cover image The Great Fire

The Great Fire

Jim Murphy. Scholastic Press, $22.99 (144pp) ISBN 978-0-590-47267-8

For more than a century, poor Mrs. O'Leary and her cow have shouldered the blame for Chicago's infamous Great Fire of 1871. Now Murphy (The Boys' War; Across America on an Emigrant Train) lays bare the facts concerning one of the biggest disasters in American history, in the process exculpating the maligned bovine and her owner. Murphy demonstrates that the fire could have been contained: he unfolds a tale of botched communication, class discrimination (the fire began in a working-class section of the city and only later spread to the wealthier areas) and plain old bad luck. Strategically quoting the written accounts of witnesses-who include a 12-year-old girl and a newspaper editor-Murphy both charts the 31-hour spread of the fire and conveys the atmosphere in the streets. This volume, beautifully printed in sepia tones, contains historic photos, engravings and newspaper clippings on nearly every page. Especially helpful are maps placed at intervals throughout the book that represent the progress of the fire. Engrossing. Ages 8-12. (Apr.)