Hughes is to be commended, and his book recommended, for balancing its realism with its positive message.

Firefightin' Sam

This debut YA novel about an aspiring firefighter aims to entertain and inform young readers while also keeping them on the straight and narrow.

Author Hughes, himself a firefighter, builds a story around a prank gone wrong. On a dare from his friend Pete Krause, Sam Avery conspires in setting off a fire alarm and gets caught by the police. Due in part to his own code of silence (he won’t rat out Pete), Sam’s punishment is to spend time after school at the nearby fire station—but it quickly becomes no punishment at all. Although he’s continually reminded of the gravity of his prank, the firefighters recognize him for the good kid that he is and adopt him, as it were. Sam is fascinated by the firefighting equipment, the drills, the dispatching procedures—all of it. He even gets the errant Pete, who’s starting down the wrong path in life, to join him in the “maze truck” for a simulation of a house fire that allows trainees to rescue dummies hidden inside. In the end, Sam, of course, sets his sights on being a firefighter himself. Overall, this is a well-written book for its intended audience. It’s hardly nuanced—the good grown-ups, such as Sam’s parents, have stilted dialogue that bolsters the message but makes them seem like cardboard cutouts. On the other hand, the flak that Sam gets from his schoolmates rings true, as does his response to it. One high point of the story is the school’s entertainment night: with the help of the firefighters, Sam and Pete put on a skit demonstrating fire safety that brings the house down. Another highlight, at book’s end, is Sam’s involvement in rescuing a neighborhood curmudgeon, “Pepperhead” Pepperell, from his burning house; just as Pete’s life is set on a new path, the lonely widower is encouraged to rejoin the human race. 

Hughes is to be commended, and his book recommended, for balancing its realism with its positive message.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2002

ISBN: 978-0-595-74546-3

Page Count: 122

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Sept. 11, 2016

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A joyful celebration.

FAMILIES BELONG

Families in a variety of configurations play, dance, and celebrate together.

The rhymed verse, based on a song from the Noodle Loaf children’s podcast, declares that “Families belong / Together like a puzzle / Different-sized people / One big snuggle.” The accompanying image shows an interracial couple of caregivers (one with brown skin and one pale) cuddling with a pajama-clad toddler with light brown skin and surrounded by two cats and a dog. Subsequent pages show a wide array of families with members of many different racial presentations engaging in bike and bus rides, indoor dance parties, and more. In some, readers see only one caregiver: a father or a grandparent, perhaps. One same-sex couple with two children in tow are expecting another child. Smart’s illustrations are playful and expressive, curating the most joyful moments of family life. The verse, punctuated by the word together, frequently set in oversized font, is gently inclusive at its best but may trip up readers with its irregular rhythms. The song that inspired the book can be found on the Noodle Loaf website.

A joyful celebration. (Board book. 1-3)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-22276-8

Page Count: 24

Publisher: Rise x Penguin Workshop

Review Posted Online: Nov. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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OTIS

From the Otis series

Continuing to find inspiration in the work of Virginia Lee Burton, Munro Leaf and other illustrators of the past, Long (The Little Engine That Could, 2005) offers an aw-shucks friendship tale that features a small but hardworking tractor (“putt puff puttedy chuff”) with a Little Toot–style face and a big-eared young descendant of Ferdinand the bull who gets stuck in deep, gooey mud. After the big new yellow tractor, crowds of overalls-clad locals and a red fire engine all fail to pull her out, the little tractor (who had been left behind the barn to rust after the arrival of the new tractor) comes putt-puff-puttedy-chuff-ing down the hill to entice his terrified bovine buddy successfully back to dry ground. Short on internal logic but long on creamy scenes of calf and tractor either gamboling energetically with a gaggle of McCloskey-like geese through neutral-toned fields or resting peacefully in the shade of a gnarled tree (apple, not cork), the episode will certainly draw nostalgic adults. Considering the author’s track record and influences, it may find a welcome from younger audiences too. (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-399-25248-8

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2009

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