cover image Fireflies


Alice Hoffman, Wayne McLoughlin. Hyperion Books, $14.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-7868-0227-2

This debut children's book by adult author Hoffman (Turtle Moon), about a boy who earns the acceptance of others because he ""stays himself,"" is rather predictable and cliched. Hoffman's omniscient narrator tells of clumsy Jackie who can't ice-skate and ""every ball he threw shattered the window in the front hall,"" but reminds readers that ""the important thing was that Jackie always tried his best."" One winter when the fireflies fail to bring spring to the village, Jackie frets about his bumbling ways and feels ""that he [has] failed his parents--and failed himself as well."" When a gang of boys torment Jackie, he runs into the mountains, where he befriends an orphaned wolf cub, Shadow. Jackie inadvertently saves the town from perennial winter--by falling from a tree and jarring the rock that has trapped the fireflies. Eventually, the town awards him a ""blue ribbon of courage"" (and Shadow a ""red ribbon of loyalty"") for freeing the fireflies, and ""nobody notices whether or not Jackie Healy still trips over his own feet."" To make sure the message comes through, readers are repeatedly told, when bad events occur, ""but Jackie was still himself"" (e.g., as he falls from a tree or his snowball misses a bear). McLoughlin's (Here Is the Wetland) pleasant illustrations of midnight blue and fluorescent yellow are framed with black, star-lit borders. Unfortunately, the warm acrylic and pencil pictures cannot do enough to supplant a book in which the moral drives the story. Ages 5-8. (Oct.)