Firefightin' Sam

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

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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


Little Blue Truck keeps on truckin’—but not without some backfires.

Little Blue Truck feels, well, blue when he delivers valentine after valentine but receives nary a one.

His bed overflowing with cards, Blue sets out to deliver a yellow card with purple polka dots and a shiny purple heart to Hen, one with a shiny fuchsia heart to Pig, a big, shiny, red heart-shaped card to Horse, and so on. With each delivery there is an exchange of Beeps from Blue and the appropriate animal sounds from his friends, Blue’s Beeps always set in blue and the animal’s vocalization in a color that matches the card it receives. But as Blue heads home, his deliveries complete, his headlight eyes are sad and his front bumper droops ever so slightly. Blue is therefore surprised (but readers may not be) when he pulls into his garage to be greeted by all his friends with a shiny blue valentine just for him. In this, Blue’s seventh outing, it’s not just the sturdy protagonist that seems to be wilting. Schertle’s verse, usually reliable, stumbles more than once; stanzas such as “But Valentine’s Day / didn’t seem much fun / when he didn’t get cards / from anyone” will cause hitches during read-alouds. The illustrations, done by Joseph in the style of original series collaborator Jill McElmurry, are pleasant enough, but his compositions often feel stiff and forced.

Little Blue Truck keeps on truckin’—but not without some backfires. (Board book. 1-4)

Pub Date: Dec. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-358-27244-1

Page Count: 20

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 18, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2021


Safe to creep on by.

Carle’s famous caterpillar expresses its love.

In three sentences that stretch out over most of the book’s 32 pages, the (here, at least) not-so-ravenous larva first describes the object of its love, then describes how that loved one makes it feel before concluding, “That’s why… / I[heart]U.” There is little original in either visual or textual content, much of it mined from The Very Hungry Caterpillar. “You are… / …so sweet,” proclaims the caterpillar as it crawls through the hole it’s munched in a strawberry; “…the cherry on my cake,” it says as it perches on the familiar square of chocolate cake; “…the apple of my eye,” it announces as it emerges from an apple. Images familiar from other works join the smiling sun that shone down on the caterpillar as it delivers assurances that “you make… / …the sun shine brighter / …the stars sparkle,” and so on. The book is small, only 7 inches high and 5 ¾ inches across when closed—probably not coincidentally about the size of a greeting card. While generations of children have grown up with the ravenous caterpillar, this collection of Carle imagery and platitudinous sentiment has little of his classic’s charm. The melding of Carle’s caterpillar with Robert Indiana’s iconic LOVE on the book’s cover, alas, draws further attention to its derivative nature.

Safe to creep on by. (Picture book. 3-6)

Pub Date: Dec. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-448-48932-2

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2021

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