Archive for October 29th, 2015

fire 2

by Sam Juliano

Note:  This is the second review in the 2015 Caldecott Contender series that will be published at this site over the coming months, up until the January 30th scheduled awards date.  The books that will be examined are not necessarily ones that are bonafide contenders in the eyes of the voting committee, but rather the ones this writer feels should be.  The order they will be presented is arbitrary as some of my absolute favorites will be presented near the end.

Fire trucks and the men who engineer them have always won the star struck adoration of the younger elementary school kids.  When the department runs demonstrations for school kids they are greeted with the most captive audience they could ever hope for.  Kids of course are hopelessly smitten with all the firefighter’s paraphernalia -the ladders the bells, boots and helmets and the stories of heroism that are relayed in simple but compelling terms.  At that most impressionable age, some kids are convinced they know their calling, while others can’t imagine anything more exciting than the prospect of responding to a three-alarm fire.  Even after they are told of the danger, and chances involved with this vocation, they see these prospective activities as adventurous and recipient of great respect around the community.  The carnival like atmosphere that often accompanies a big fire is as alluring as the scene-specific sounds that heighten the urgency of the moment.

Author-illustrator Mike Austin, creator of the irresistible picture book Junk Yard, knows precisely what sounds and visuals comprise this most dreaded of domestic calamities.  Using colorfully appealing mixed media art that recalls Donald Crews’ popular transportation books, Austin brings together some visceral spreads to re-create this sensory experience, accentuating the need to move quickly and how vital it is to have trained firefighters.  From the dazzling cover, which features a long hook and ladder truck that rolls out over the spine and back panel, through safety oriented end papers that compile the most important items needed to combat a fire, Austin understands that there is no hedging when it comes to equipment, which could in the end be the difference between life or death.  Or certainly that is the warning he tactfully presents in  a book that recreates the sounds that are exclusive to this event, and are so vital to the safety of those on both ends of the emergency.  Austin superbly relates the sudden intrusion of the way firemen are alerted by first depicting a tranquil, sunny day outside the firehouse, where Engine No. 9 is being attended two by two men, one of whom is playing with the company’s Dalmatian, who leaves out the window from the driver’s passenger side of the truck.  Another is re-situating a fire extinguisher in an open back panel that features and axe and a first aid kit.  The sun shines down innocuously enough, but then on the very next page the words “Alert! Alert!” and three notifications of “Fire!” each in progressively larger type are joined by the barking dog.  The next turn is terrific: The sounds of “Whoosh” accompany two fireman coming down the pole in a scenario that may well be outdated, but was always part and parcel to the calls decades ago. (more…)

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