This past July 2019 was the hottest month recorded worldwide. In the state of Alaska, the city of Anchorage recorded its hottest month ever in July 2019. This heat, one of three ingredients necessary for wildfires, is a contributing factor in the fifty-eight wildfires burning in Alaska as of July 15 2019. In Siberia, Russia, more than seven million acres have burned to date and the fires are still raging. Smoke from those fires have reached North America and Canada. The wildfires in California 2018 were the worst for that state in recorded history.
Wildfires are not new, but their devastation is increasing. In fact, those wildfires naturally started serve a purpose. To combat wildfires there are a combination of crews on land and those who work from the air. Little Smokey (Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, August 6, 2019) written and illustrated by Robert Neubecker explores the work of those aerial fighters of wildfires, focusing on the purpose of each individual, regardless of their size.
At Nif-C (the National Interagency Fire Center), everyone has a job.
Each plane has a name, except for the newest and smallest plane. Names are not given to the planes but earned. Buster, a water tanker, is fast as the water is released on the fire below him. Bruno, a water scooper, is much larger. And Bertha, tops the previous two in size. She is loaded with fire retardant for the enormous fires.
When the first fire of the hot summer season is sighted Buster, Bruno and Bertha fly to the rescue. The little plane asks the tower to go, too.
"No, little plane. You are too small."
The three planes return with tales of success. The little plane waits and watches.
One day when perfecting her flying, she spots a fire. She is not allowed to leave and assist with the other three planes. At first the flames die down but gusts of wind fan them into a fury. The little plane is told to wait by the tower.
A situation develops with the three big Bs struggling. The little plane pleads. Being the littlest can be an advantage. On this day, the smallest plane at Nif-C gets her name. . . Smokey.
The selection of words and length of the sentences written by Robert Neubecker are precisely geared toward the intended audience. For the introduction of the three larger planes, three sentences are used for each of them. This grouping of three sentences continues until single sentences contribute to enhanced pacing and a building tension. The number of sentences in the subsequent passages and the punctuation create a wonderful cadence for this story. The addition of dialogue involves the reader to a greater extent. Here is a passage.
The wind comes up.
The fire springs back,
larger than ever.
"Tower! Tower! I can help!"
"No, little plane.
You are too small."
When readers open the matching dust jacket and book case, they see loads of action amid the flames of blazing wildfires and billowing smoke. On the front, Little Smokey has received her name. The slight black brush stroke for a smile indicates her pleasure in being a part of the crew of larger planes. Every line, while portraying her realistically, works to convey her enthusiasm.
To the left, on the back, when she dives into the canyon, readers will note her name is not on her plane yet. In this particular image, every line depicts her determination in the face of the roaring fire. Her brows are furrowed, and her eyes are together. Her mouth is grim. Above the tree-lined walls of the narrow corridor, Buster, Bruno and Bertha hover and wait while spreading water and fire retardant where they can.
On the opening and closing endpapers, a vivid orange-yellow shade has been placed. On the initial title page, crests of blue mountains peek over a vast green forest. Careful readers will notice three forest animals tucked in the trees. On the formal title page, a double-page picture displays the airfield, tower and airport for the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. All four planes are featured along with other vehicles, buildings and human personnel.
Each image, rendered
using watercolors, pencils, and a Mac
and either a double-page picture or several grouped on a single page, provides pacing, an appropriate setting or vista, action and emotion from the characters which reaches out to engage readers. The color palette is bright with liberal uses of red, orange and yellow. The shades in the sky are indicative of the time of day and the strength of the wildfire.
We are aware of the dimensions of the planes by their placement in the illustrations. Whenever possible Little Smokey is seen flying in the background. Readers will love the facial features on all the planes.
One of my many, many favorite illustrations is a double-page picture for the introduction of Bruno, the water scooper. A large lake with a little wave action is painted across most of the two pages. Along the top is a row of evergreens. A road leading to the lake fashions a break in the trees. Little Smokey is above that break in the trees. On the lake, Bruno, scooping up the water, leaves three foaming trails behind him. His "mouth" is open, with his teeth showing. The contrast between the hues on the planes and the natural setting is gorgeous.
One of the main ideas readers will realize when reading Little Smokey written and illustrated by Robert Neubecker is to never give up despite your size. Everyone has a place and a purpose. Everyone. It is guaranteed you will be asked to read this title repeatedly. At the close of the book, information with these headings is presented, How Do Wildfires Start?, Who Fights Wildfires?, Firefighting Crews, Aerial Firefighting, What Can You Do?, and For More Information. I highly recommend this book for your personal and professional collections.
To learn more about Robert Neubecker and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website. This book is showcased on author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Once I read her post, I could hardly wait for this book's release. At the publisher's website you can view interior images and at Robert Neubecker's website. I know you will enjoy this video interview with Robert Neubecker. He speaks about working on this title.