CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 14 . . . . March 17, 2006
John is a young boy who lives in London, England, in the year 1666. He awakens to a ruckus early one morning and wonders why his father is up and dressed. John is concerned that the Plague has returned. He anxiously questions his father, who assures him it isn't the Plague, yet John knows that something is terribly wrong. He finds some comfort in his cat, Sammy, and then seeks out his adult friend for some answers. Mr. Samuel Pepys does show John what is amiss; the city of London is ablaze. He explains that already hundreds of homes have been lost to the great fire. John makes an observation that becomes the solution to the problem. The fire cannot burn water or earth. John tells Mr. Pepys that houses should be "taken away" so that the fire will stop. Mr. Pepys exclaims that he must take this brilliant idea to the King, explaining to John that, if some houses were torn down, the fire would have nothing in its path to burn. Before Mr. Pepys leaves John, he urges him to start writing a journal in order to properly remember the events that are happening. John takes his advice.
The next day, Sammy the cat is missing. John, of course, is deeply worried about his pet and decides he must search for him. Thinking that Sammy loves fish, John decides to look for him on Fish Street. As he tours the streets of London while making his way there, John encounters many people who have lost their homes to the fire. Fish Street is completely burned (this is one of the few illustrations using blue colours, quite effectively), and Sammy is still missing.
In the next turn of events, we find John venturing to the river with his father. In a rowboat, John describes the discomfort he feels - burning eyes, choking air quality. With Sammy still missing, John then hides from his father upon their return to the docks. He sneaks onto a rowboat, determined to find Sammy this time. He quickly loses an oar and finds himself rowing in circles. After an explosion from the fire, John worries that he may be stuck in a dangerous place, but Mr. Pepys just happens to be near. He takes John safely back to dry land. Home once more, John finds even his mother is too busy to listen to his story. A sad John makes his way up to his bed. He hears a familiar "Meow," and, when he gets there, he finds Sammy snug and safe in his bed, with three kittens no less.
Fire Cat is told in the voice of a boy who is about six-years-old. He takes the reader back to a time of great tragedy in London, England. Young John's description of the fire gives us a taste of how horrible it must have been. The illustrations are mainly oranges and yellows and create the illusion of intense heat. My only concern was the ending. I found it to be fairly abrupt and think it odd that nothing more is mentioned about the Great Fire of London. Perhaps the author felt there should be a happy ending - Sammy the cat was found, end of story. In the pages following, however, author Pippa Goodhart does give the book a non-fiction flavour and a better explanation of the Great Fire. She numbers short paragraphs of information from 1 to 6. Illustrations are added to help the reader understand what happened and what was done to end the fire. She also writes about Mr. Samuel Pepys and talks about his famous diary. This helps the reader to understand why his character encourages John to start writing a diary of his own in the story. She includes instructions on how to write a diary and other activities as well.
Fire Cat is a successful combination of fiction and non-fiction in an easy reader format. I would even go as far as to say this is a nice first novel for those readers who are just beyond beginning to read books. It also works well as a read aloud for younger children.
Ellie Contursi is a librarian in London, ON.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.