Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of John J. Harvey



An old New York fireboat offers heroic help on 9/11.

What parents need to know

Educational value

Kids will learn a bit about 1931, the fireboats used in New York City, what happens to old boats, and how fireboats helped in the events of 9/11.

Positive messages

A group of people get together to restore an old fireboat, and they bring it out of retirement to help the rescue and firefighting efforts after the attack on the World Trade Center. The fireboat is more useful than expected, and is cited for "invaluable aid in New York City's hour of need" ... "not scrapped, not useless, not forgotten."

Positive role models

Besides the fireboat that came out of retirement, many people in all walks of life are commended as heroes for what they did in the face of the 9/11 attacks.

Violence & scariness

Except for the exploding building, no actual violence is shown in this book. However, the story does show, and talk about, the terrorist attack and the dark chaos that ensued in its aftermath. And that may be jarring to young children.

Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this is not just a sweet, sentimental Scuffy the Tugboat kind of story. The bright colors, creative illustrations, and playful print tell a happy story about the fireboat that was renovated and brought back into service. But then the 9/11 terrorist attacks happen. Parents should be prepared for exploding buildings, and a story that takes a more serious and tragic turn. It may be too much for more sensitive younger picture book readers. Quotes on the cover of the anniversary edition make parents aware that the book commemorates heroism in the face of the 9/11 attacks. Earlier editions do not offer those important clues.

Kids say

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What's the story?

The story is simply told, and it is a touching one. The first few pages set the time and place (1931, New York City) and introduce the John J. Harvey as the best of the fireboats. After serving for 60 years, the won-out fireboat is docked, waiting to be scrapped. Then, his ex-captain and a group of friends decide to bring him out of mothballs. When the 9/11 terrorist attack happens, he is ready and able to help. At first he is going to ferry people out of danger, but when the water pipes break, he gets an even more important role. He works right alongside the more modern fireboats and helps save the day.

Is it any good?


If parents and their children are ready to hear a bit about the 9/11 attacks, this book is a good way to start. Though the focus is on the fireboat finding a useful purpose, and on the heroism of the people around him, one section discusses the 9/11 attacks. The bright primary colors and bold illustrations turn to a solid black page that sets a somber tone. Next, against the bright blue sky, two tall buildings are approached by two dark planes that "CRASHED, CRASHED, CRASHED into the two strong buildings." During the next few pages the illustrations turn dark and chaotic until order is restored.

The story is plainly told, and full of information about the parts of the boat, things that were restored, and the people who helped.  The gracefully expressive artwork, done in gouache, grabs both the eye and the heart, and definitely adds a strong emotional tone to the story.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the illustrations in the book. How did the colors and brush strokes change to show the explosion, and then afterwards as the fire fighters, and other heroes, tried to deal with the chaos?

  • What was the illustrator trying to show? When that time was over, how did the illustrations change again?

Book details

Author:Maira Kalman
Illustrator:Maira Kalman
Genre:Picture Book
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:G.P. Putnam's Sons
Publication date:August 4, 2005
Number of pages:48
Publisher's recommended age(s):4 - 8
Read aloud:6
Read alone:6 - 8
Award:ALA Best and Notable Books

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  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
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  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Parent of a 7 year old Written byzelita December 18, 2011

Not appropriate for young children

Families can discuss brushstrokes and colors under a theme more suited for kids at this age. Exposing kids at young age to this tragedy can only damage their much needed sense of security. Emotionally and intellectually, they are not mature enough to process it. My star rating is more related to age appropriateness than to how good or bad the book is. I think the story is laudable but deserves a proper audience.
What other families should know
Too much violence


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