Friday, September 16, 2022

Fire on Headless Mountain and Deadliest Fires Then and Now

Lawrence, Iain. Fire on Headless Mountain
August 23rd 2022 by Margaret Ferguson Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Joshua Pepper, 19, is in charge of driving the family's camper to Little Lost Lake, to scatter the ashes of their mother with sister Kaitlyn, 15, and Virgil, 12. Their father has decided it is too much for him to bear to return to the scene of the place where their family was happiest, so he instead goes to a writer's conference in San Francisco. The children take off deep into the woods just as a storm is brewing. Virgil, who was very close to his mother and struggling after her death, knows that she loved storms, and urges his brother to continue driving. The van breaks down and Joshua can't fix it, so he takes off to walk for help. There isn't any food, since Virgil forgot to pack it, and there's not much water, although they manage to process some the way their mother taught them. It's clear that there is a fire in the area, and Virgil and Kaitlyn try to get out, but Kaitlyn manages to fall and hurt her ankle badly. Virgil hopes to repair the van, and has some luck, but eventually he and Kaitlyn get separated. Luckily, she gets picked up by the firefighters that found Joshua. Virgil manages to find a local man who runs a small store, and gets a few supplies before heading off to the lake, which he feels will be a safer place to weather the fire, and he can also scatter his mother's ashes. He has a lot of close calls, but always manages to hold onto the box. With fire raging everywhere, will he be able to survive?
Strengths: This is a good example of Why One Should Be Prepared in the Wilderness and reminded me a bit of Johnson's Falcon Wild. Do not rely on cell phones, do not take decrepit vehicles into the back woods, and for the love of all that is good and holy, BRING SUPPLIES. The Peppers, of course, do not do these things, which leads to their adventure. I think it's important for young readers to see how devastating wild fires are, and see how dangerous they can be. Virgil puts the science information from his mother to good use, and manages to survive his experiences, but this is definitely a pulse-pounding cautionary tale!
Weaknesses: The flashback scenes with the mother instructing Virgil about science really slow the book down, and I can't imagine that his mother would be happy that he risked his life to save her ashes on multiple occasions. This was a great adventure book, but the inclusion of Virgil's intense grieving did not improve the story. Frequent readers know that I am never a fan of books with people unable to move forward after deaths. 
What I really think: From Cooney's 1995 Flash Fire to Henry's 2021 Playing with Fire, there are a lot of interesting books that cover conflagrations. Add this to a list that also includes Paulsen's Escape from Fire Mountain (1995), Garretson's Wildfire Run (2010)Philbrick's Wildfire (2019), Tarshis' I Survived the California Wildfires 2018 (2020), Rhodes' Paradise on Fire (2021),  and Davis' Partly Cloudy (2021), and Lorentz's Wayward Creatures (2022).

That said, my mother's ashes in my closet since April of 2020. They are always right next to my newest pair of shoes, which would make her happy. When her sister Grace died in 1985 and was interred in a mausoleum, my mother commented how nice it was, because she would always be warm. This has made it hard to put the ashes where my brother and I have agreed, because that's outside. But if I risked my life to protect her ashes? My mother would find a way to come back and haunt me!

Hopkinson, Deborah.
September 6th 2022 by Scholastic Focus
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

With a growing concern over wildfires and a plethora of fiction books on the topic, including this author's Into the Firestorm: A Novel of San Francisco 1906 (2006), this is a timely read and a great follow up to the other two books in this seriesDeadliest Diseases and Deadliest Hurricanes.

There are three sections to the book (and a little over 200 pages, just the perfect length). The first covers Great Midwest Fires of 1871, the second Twentieth Century Fires including Chicago, San Francisco, The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, and the third chapters deals with fires of the 21st century. Considering we are only 22 years in, there have been far too many fires. 

The stories are all told in an engaging, fast paced way, and the inclusion of some period drawings, maps, and photographs help spark interest. There are lots of additional information about a variety of topics, such as the Menominee Tribe, the National Fire Protection Association, how earthquakes are measured, and even a note about primary source letters and an encouragement to young readers to write one! There are fun facts, like the Chicago City Council's 1997 goodwill resolution exonerating Mrs. O'Leary and her cow from all blame in the fire of 1871, and bold faced text for words that are listed in the glossary at the end of the book. There are a few internet resources on selected topics as well. 

I especially liked how Hopkinson covered different aspects of the aftermaths of these fires, like how the Chicago and San Francisco Fires disproportionately affected economically disadvantaged communities; I had just learned in Goldstone's Days of Infamy how the Chinese American population had to stand their ground to keep from being moved to inferior land in San Francisco. The Triangle Fire is my favorite Horrible Historical Event, so seeing how it changed labor practices is always interesting. 

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