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Guest Post: Author Caroline Starr Rose

A traveling medicine show promises to cure all, but two kids learn it takes more than faith in the miraculous to fix things that are broken.

Thirteen-year-old Jack knows 
what cured his baby sister when his family thought she might never get well—Dr. Kingsbury’s “Miraculous Tonic.” Guaranteed to relieve maladies known to man or beast, Dr. Kingsbury’s potion can cure everything from pimples to hearing loss to a broken heart, and Jack himself is a witness to the miraculous results and the doctor’s kindness. When he had no money, the doctor didn’t turn him away but gave him the tonic for free along with a job—to travel with him from city to city selling his cure-all elixir.

When Dr. Kingsbury and Jack arrive in Oakdale, the town at first feels like any other they’ve been to. But it’s clear Oakdale is a town with secrets, and its citizens are slow to trust strangers. 
Then Jack meets Cora, and a friendship neither expected starts to bloom. Together they uncover something else they didn’t expect—not only secrets about the town but also Dr. Kingsbury. As they race to discover the truth, they’ll have to decide who and what to believe before it’s too late.


There’s no sore it will not heal: charisma, cure-alls, and charlatans

by Caroline Starr Rose

I write books to make sense of the world  — this gloriously weird, sometimes heartbreaking, marvelous place we call home. Years ago, while visiting a museum in St. Louis, I heard a talk on charlatans (people who intentionally deceive others for their personal gain). It sparked a number of questions in me: Why do we believe the things that we do? What might we be willing to try to change our circumstances? Exploring these ideas was the starting point for my book, Miraculous.

Medical knowledge has come a long way since the 1800s. Back then, far less was understood about illness and the human body. Because medical training was limited, treatments varied widely. It was easy for anyone with a little experience to claim to be a doctor—and some did, for their own personal gain. 

During the nineteenth century, charlatans found plenty of willing customers in the rural regions of the United States (90 percent of the country then) where doctors were scarce. Most families at that time relied on home remedies that helped ease the discomfort of minor illnesses but were no match for serious diseases or chronic conditions. Lack of medical knowledge, limited access to proper care, and ineffective home remedies were the perfect combination for the rise of patent medicines. 

Patent medicines, sometimes called cure-alls, were unregulated medications with over-the-top claims that they could fix any ailment. Anyone with a bit of skill, a little medical insight, and a strong business sense could create and sell a cure-all. These “medicines” came in a variety of forms. Tonics and tinctures were meant to be swallowed. Liniments and salves were applied to the skin. Some self-described doctors moved from town to town to sell their products, a spectacle called the traveling medicine show. These shows were part entertainment, part lecture, and part doctor’s visit. Many people viewed the traveling doctor as an authority figure, falling under the spell of hypnotic speeches and demonstrations that were meant to deceive.

By 1906, roughly 50,000 different patent medicines were available in the United States! Here’s just a sampling:

Hamlin’s Wizard Oil claimed to heal rheumatism, pneumonia, hydrophobia, lame backs, asthma, sore throats, toothaches, headaches, stiff joints, and even cancer. “There’s no sore it will not heal,” its slogan read, “no pain it will not subdue.” 

Burdock Blood Bitters claimed to cure “all disorders arising from impure blood or a deranged liver.” 

Dr. Kilmer’s Swamp Root Kidney, Liver, and Bladder Cure worked on “pimples, diabetes,” or “internal slime fever.” Kilmer’s Ocean Weed Remedy could be used to cure “sudden death.” (I can’t help but wonder how that might work.)

Believe it or not, the mouthwash Listerine got its start as a patent medicine. It was once used as “a surgical disinfectant, a cure for dandruff, a floor cleaner, a hair tonic, [and] a deodorant.”

Did patent medicines really work? This is a tricky question. Some “may have had medical value, provided they were taken in the right doses for the appropriate ailment.” Some people improved because of the “placebo effect,” a phenomenon where recovery comes from simply believing a medicine can heal. Many patent medicines included addictive substances such as alcohol, opium, morphine, and even cocaine. These substances could mask an ailment, bringing temporary relief. And perhaps most important to remember, when given enough time, the human body often heals itself of minor illnesses. 

The medicine show era drew to a close in the 1930s. The newly formed U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission determined which drugs could be sold and which claims had to be eliminated because of false advertising. Automobiles and movie theaters meant people no longer had to wait for entertainment to find them; they could seek it out themselves. Easy access to drugstores meant regulated medicine was available to anyone who needed it. 

Today we’re certain we’re more sophisticated than the people who lived in the past. We think we’d never fall for the outrageous claims made at a traveling medicine show. But aren’t we still drawn to the people that promise the world? Don’t we long for the products that assure us they’ll make our lives easier? Don’t we secretly hope there’s a fix to our problems, a sure-fire solution that’s guaranteed? While their claims might not be as bold or extravagant as they were in the past, cure-alls and charlatans still exist today. I hope Miraculous helps young readers to examine the world around them. I hope it shows them to pay attention and remember: No remedy can cure every ache or pain. No product can solve every problem. No person has all the answers.

