Saludos todos! We are continuing our theme of “unsung heroes” this week with Fire! ¡Fuego! Brave Bomberos!, written by Susan Middleton Elya and illustrated by Dan Santat. This heartwarming and inspiring story celebrates the courageous firemen and women who put their lives at risk every day to keep their neighborhoods safe. As the fire squad rushes to attend to a burning house, and to rescue a gato (cat) from the menacing flames, the entire neighborhood crowds around, cheering and supporting their local firefighters, emphasizing themes of community, camaraderie and support.
As Kirkus Reviews notes in a review of the book, the theme of firefighters is not especially unique among children’s books; however, Elya’s story diversifies this common narrative by interspersing her rhythmic poetic prose with Spanish words. The context clues and illustrations help non-Spanish-speaking students understand the meaning of the Spanish vocabulary, but Elya has also included a glossary at the back of the book to further facilitate a novice reading of the text.
In addition, this story’s lead firefighter, the person who ultimately saves the gato from the house, is a firewoman, showing readers that women, too, can be firefighters and, more specifically, can be strong, brave and unafraid of getting their hands dirty: “Gato safely on the ground,/ kitty besos all around./ ‘You’re our hero!’ cheer los niños/ as they give the cat cariños./ Says Carlota, caked with grime,/ ‘At your service, any time.” The illustration shows Carlota beeming with pride at the center of a group of elated children. Her firefighter colleagues, both men and women, are shown in the background smiling proudly at Carlota’s success. This noticeable dynamic empowers women in more ways than one, showing readers that women can also be firefighters, but also showing readers how the work environment and the dynamics amongst colleagues in male-dominated professions don’t have to be filled with hostility or subtle forms of oppression. In other words, Carlota’s heroism shines through the community and the narrative, and is acknowledged and encouraged by her male colleagues. Furthermore, before Carlota begins climbing up the later to save the kitten, her male colleagues are excitedly volunteering for a chance to be a hero: “I’ll go. I’ll go. Let me try!” But Carlota interjects—“Hey, compadres, momentito! Let me save that poor gatito.” Again, Elya skillfully evokes a work dynamic where men and women work respectfully and successfully side by side, and women are offered equal opportunities at success.
Kirkus Reviews also comments upon the success of Santat’s illustrations: “Santat’s illustrations also help to set this firefighter book apart. From the first page, he thrusts readers into the action with up-close views created with colored pencil, water on ink print, fire and Photoshop. His firefighters are real people with needs, interests and fears, who sweat and get dirty.” Indeed, Santat’s detailed illustrations humanize these brave firefighters who are sometimes overlooked or whose work is sometimes underestimated in our daily lives. Santat’s aesthetic details show readers the physical labor and strain of fighting fires, as well as the range of emotions—fear, adrenaline, pride—that run across the faces of these brave men and women as they keep their neighborhoods safe.
The final scene of the book also emphasizes the reality of work as a firefighter. Although the story focuses on a heart-warming moment of heroism, the daily life of firefighters is not always so thrilling, and often involves late-night calls, strange hours, and sleep-less nights: “Just as todos drift to sleep,/ Dispatch makes its noisy bleep./ Late-night fire call has begun. / ¡EMERGENCIA! 911!/ Off they go to fight un fuego–/ Brave bomberos. Hasta luego!” While this closing scene reminds readers of the tireless work of the brave bomberos, it is also a nice way to close the narrative—although the story has ended, the hard work of the bomberos continues on.
For those of you interested in using this book in the classroom, here are some additional links:
- Prakovic Education Blog, K-12 lesson plan
For more information about the author and illustrator, here are some additional links:
- Teaching Books. Net interview with Dan Santat
- Personal website for Susan Middleton Elya
- Personal website for Dan Santat
Stay tuned for more great reads!
Images Modified from Fire! ¡Fuego! Brave Bomberos!: Pages 5, 8, 9, 16