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JOHN BLAIR AND THE GREAT HINCKLEY FIRE by Josephine Nobisso

JOHN BLAIR AND THE GREAT HINCKLEY FIRE

By Josephine Nobisso (Author) , Ted Rose (Illustrator)

Age Range: 8 - 10

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-618-01560-4
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

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)