The Fire-Eaters

Common Sense Media says

The beautiful and the bizarre coexist here.





What parents need to know

Positive messages
Not applicable

Children's hands are beaten with a strap; some childish wrestling. A performer pushes a skewer through his cheeks.

Not applicable

A few mild expletives.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Children and adults smoke and drink beer.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that a scene where a fire-eater pushes a skewer through his cheeks may be too intense for some readers. Kids may have questions about the Cuban Missile Crisis, and WWII in Burma.

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What's the story?

There's a lot going on in Bobby Burns's life. His father is ill, perhaps seriously, he is just starting at an abusive school, he has come to care for a mentally ill fire-eater, and the Cuban Missile Crisis is beginning.

His lower-class life on the coaly shore of Keely Bay in England can be a hard one, where boys are expected to be tough and outsiders are viewed with suspicion and hostility. But it has its moments of beauty and wonder as well, and he wouldn't give it up for anything. But between his father going for tests in the hospital, and the Americans and Russians getting ready to annihilate each other and the rest of the world, he worries that it may be taken away anyway.

Is it any good?


David Almond is certainly unique among children's authors (and perhaps adult as well). His books tend to be short on story and long on setting, atmosphere, and flights of lyricism and romantic vision so stunning that they bring a lump to the throat, and so poetic that they far outshine books actually written as poetry.

As with some of Almond's other novels, the beautiful and the bizarre coexist here: Some of the fire-eater's insane antics are disturbing, and the treatment of the students at Bobby's new school is certainly abusive by modern standards. But abusers get their comeuppance, the insane find peace, and the harsh and tough discover their hearts. Miracles happen, none greater than the Americans and Russians stepping back from the brink. This is a lovely and satisfying book.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the importance of love and family, particularly in times of crisis. How do Bobby's strong relationships with the people and places around him help through the dark, stressful events of the story?

Book details

Author:David Almond
Genre:Family Life
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Delacorte Press
Publication date:May 23, 2004
Number of pages:218
Publisher's recommended age(s):8 - 14

This review of The Fire-Eaters was written by

About our rating system

  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

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Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging, great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging, good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging, good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging, okay learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Kid, 11 years old April 9, 2008
AGENot rated for age

it sucks

it sucks with a capital s


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