Teaching ideas

Discussion questions

  1. Why do you think some characters are willing to believe in the power of the tonic? Do you think in some circumstances the tonic could truly be beneficial? If yes, whom might it help and how?

  2. Miraculous can be described as a story of second chances. Share three examples from the book that support this idea.

  3. Dr. Kingsbury preys on people’s insecurities and worries in order to make a sale. Can you think of advertising examples in our current day that are similar to Dr. Kingsbury’s approach?

  1. Why do you think the book is told through multiple points of view? How would the book be different if Dr. Kingsbury’s perspective had been included? 

Videos about patent medicines

(Please preview to determine if these are appropriate for your classroom.)

Quackery: A History of Fake Medicine and Cure-Alls from CBS Sunday Morning (6:59)

A good overview of quackery in the United States, the limitations of medical knowledge, and modern-day examples of Coronavirus “cures.”

Patent Medicines (6:36)

Lots of visuals of advertisements and handbills, with a focus on Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound (a product still available today!).

Patent Medicines from History 101 (2:21)

A quick overview of quackery with some examples of advertisements from the 1800s and modern-day connections.


Create Your Own Cure-All


What type of medicine is your cure-all? What five things will your medicine “cure”? Create a poster that will attract your ideal customer.

Classroom Talk Show


Invite characters from Miraculous to a classroom talk show! Assign various characters to your students and invite them to take on their persona. Other students should prepare questions to ask the characters. Have students reflect on how characters would interact with each other and how they might respond to questions about things such as their motivations, actions, choices, opinions, fears, strengths, weaknesses, hopes, secrets, and dreams.

Miraculous read alikes:

The Boneshaker by Kate Milford

The Wishgiver: Three Tales of Conven Tree by Bill Brittain

A Fine White Dust by Cynthia Rylant

a great non-fiction read:

Poison: Deadly Deeds, Perilous Professions, and Murderous Medicines by Sara Albee

Caroline Starr Rose is a middle grade and picture book author whose books have been ALA-ALSC Notable, Junior Library Guild, ABA New Voices, Kids’ Indie Next, Amazon’s Best Books of the Month for Kids, and Bank Street College of Education Best Books selections. In addition, her books have been nominated for almost two dozen state award lists. Caroline was named a Publisher’s Weekly Flying Start Author for her debut novel, May B. She spent her childhood in the deserts of Saudi Arabia and New Mexico and taught social studies and English in four different states. Caroline now lives with her family in New Mexico. Miraculous is her latest book. 





MG + YA Reviews



Homebound - John David Anderson



August 23      Nerdy Book Club  @nerdybookclub

August 26       A Library Mama @alibrarymama

August 30 Teachers Who Read @teachers_read

September 1  Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers  @grgenius

September 3 Maria’s Mélange @mariaselke

Beloved and bestselling author John David Anderson returns with the conclusion to the epic sci-fi coming-of-age tale that began in Stowaway, which Booklist called "The Mandalorian meets Guardians of the Galaxy" in a starred review.

Leo Fender is no stranger to catastrophe, whether it’s the intergalactic war that took his mother’s life or the ongoing fight for his own. He’s seen his planet plundered, his ship attacked, his father kidnapped, and his brother go missing—and found himself stranded on a ship with a bunch of mercenary space pirates.

Still, nothing could have prepared him for the moment he and the crew tried to save his father...and discovered a dark plot that could destroy hundreds of worlds in the blink of an eye.

Now Leo is adrift. His father has sent him on a mission with nothing but a data chip and a name of someone who could help, and Captain Bastian Black and the crew of the Icarus are determined to see this through to the end with Leo, to fulfill his father’s wish and prevent further conflict.

But as Leo searches for answers, he can’t help but wonder what it would take to end the war, to track down his father and brother and return to whatever home they have left—and if the cost of doing so is one he would be able to pay.

A very excellent follow up to Stowaway! 

  • Action packed!
  • A kid fighting a galactic-level war
  • Planets
  • Non-human persons
  • Family issues
  • Strange alien food
  • Robots (and some romance)
  • Environmental message
  • Friends who become family 
  • Self value message 
If you haven't read Stowaway yet - pick that up today and follow with Homebound. The two books are perfect for those sci-fi lovers you have in your classroom. 

Teaching activity: There are several descriptive parts throughout the book of Leo's setting. Find a page that your students can replicate by creating their own planet with everything Leo needs to either fight or combine forces with! 


A Nonfiction Classroom Addition


“I wanted to bring engineering to life for children in a different way. . . . Our goal was to combine engineering and art to create something beautiful.”

