Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of John J. Harvey
What parents need to know
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.
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?