The Great Fire - Jim Murphy *5 Stars*

Before reading another of his Children's history books, I had written off non-fiction history books labeled for Children or YA because...they JUST WEREN'T GOOD! They wrote down to their readers, as if people without at least a college education couldn't hope to comprehend anything "history". I learned history on my dad's knee and he never talked down to me. So I skipped YA and children's and when straight to reading adult books. Some were extremely difficult to get through and I never got everything. It wasn't until graduate school that I was introduced to Jim Murphy through his [b:An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793|46727|An American Plague The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793|Jim Murphy||45822], also a Newbery Honor Book as well as other awards. It was at times a difficult book for me to read, as the writer does not pull any punches, so to speak. It does not glorify in the disgusting, but it doesn't lie and try to write it down to what the author thinks they should hear. It is a history text with sources, lists of further books to look into, and (most importantly) it is based on mostly primary sources - aka, writings from people who WERE ACTUALLY THERE! Most history text in high school, never mind for children, wouldn't dream of using primary sources but rather secondary or even tertiary sources - texts and books written from other sources that were written from other sources that were written from primary sources. When this happens the heart of history is distilled down until it is dry and boring; something most people argue when they talk about why they don't like history. But when a young person reads what someone actually experienced, particularly when at least one of those people is someone of a comparable age, it ceases to be boring and not interesting but rather something that can actually touch them. They can understand and empathize and perhaps, want to learn more. The same can be said for this book.

*The Gush*
The author does an excellent job of walking you through the hours during which Chicago burned. It is a, sadly, easy subject to keep a person's interest as the sheer detestation is almost unbelievable. The people whose words he gives voice are good choices from various sections and equally various backgrounds. What they see and how they interpret the events changes and he does a good job of pointing this out and helping the reader understand why. He never suggests you don't know better or you can't learn but rather teaches you without you even noticing. The writing flows well and keeps the readers focus well. The illustrations are well chosen, places carefully and with thought, and aid the story a great deal. The best are the I believe four maps of the city that show the path of fire as it is during the chapter you just read. This aids tremendously, as most readers won't know where places are, and they are easy to flip back to to check where the person is as you read.
Murphy writes the facts of the fire and waits until the last chapter to deal with the myths surrounding the fire and why they exist and how they were used. Even I learn a great deal in this chapter and was very surprised. He helps lead the reader to critical thinking, something every child should learn and something that is lacking in much of our history texts. Names and dates are all very well, but society and WHY people do things are often even more important.
All in all, a fine history book that is equally fine for children and adults.

*The Rant*
Little here other then at times the descriptions might be a bit too much for younger readers. Parents might want to be aware. They were not graphic however and most children should be able to handle it.

A wonderful children's history book that treats its readers better then many adult popular history texts do. A great way to learn about The Great Chicago Fire whether you are a child or an adult.