Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
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 clichd. 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 parentsand 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 winterby 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.)
Children's Literature - Children's Literature
Alice Hoffman uses magical realism in adult fiction so well that she is well qualified to write children's fantasy. In her first, Fireflies: A Winter's Tale, she provides a realistic setting for fantastical happenings when she describes a village covered with snow from November until May, where everyone enjoys skating until fireflies come in a "shining cloud" that heralds spring. Then one year it doesn't happen. Enter the unlikely hero, Jack, a bumbling skater, teased so horribly by peers that he runs away. It is Jack, finally, who frees the fireflies and releases spring. Hoffman's voice is poetic in its simplicity and so is her story, making her fable live as an inspiring lesson children can easily understand. 1999, Hyperion, Ages 9 to 12, $14.99. Reviewer: Susie Wilde
Children's Literature - Janet Morgan Stoeke
Jackie Healy is a clumsy youth in a marvelous land where the arrival of spring is somewhat unusual. Here, on the first of May, fireflies "appear all at once, in a shining cloud," heralding in the season. Instantaneously the snow vanishes, the flowers bloom, and even strawberries emerge juicy and red. Sadly, this year the fireflies have not come. Jackie is inconsolable, though not over the cold, but his own clumsiness. Ice skating, a major sport in this world, seems to be beyond him. He runs off into the mountains and gets himself lost. There, his clumsy mistakes conveniently offer him one fortunate turn after another. In fact, he stumbles onto the fireflies, trapped by a rock, and saves the town from endless winter. The idea of fireflies rushing in to warm up a town is delightful, but the story seems hastily assembled. It is clearly a tall tale, but the hyperbole seem forced, and the fantastic elements often end up solving plot problems. Mr. McLoughlin's stiff little Jackie seems somewhat forced into the blue sparkly landscapes.
School Library Journal
Gr 1-3--Every first of May, a magical cloud of fireflies from over the Yellow Mountains appears at a riverside village and, melting the deep winter snows, brings spring to the valley. One year, the fireflies do not come, and winter remains. Young Jackie, inept and clumsy, always trying hard but never succeeding, runs away to the mountains after an episode of fierce teasing. Due to a lucky series of incidents caused by his very maladroitness, he acquires a wolf pup for a pet and frees the trapped fireflies, following their glow home to a joyous reunion with parents and neighbors. McLoughlin's acrylic paintings keep perfect step with Hoffman's lyrical text. This allegorical tale, loaded with messages, will be a nice addition to use with physically and learning-disabled children, but even they may wonder how the cold light of a firefly could melt a winter's snow, or how a strawberry plant, buried in drifts, could grow, blossom, be fertilized, and bear fruit without seeing a spark of sunlight.--Patricia Manning, formerly at Eastchester Public Library, NY
As in Hoffman's novels for adults (Here on Earth, p. 824, etc.), this picture book takes place where the ordinary and the extraordinary intersecta pseudo-fairytale in which the town bumpkin makes good.
The fireflies return annually, bringing spring with them, but this year, they don't show up; winter lingers and no one knows why. In the meantime, Jackie Healy falls, breaks things, trips, and believes that his parents would prefer "the sort of boy who could skate in a perfect circle and climb trees without falling and pitch a ball without breaking windows." In shame, he leaves his village, becoming lost in the Yellow Mountains. His clumsiness results in unwitting, but effective, acts of heroism, for he releases the fireflies and brings back spring. McLoughlin illuminates the pages with sparkling stars, blinking fireflies, and glowing globes of lantern light against blue, snowy nights and black sky borders, printed on glossy stock. The message isn't very subtle, the telling is long and windy, but there are those who will find comfort in these pages.