Fireflies: A Winter's Tale


Acclaimed author Alice Hoffman weaves an enchanting tale about luck, magic, and unexpected heroism.

Jackie can't run and skate and throw as well as the other children, but his clumsiness eventually saves the villagers from a winter that would not end.

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Acclaimed author Alice Hoffman weaves an enchanting tale about luck, magic, and unexpected heroism.

Jackie can't run and skate and throw as well as the other children, but his clumsiness eventually saves the villagers from a winter that would not end.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

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
Kirkus Reviews
As in Hoffman's novels for adults (Here on Earth, p. 824, etc.), this picture book takes place where the ordinary and the extraordinary intersect—a 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.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780786805419
  • Publisher: Hyperion Books for Children
  • Publication date: 9/15/1999
  • Pages: 54
  • Age range: 5 - 8 Years
  • Lexile: 800L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 7.32 (h) x 0.51 (d)

Meet the Author

Alice Hoffman
In a prolific career that began with early writings in the American Review, Alice Hoffman has expanded and developed the idea of family and community -- the forces that bind it together and the forces that drive it apart -- with understated and elegant prose and powerful and complex characters.


Born in the 1950s to college-educated parents who divorced when she was young, Alice Hoffman was raised by her single, working mother in a blue-collar Long Island neighborhood. Although she felt like an outsider growing up, she discovered that these feelings of not quite belonging positioned her uniquely to observe people from a distance. Later, she would hone this viewpoint in stories that captured the full intensity of the human experience.

After high school, Hoffman went to work for the Doubleday factory in Garden City. But the eight-hour, supervised workday was not for her, and she quit before lunch on her first day! She enrolled in night school at Adelphi University, graduating in 1971 with a degree in English. She went on to attend Stanford University's Creative Writing Center on a Mirrellees Fellowship. Her mentor at Stanford, the great teacher and novelist Albert Guerard, helped to get her first story published in the literary magazine Fiction. The story attracted the attention of legendary editor Ted Solotaroff, who asked if she had written any longer fiction. She hadn't -- but immediately set to work. In 1977, when Hoffman was 25, her first novel, Property Of, was published to great fanfare.

Since that remarkable debut, Hoffman has carved herself a unique niche in American fiction. A favorite with teens as well as adults, she renders life's deepest mysteries immediately understandable in stories suffused with magic realism and a dreamy, fairy-tale sensibility. (In a 1994 article for The New York Times, interviewer Ruth Reichl described the magic in Hoffman's books as a casual, regular occurrence -- " offhand that even the most skeptical reader can accept it.") Her characters' lives are transformed by uncontrollable forces -- love and loss, sorrow and bliss, danger and death.

Hoffman's 1997 novel Here on Earth was selected as an Oprah Book Club pick, but even without Winfrey's powerful endorsement, her books have become huge bestsellers -- including three that have been adapted for the movies: Practical Magic (1995), The River King (2000), and her YA fable Aquamarine (2001).

Hoffman is a breast cancer survivor; and like many people who consider themselves blessed with luck, she believes strongly in giving back. For this reason, she donated her advance from her 1999 short story collection Local Girls to help create the Hoffman Breast Center at Mt. Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, MA.

Good To Know

  • Hoffman has written a number of children's books, including Fireflies: A Winter's Tale(1999), Horsefly (2000), and Moondog (2004).

  • Aquamarine was written for Hoffman's best friend, Jo Ann, who dreamed of the freedom of mermaids as she battled brain cancer.

  • Here on Earth is a modern version of Hoffman's favorite novel, Wuthering Heights.

  • Hoffman has been honored with the Massachusetts Book Award for her teen novel Incantation.
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      1. Hometown:
        Boston, Massachusetts
      1. Date of Birth:
        March 16, 1952
      2. Place of Birth:
        New York, New York
      1. Education:
        B.A., Adelphi University, 1973; M.A., Stanford University, 1974
      2. Website:

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