In 1914, a 4-year-old boy living in Gowganda, Ontario, witnesses a forest fire that forces people and animals into a nearby lake to survive.
Bond recounts this true story of her grandfather Antonio, who grew up in a rural, lakeshore hotel his mother operated. Antonio spends his time helping hotel staff, peeking into guests’ rooms, hanging out with lumberjacks, trappers, and silver miners, and exploring the dense forest looking for animals. One dry summer day, a forest fire quickly spreads toward the hotel. To escape, everyone rushes into the lake, soon followed by rabbits, foxes, bobcats, raccoons, wolves, deer, moose, porcupines, elk, squirrels, possums, and bears fleeing from the woods. To Antonio’s amazement, people and animals “stood close enough to touch.” Eventually, the fire dies down, the people return to the still-standing hotel, and the animals depart. Delicate watercolor-and–pen-and-ink illustrations bring palpable realism to this vivid imagined memory. Pale sepia, gray, and green washes combine with fine-lined figures to evoke the nostalgic feel of old etchings. Scenes of boisterous boarders in the dining room contrast with images of the same shocked men knee-deep in the lake watching the flaming red sky. Sensitively drawn animals, tentatively and nervously waiting together in shared peril with humans, speak volumes.
Awe-inspiring, exquisitely rendered, indeed “unforgettable.” (author’s note) (Picture book. 4-9)