Sunday, August 29, 2021

The Fox and the Forest Fire -- sharing about a disaster with young readers (ages 5-9)

As California's skies fill with smoke and our forests burn, I wonder how you talk with children about wildfires and other natural disasters. The Fox and the Forest Fire, a new picture book, shares this experience with young children better than any other book I've read, creating empathy and understanding in a gentle but powerful way.

The Fox and the Forest Fire
by Danny Popovici
Chronicle, 2021
Amazon / your local library / Overdrive
ages 5-9

After moving to a new home in the woods with his mother, a young boy works to adjust to his new home. At first it's too different, but he gradually discovers how much fun he can have: studying bugs, building dams, playing in the river. He even makes a new friend -- the fox we see on the book's cover. 

One day, a forest fire suddenly changes everything. The boy sees "a plume of smoke off in the distance." Hurrying to warn his mother, he "wonders if we will ever see our home again." He and his mother pack up to evacuate, and the animals flee for safety. Popovici's artwork conveys the worry and fear, but the resolution shows that the family and the forest will rebuild. 

I appreciate how this picture book honors the resilience and courage of families (and animals) caught in the path of a wildfire. By focusing on the relationship between the young boy and the fox, he creates empathy as readers grow to know the boy's forest home and feel distraught seeing it burn. Ending on a hopeful note helps readers think about how we can change and grow from these disasters.

Popovici writes in his author's note that he was a forest fighter for three seasons. He knows first hand about the destructive power of fires, and the way a forest can grow back after a fire. In an interview with author Jena Benton, Popovici explains,

"I was a wildland firefighter in the early 2000’s for three seasons. It was an unforgettable experience as I got to be a part of the wilderness very few people get to see. When you’re out there you feel like you’re doing good for the animals and plants that call it home. Wildfires are all too common these days, and it’s a huge strain on the local ecology. 

As I wrote in my book, a naturally occurring fire can benefit a forest, but what we’re collectively experiencing these days are not naturally occurring fires. In 2017 a fire raged through the Columbia Gorge here in Oregon and Washington and the smoke was the heaviest I’d experienced within the city. I knew in my heart that the way we’re treating the planet, these fires are only going to get worse and effect more and more people each year."

The review copies came from my public library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2021 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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