Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Great Chicago Fire

The Great Chicago Fire

Marc Tyler Nobleman
For ages 9 to 12
Compass Point Books, 2005   ISBN: 0756512638

A city of 330,000 people Chicago - the “Queen of the West – was ill prepared for the hot dry weather of summer and early fall in 1871. Several fires had broken out and because the city’s homes, businesses and even sidewalks were made out of wood, there was a great deal that could burn. The fire department was woefully small, fire hydrants were few and far between, and no effort had been made to shift the construction work in the city away from using so much wood.

On the evening of Sunday October 8th, a fire broke out on the West Side of the city in the barn of the O’Leary family. Legend says that the barn caught fire when one of Mrs. O’Leary’s cows kicked over a lantern. We cannot be sure what happened in that barn, but there is no doubt about the fire’s place of origin.

Because of a lack of communication and confusion about the location of the fire, it took many minutes before the firefighters arrived on the scene. Brisk winds, the very dry conditions, and the widespread use of wood to build buildings and other structures all contributed to the rapid spread of the fire.

In just over an hour the fire was out of control and heading for the city center. People in its path fled, taking with them what valuables they could. Family members where separated in the chaos, and for some it would take many hours before they found one another again – if at all.

In this We the People title readers who are new to the story of the Great Chicago Fire will discover how the fire broke out, how it spread, and how it impacted the lives of some of the people living in Chicago at the time. Annotated period illustrations and photographs show scenes from those dreadful days when the sky rained “red snowflakes” of burning ash. The author sets the stage for her narrative with a personal account and historical background. In addition, the author wraps up by telling her readers what Chicago learned from the disaster and how the city was rebuilt.

This is one in a series of books about important events in American history. Other titles include The Hindenburg, Angel Island, and Industrial America.