Revenge on the Fly cover

By Sylvia McNicoll

Revenge on the Fly

In 1912, 12-year-old immigrant William Alton’s adoptive city offers a prize for the child who can improve sanitation by killing the most flies. William first sets out to win to avenge the sickness and deaths of his mother and sister, but competition with classmates almost makes him lose sight of the contest’s real goal.

When twelve-year-old William Alton and his father sail from England for new opportunities on the Empress of Ireland, they leave behind the graves of his mother and baby sister. Will only hopes they will leave death and disease behind them, too. But a shipmate’s baby falls ill and is forced into quarantine on Grosse Ile, and when they finally arrive in Hamilton – their new home – they discover that Will’s Uncle Charlie is in the hospital. Why must everyone around him get sick and die?

A competition at Will’s new school offers an answer…and a challenge. In 1912, cities around the world declare war on the fly, blaming it for the spread of the diseases – summer complaint, typhus, consumption and typhoid – that are wiping out families. To avenge his mother and his sister, Will throws himself into the local fly-killing contest.

Along the way, he makes enemies and friends: Fred Aitken, the wealthy classmate who hates losing; Fred’s admirer, Ginny Malone, who often must skip school to look after sick siblings; and Rebecca, a doctor’s daughter who hates poor sportsmanship worse than poverty and disease.

William uses ingenuity and determination to climb into the top ranks of fly-catchers, but along the way loses track of his real mission. Can he beat Fred without cheating? How much does it matter?

Available In

Paperback / softback

Ages 8-12
ISBN: 978-1-927485-56-9
List Price: $12.95 CAD / $12.95 USD
Paperback / softback
Trim Size: 5.75 x 7.98 inches / 14.605 x 20.2692cm
Pages: 224

Distributed in Canada by University of Toronto Press

Distributed in the U.S. by Orca Book Publishers

Carton Quantity: 64

About this book

Awards and Honours

  • 2016 Rocky Mountain Book Awards (Short-listed) (Canada)
  • 2015 Kerry Schooley Book Award (Short-listed) (Canada)
  • 2014 Best Books for Kids & Teens Starred Selection (Commended) (Canada)
  • 2014 Resource Links "The Year's Best" (Commended) (Canada)



Praise for Revenge on the Fly

2016 Rocky Mountain Book Awards shortlist

2015 Kerry Schooley Book Award shortlist

2014 Resource Links “The Year’s Best”

2014 Canadian Children’s Book Centre Best Books for Kids & Teens Starred Selection

“…a young boy learning what it means to grieve, to win, and to be a man. Reminiscent of the historical novels of Karen Hesse, this quiet story is lyrically written with a believable young protagonist and a thoughtful message of hope in the midst of trouble.”—Booklist

“McNicoll’s novel offers a unique and unconventional view of the fight against disease plaguing the world at the beginning of the 20th century”—School Library Journal

“McNicoll paints a believably gritty portrait of urban life a century ago. An entertaining visit to the past with a likable guide on a spirited – if icky – quest.”—Kirkus Reviews

“McNicoll never allows her characters or storyline to become predictable. Will, his father, and the rest of the cast possess individual voices that ring true and avoid cliché.”—Quill & Quire

Revenge on the Fly is a startling, thought-provoking work involving fully-rounded characters – – and no one can accuse it of lacking realism! Highly Recommended”—CM Magazine

Revenge on the Fly is an excellent book…It will make readers laugh, cringe, shudder – and think.”—Resource Links

“It’s how you win, not what you win; who you are, not what you have. These are hard lessons to learn when revenge is on your mind. In a true test of successful historical fiction, we are completely immersed in Will’s world, and readers will await the outcome of the competition with bated breath.”—The National Reading Campaign

“It’s an exciting book and one that I found riveting.”—CBC Children’s Book Panel

“Vividly narrating the story in Will’s voice, McNicoll brings this intriguing bit of Canadian history to life, deftly weaving rich historical detail into the tale, immersing young readers in the sights, sounds and smells of early 20th century Hamilton.”—Canadian Children’s Book News

“In 1912, twelve-year-old William Alton sails with his Dad on the Empress of Ireland bound for new opportunities in Canada, leaving behind the graves of his mom and baby sister. A job for Dad, an education for Will, and no more disease! Unfortunately, another baby on board the ship succumbs to summer complaint, and Uncle Charlie falls ill with typhoid; why does everyone get sick and die? On Will’s second day in school, the city health officer, Dr. Roberts, gives him the answer. One tiny little insect spreads germs and death. Will and his classmates declare war on the fly”—Middle Shelf Magazine


Additional Resources



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