Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Children’s Book Review, Through the Smoke

Reviewed by Susan Stephenson,

Through the Smoke is a children’s picture book written by Phil Cummings, illustrated by Andrew McLean and published by Scholastic Press (2019.) RRP: $Au 24.99 HB.

From the publisher:

The fire awoke like a dragon. Its flames licked the sky, and smoke veiled the sun. With a hungry crackle and an angry hiss, the cruel beast circled, trapping them. Until, through the smoke, knights appeared. Through the Smoke tells the story of three kids, their imagination and a frightening fire in the Australian bush.

I’ve read and reviewed many of Cummings’ books. The most recent was Feathers, which I loved. In Through the Smoke, Cummings shows us fire through the eyes of three Australian kids who are almost trapped by it. I loved the emphasis on the children’s imaginative play throughout the story, and the wonderful, poetic use of language. Sentences like “The wind was the breath of a sleeping dragon.” set the scene for young readers, and evoke a sense of menace before we even get to the fire.

I always enjoy Maclean’s illustrations. Like Cummings, he just seems to be getting better and better. The children’s make believe play is spot-on, and MacLean’s art helps build tension and atmosphere as the fire/dragon gets closer. The actual fire scenes are scary but superb.

Through the Smoke is an excellent suggestion for those librarians and teachers looking for picture books that children can relate to. I will be adding it to my list of Picture Books about the Environment. It makes a great read-aloud, is full of drama and action, and will be an excellent model for young writers.

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