The Children's Bookshelf: The Great Chicago Fire

Jun 29, 2020

The Great Chicago Fire: Rising from the Ashes written by Kate Hannigan and illustrated by Alex Graudins is a dazzling book about the great Chicago fire of 1871.The story is told in a colorful graphic book style by two children, Franny and her brother John Patrick, as well as a narrator who adds historical information regarding persons and places important to the story.


At the beginning of the book the children are running through the streets to catch up with their Aunt and Uncle and return a puppy. However, fires popping up on the streets of Chicago begin to pose significant problems for them as more and more roads are blocked by the flames. Then, unexpectedly, the courthouse catches fire, the waterworks catches fire and the fire jumps the river! Everywhere the children run they are blocked by danger. Eventually, the gasworks facility explodes, the Palmer Hotel catches fire and buildings that are in the path of the fire are purposely blown up to stop some of the flame’s progression.

Unfortunately, some citizens blame the city’s immigrant population for the fire. Author and artist handle this mistaken notion very well.

The illustrations are skillfully rendered. The pictures of families seeking safety near and in Lake Michigan are joyous.

The final and extremely interesting section of this book focuses on the rebuilding of the city as well as the celebration of the spectacular 1893 Chicago World’s Fair!

The Great Chicago Fire: Rising from the Ashes written by Kate Hannigan and illustrated by Alex Graudins is designed for readers 9-13 years of age (First Second Books, 2020).

Questions for THE GREAT CHICAGO FIRE: Rising from the Ashes

What illustrations speak to you as fire takes over the city of Chicago? Look through the whole book again and select four illustrations that are powerful for you. Write four blurbs about why you chose each of the four pictures: talk about the colors, the lines, the facial expressions, the position of elements on the page, the details and the emotional impact you experienced. Give each of your pictures a title.

There were people who accused the immigrant population of starting this fire. Why did the story about Mrs. O’Leary’s cow starting the fire gain traction? Check out pages 23 through 27. Return to the text for some of the real situations that caused this fire? Next, write a news story about the real situation. Include the dry and hot weather, the slow to react alarm systems and the fact that most buildings were constructed out of wood. As a newscaster deliver your story to your family.