New York's Bravest

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Overview

In the 1840s, there was a real volunteer firefighter named Mose Humphreys whose bravery was renowned throughout New York City. Plays about him began being performed on Broadway in 1848 and over the years, his strength and heroics took on larger-than-life proportions, much like those of Paul Bunyan. Mary Pope Osborne has honed down the legends about him to a brief, dramatic, sometimes comical, but ultimately moving text of picture book length. Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher's stunning paintings capture this ...
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Overview

In the 1840s, there was a real volunteer firefighter named Mose Humphreys whose bravery was renowned throughout New York City. Plays about him began being performed on Broadway in 1848 and over the years, his strength and heroics took on larger-than-life proportions, much like those of Paul Bunyan. Mary Pope Osborne has honed down the legends about him to a brief, dramatic, sometimes comical, but ultimately moving text of picture book length. Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher's stunning paintings capture this 8-foot-tall superhero rushing into burning buildings, saving babies and bankers, and wolfing down the feasts bestowed upon him by the grateful citizens of old New York -- until the one big hotel fire after which he was never seen again. The author has included a historical note about the origins of this tall tale, and the book is dedicated to the 343 New York City firefighters who gave their lives to save others on September 11, 2001.

Tells of the heroic deeds of the legendary New York firefighter, Mose Humphreys.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Past and present combine to stirring effect in this tall tale with real-world reverberations. Dedicated "To the memory of the 343 New York City firefighters who gave their lives to save others on September 11, 2001," Osborne's (the Magic Tree House series) story, set against 19th-century New York City, draws on the legend of real-life firefighter Mose Humphrey. In a subtle parallel to last fall's catastrophe, the author notes that eight-feet-tall Mose, with "hands as big as Virginia hams," runs toward danger as others run away. Johnson and Fancher (Copp lia) portray the man's powerful figure from street level, to emphasize his height and heft as he rushes to a burning building or lifts a horse-drawn trolley that bars the hero's way. After Mose courageously makes repeated trips into a burning hotel to rescue all of the guests, his co-workers realize that Mose is nowhere to be found. This vague sense of loss and lack of resolution will hit home for many youngsters; the artists evoke a solemn mood with ash-covered cobblestone streets and the long faces of fellow firefighters. But the words of an old-timer help them carry on their noble mission in the hero's memory: "Whenever we climb our ladders toward a blazing sky, he climbs with us." Author and artist carefully and respectfully balance the tall-tale ingredients with actual events to craft a loving tribute one that may well help youngsters cope with the loss of these brave leaders. Ages 5-8. (Aug.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
Osborne states in her "Historical Note" that Mose Humphreys was "America's first urban folk hero." He was a firefighter in New York City in the mid-nineteenth century. According to legend, "Eight feet tall, Mose had hands as big as Virginia hams." He single-handedly lifted trolleys out of the way and saved babies from burning buildings. One night, he ran in and out of a burning hotel and brought everyone to safety. Yet when the fire was finally out, Mose was missing. As with all folk heroes, rumors circulated that Mose was seen out West. But one old timer finally said, "Mose is right here...Whenever we save folks, he saves them, too. You see, that firefighter—he'll never leave us. He's the very spirit of New York City." The illustrators depict this larger-than-life figure with a strong square jaw. They capture the buildings and lifestyle of the period, with dramatic scenes and small details. How nice it is to have a beautiful book on one of the lesser-known American tall tale heroes. Dedicated "To the memory of the 343 New York City firefighters who gave their lives to save others on September 11, 2001," this is both timely and timeless. 2002, Alfred A Knopf,
— Sharon Salluzzo
School Library Journal
PreS-Gr 3-In an author's note, Osborne describes Mose Humphreys as America's first "urban folk hero." She draws on published accounts and legends of this real-life, 19th-century firefighter, adding her own touches. Using a few well-chosen sentences placed in a border at the bottom of each page, the author creates her larger-than-life character: the eight-foot wonder, with hands "as big as Virginia hams.- When others ran away from danger, Mose ran toward it." The remaining portion of each spread functions as a stage for a man whose stovepipe hat can't be contained in the frame and whose red shirt commands attention. Dramatic scenes, like the one of Mose carrying a baby in his hat while jumping from a burning ladder, are filled with a frenzy of brilliant flames against black, sooty skies. These pictures are contrasted with quieter moments of people gathering around their hero with gifts of gratitude. After an all-night blaze, during which everyone is rescued, the firefighter disappears. As the stories regarding his whereabouts grow more outrageous, his comrades come to realize he is still among them: "the very spirit of New York City." With its obvious connection (and dedication) to the firefighters of 9/11, this book will be welcomed by adults seeking an entr e to the topic for younger children. It also stands alone as a fine addition to the pantheon of picture-book legends.-Wendy Lukehart, Washington DC Public Library Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In response to September 11th, Osborne returned to her story of the legendary 19th-century New York City volunteer firefighter Mose Humphreys (American Tall Tales, 1991) and refashioned it into a stirring picture-book tribute to the 343 firefighters who died on that terrible day. Mose is larger than life and has no fear: "When others ran away from danger, Mose ran toward it." Is a trolley blocking their path? Mose lifts it out of the way. Is a baby in danger in a burning tenement? Mose rescues him. All over town, in factories and tenements and mansions, Mose fights fires until the night a hotel burns to the ground and in the morning, he's missing, never to be seen again. Then the rumors begin about supposed sightings. Wishful thinking, but in fact, he's still with the department as they march in parades and climb ladders because he's "the very spirit of New York City." The large, textured oil paintings are full of vitality and depict an old New York with cobblestones, ragmen, sailing ships, and horse-drawn wagons. The red of Mose's flannel shirt fills the oversized pages providing a comforting focal point. Not merely a title about one day of terror, Osborne's brief but well-fashioned text stirs the spirit to celebrate a quiet and caring bravery. (historical note) (Picture book. 5-8)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375821967
  • Publisher: Random House Children's Books
  • Publication date: 8/13/2002
  • Edition description: 1ST
  • Pages: 32
  • Sales rank: 521,151
  • Age range: 3 - 7 Years
  • Product dimensions: 9.34 (w) x 12.33 (h) x 0.33 (d)

Meet the Author

Mary Pope Osborne

Mary Pope Osborne included a longer, different version of this legend in her distinguished collection American Tall Tales.

