientists believe that by the mid-1800’s almost 80% of people on earth had TB? Murphy threads together an account of scientists, physicians, public health workers, policymakers – all working together to find a cure for and eliminate the spread of TB. And while TB has been almost entirely eliminated in the U.S. – it is still a huge issue in the Soviet Union. Fascinating content.
So I had the pleasure of working with a group of teachers studying close reading of informational texts last week. I purposefully chose the first few pages from Murphy’s new book to do a close reading (see attached typed up excerpt, hoping this is okay to do under “fair use” – Close Reading Excerpt from Invincible Microbe).
In this excerpt Murphy creates a vivid image of the TB organism; he reveals how this ancient microbe may appear harmless, but it is not, how this germ can hang in the air for hours after someone with TB has sneezed, waiting to be inhaled by someone, how TB can be unpredictable killing a person in a few days or lingering for years or disappearing suddenly, how TB can infect every single part of the body. Murphy begins with an introduction – a narrative to draw the reader into the text. Then he moves into a description of the TB. Murphy’s use of words like lurk, evolve, emerge, elegant, harmless, beautiful, deadly, seemingly innocent, survive, infect, unpredictable serve to deepen the reader’s sense that TB is a very, very serious disease and potentially a devastating public health issue.
I asked the teachers to read the text, identify the central idea in small groups, and then reread the text to underline words and phrases that get at the central idea. For myself, as I read and reread this passage, I realized that my experience with TB is a shot I got one time for some disease I don’t know much about; I have never met anybody who has this disease. TB is a remote concept for many of us as we begin reading this book – I think Murphy wants to establish up front the gravity of the presence of TB in society.
When the groups were done close reading, we regrouped to discuss the words/phrases that jumped out at us as we read with the central idea in mind – so words and phrases that helped us understand the gravity of TB. Below is a picture of the shared writing I led during this discussion.