JOHN BLAIR AND THE GREAT HINCKLEY FIRE

Move over Casey Jones—John Blair is a legitimate hero who helped save the lives of 300 passengers on a train caught in a terrifying firestorm in Minnesota in 1894. Nobisso (Hot-Cha-Cha!, 1998, etc.) tells the story with careful attention to the sequence of events along with vivid descriptions of the heat, fire, and fear. Through it all, John Blair emerges as a man of extraordinary bravery, compassion, and dedication to duty. Rose’s watercolor illustrations bring the fearsome scenes to life, conveying the thick black smoke and the orange glow of the menacing fire, as well as the terror. The major flaw in the book is the blur between anecdotal history and storytelling. Nobisso incorporates a great deal of conversation into the narrative. Herein lies the dilemma: are these conversations direct quotes from Blair’s report and witnesses’ testimony, or are they the author’s creations? An epilogue presents a great deal of additional information and gives some indication of the author’s research and depth of knowledge. But there is no actual documentation. As it currently stands, the book appears to be historical fiction. As such it is an exciting introduction to a little-known incident in American history and to a genuine African-American hero. (Picture book. 8-10)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-618-01560-4

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2000

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A BIG CHEESE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE

THE TRUE TALE OF A TREMENDOUS CHEDDAR

The author and illustrator bring to life an incident right out of history in this droll picture book enhanced by lively, color- washed pen-and-ink drawings. In Cheshire, Massachusetts, the home of mouth-watering cheese, the local residents grumble that President Jefferson is serving cheese from Norton, Connecticut, at the White House. “I have an idea,” says Elder John Leland to the assembled town folk, “If each of you will give one day’s milking from each of your many cows, we can put our curds together and create a whopping big cheddar.” Although some people scoff, the farmers bring load after load of milk—from 934 cows—to town and they set about making an enormous cheese. There are problems along the way, but eventually the giant cheese is dragged to a barn to age. At last it is perfect, and Mr. Leland and friends start the long haul to the East Room of White House. In a foreword, the author explains the truth and fiction in the tale, e.g., that the presidential residence wasn’t called the White House until about 1809. A humorous tale with a wide range of appeal and uses in and out of the classroom. (Picture book. 8-10)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-7894-2573-4

Page Count: 30

Publisher: DK Publishing

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1999

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THE GREAT DIVIDE

A MATHEMATICAL MARATHON

From Dodds (The Shape of Things, 1994, not reviewed, etc.), a rhyming, reckless text that makes a math process pleasurably solvable; Mitchell’s illustrative debut features a smashing cast of 1930s characters and a playfulness that will keep readers guessing. The premise is a Great Race: at the sound of the gun, 80 bicycle racers take off at top speed. The path diverges at the top of a cliff, and half the racers hurtle forever downward and right out of the race and the book. The remaining 40 racers determinedly continue in boats, their curls, spyglasses, eye patches, matronly upswept hairdos, and Clara Bow—lips intact. Whirlpools erupt to divide them again and wreck their ships, so it’s time to grab the next horse and ride on. The race continues, despite abrupt changes in modes of transportation and in the number of racers that dwindle by disastrous divisions, until a single winner glides over the finish line in a single-prop plane. The pace is so breathless and engaging that the book’s didactic origins all but disappear; few readers will notice that they’ve just finished a math problem, and most will want to go over all the action again. (Picture book. 5-10)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-7636-0442-9

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1999

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