Biography

Ever since 1992, Mary Pope Osborne has been thrilling kids everywhere with her delightfully exciting Magic Tree House series. The globetrotting escapades of time travelers Jack and Annie are brimming with adventure and magic (not to mention some subtly placed lessons on history and geography). With a life like Osborne's, it's only natural that she would be capable of bringing such wondrous stories to life.

Osborne was brought up in a military family, and her parents' work led to a lifestyle marked by constant change. "By the time I was 15," she says on randomhouse.com, "I had lived in Oklahoma, Austria, Florida, and four different army posts in Virginia and North Carolina." While many kids would probably feel disoriented by such constant change, Osborne wouldn't have had it any other way. "Moving was never traumatic for me, but staying in one place was. When my dad finally retired to a small town in North Carolina, I nearly went crazy with boredom. I craved the adventure and changing scenery of our military life."

And adventure is exactly what Osborne got! After college, she embarked on a series of daring treks across the globe that would surely give Jack and Annie a run for their money. "For a while I camped in a cave on the island of Crete," she said. "Then I joined up with a small band of European young people heading to 'The East.' We traveled through 11 Asian countries and nearly lost our lives, first in an earthquake in northern Afghanistan and then in a riot in Kabul."

Following an illness she contracted in Katmandu, Osborne returned home to the U.S. trying her hand at a vast variety of jobs: window dresser, medical assistant, Russian travel consultant, waitress, bartender, and an assistant editor at a children's magazine. Although Osborne had unconsciously moved closer toward her ultimate career, she says that her first attempts at writing seemed to come without warning. "One day, out of the blue, I began writing a story about an 11-year-old girl in the South," she recalls. "The girl was a lot like me, and many of the incidents in the story were similar to happenings in my childhood...it became a young adult novel called Run, Run Fast as You Can. Finally, I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up."

She sure did! Since then, Osborne has penned a slew of stories, including picture books, chapter books, middle-grade biographies, and young adult novels; but she is indisputably best known for her wonderful Magic Tree House books, a happy hodge-podge of history and mystery with a time travel theme kids find irresistible. No doubt inspired by Osborne's own highly adventurous life, these exiting expeditions have attracted droves of children and pleased educators by combining compulsively readable storytelling with useful facts about geography and history.

As was written of the series in Children's Literature, "Mary Pope Osborne provides nicely paced excitement for young readers, and there's just enough information mixed in so that children will take away some historical fact along with a sense of accomplishment at having completed a chapter book." As much as Osborne has certainly pleased her readers (not to mention their parents and teachers), perhaps no one is quite as pleased as she. "I'm one of those very lucky people who absolutely loves what they do for a living," she explained. "There is no career better suited to my eccentricities, strengths, and passions than that of a children's book author."

Good To Know

A few fascinating outtakes from our interview with Osborne:

"One of the most defining experiences of my life was traveling overland in an old van through the Middle East and Asia in the early 1970's. One day, when a small group of us were camped in a remote part of northern Afghanistan, we saw a woman riding horseback over the sloping plain. Her long brown hair floated on the wind and she wore a bright gypsy-style dress. When she got closer, I realized she was one of my roommates from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill! Though I didn't even know she'd left the U.S.—and she didn't know I was in Afghanistan, we weren't that surprised to come upon each other. That says a lot about the times we were living in then."

"After 26 years of living in New York City, my husband Will and I now spend most of our time in Northwestern Connecticut, living in a house that overlooks a lake. We kayak and hike with our two Norfolk terriers, Joey and Mr. Bezo. Will's learning Italian, and I've been working with a tutor for two years trying to understand Dante's Divine Comedy. One of my biggest hobbies is reading philosophy and theology. We spend lots of time, of course, on our work. After writing three shows for the Morehead Planetarium in North Carolina, Will's writing a musical based on the Magic Tree House series. I'm writing book # 38 in the series. I also spend a lot of time with my sister Natalie Pope Boyce who works on the Magic Tree House Research Guides. Natalie and our nephews and some of our best friends live nearby in the Berkshires Hills of Massachusetts, so we're up there a lot, too. My only complaint is there is not enough time to do all I want to do. For instance, I'd love to take drawing classes and I'd love to paint the lake we're living on. And I'd love to bird watch and become a better cook and learn about classical music. Maybe sometime in the future...."

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    1. Hometown:
      Goshen, Connecticut
    1. Date of Birth:
      May 20, 1949
    2. Place of Birth:
      Fort Sill, Oklahoma
    1. Education:
      B.A., University of North Carolina
    2. Website:

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    Ferntail pads into Thunderstar's den, her pads sinking slightly into the soft moss. "So could I possibly have an apprentice." Ferntail asked quietly, her amber eyes bright.

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