Roma’s HOW WAS THAT BUILT? gives not only an in-depth look into some of the most impressive architectural marvels, but goes into the hows of it all. From “how to build long” with the Brooklyn Bridge to “how to build clean” with London’s sewers (and even more intense—how to build on ice, in the sea, and outer space), Roma goes above and beyond in giving young readers a sense of what structural engineering is, and opens their minds to seeing architecture in their world a little differently. The book has a ton of try-it-at-home experiments in order to learn these concepts, and it’s an incredibly fun, educational read for people of all ages.

Roma Agrawal herself is an impressive woman in her field, having worked on multiple footbridges, structures, train stations, and skyscrapers—including The Shard—she’s left an indelible mark on London’s landscape. She is a tireless promoter of engineering and technical careers to young people, particularly under-represented groups such as women. As an engineering story-teller, she presents documentaries and hosts the podcast Building Stories. HOW WAS THAT BUILT? is a young readers adaptation of her first book, BUILT, and she wrote this with the hopes of encouraging young people to move into STEM and structural engineering fields


The Year Without a Summer - Review

The Year Without a Summer by Arlene Mark

Out August 16! 

Click to purchase! AffLink

Explosive volcanic eruptions are cool, really, cool. They inject ash into the stratosphere and deflect the sun’s rays. When eighth grader Jamie Fulton learns that snow fell in June in his hometown because of an eruption on the other side of the world, he’s psyched! He could have snowboarded if he’d lived back in 1815 during the year without a summer.

Clara Montalvo, who recently arrived at Jamie’s school after surviving Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, has a different take all this. She is astounded—and disturbed—by Jamie’s frenzied enthusiasm for what she considers an obvious disaster. The teens’ battling arguments cause science class disruption and create academic trouble: Jamie’s headed for a failing grade in science, and may not even graduate from eighth grade; Clara’s scholarship hopes are dashed. And school isn’t the only place where Jamie and Clara are facing hardship: as they quarrel whether natural disasters can be beneficial, their home lives are also unraveling. Uncertainty about Jamie’s wounded brother returning from Afghanistan and Clara’s unreachable father back in Puerto Rico forces the two vulnerable teens to share their worries and sadness. As their focus shifts from natural disasters to personal calamities to man-made climate changes, the teens take surprising steps that astonish them. Ultimately, through hard work and growing empathy for each other, as well as for their classmates’ distress over the climate change affecting their lives, Jamie and Clara empower themselves and the people they touch.

A historical fiction middle grade story that focuses on natural disasters, with environmental concerns woven in with two 8th grade protagonists. Jamie - with parents who are very hard on him in regards to his inability to care for anything other than the snowboarding team (like grades) and Clara whose family moved to the states from Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. 

A lot of middle school problems that are common and something that students can relate to. A lot of topics are covered in the story. You do learn that the title of the book came from a catastrophic, real event, the 1815 Indonesian volcano that spewed enough ash to change the climate for many countries. 

A story that student who enjoy historical fiction/environmental issues will enjoy. Also anyone struggling with parents who they feel are "hard on them" but essentially just parenting and not wanting them to waste their potential.


Spark and the League of Ursus - Recommendation

 League of Ursus Series! Must HAVE! 

Action packed! Suspenseful! Imaginative! Representation!

Toy Story meets Stranger Things in this epic tale of warrior teddy bears and the children they protect.

Spark is not your average teddy bear. She’s soft and cuddly, sure, but she’s also a fierce warrior. At night she fulfills her sacred duty: to protect the household from monsters. But Spark’s owner Loretta is growing up and thinks she doesn’t need her old teddy anymore.

When a monster unlike any other descends on the quiet home, everything changes. Children are going missing, and the monster wants Loretta next. Only Spark can stop it. She must call upon the ancient League of Ursus—a secret alliance of teddy bears who are pledged to protect their human friends. Together with an Amazon-princess doll and a timid sock monkey, the bears are all that stands between our world and the one that lies beneath. It will be a heroic chapter in the history of the League . . . if the bears live to tell the tale.

An army of toys, a menacing threat, and a thrilling adventure collide in the high-stakes sequel to Spark and the League of Ursus.
Spark may be a cute and cuddly teddy bear, but she’s also a fierce protector. Weeks after rescuing her human owner—a budding young filmmaker named Loretta—from a hideous monster, everything seems to be returning to normal. But then Spark is summoned before the mysterious Grand Sleuth, the high council of teddy bears, who task her with a dangerous mission: locating the portal to the monster’s world.
During her daring quest, Spark discovers a terrible secret that changes everything. In order to keep Loretta and their whole town safe, she must enlist the help of her loyal toy friends and team up with an unexpected ally. As the menace grows, Spark realizes that Loretta has a hidden power that may be the key to saving them all . . .
This dark middle grade fantasy is perfect for fans of the Nightmares! series and Holly Black’s Doll Bones.

Series information and fun activities can be found here:

Activity Guide: Click Here