Wildfire | Review
Writer/artist: Breena Bard
Little, Brown and Company; $24.99
Gr 3-9 (Amazon rating)
Cartoonist Breena Bard’s Wildfire introduces us to Julianna, a middle-schooler and 4-H kid living in rural Oregon with her family. One day she sees her friend Carson among a group of boys playing with fireworks and scolds them—there’s a burn ban in effect, and the danger of wildfire is high, after all—before calling them losers and angrily leaving them.
Predictably, a wildfire breaks out, and while Julianna and her family make it out okay, their house burns down. Displaced within her home state, they move to Portland, where Julianna starts eighth grade at a new school. She doesn’t want anyone to know that she’s a victim of the fire, not wanting to be pitied or singled out in any way, and so she keeps it quiet…even when the conversation turns to the fires.
Her plan of moving on and starting over becomes greatly complicated when she runs into Carson at her new school. Apparently, his family moved to Portland after the fire too—not because their house burned down, but because his parents wanted to protect Carson from the notoriety of having started a devastating wildfire. He’s even more desperate than Julianna not to have anyone find out about his past, and he pressures her to promise to not tell anyone about him and the firecrackers.
As Julianna struggles to adjust, her parents and even her little sister increasingly become involved in local climate crisis protests. Her parents say it’s a way to channel some of their anger and frustration over the fires into something good, but Julianna doesn’t see it that way. She knows who was responsible for the fire, and it’s not the big oil companies, the government or everyone’s modern fossil fuel-intensive lifestyle, it was Carson and the boys with the fireworks.
She falls into environmental activism anyway, as her new friends at school invite her to join their school Conservation Club. There she learns more about the climate crisis, how it makes wildfires like the one that destroyed her home more likely, and the perilous state of the world in general. Also in the club? Carson, who at first says he’s only helping with river clean-ups and the like because of his mandated community service, but he gradually admits he’s trying to do good to make up for his foolish mistake.
Julianna isn’t the only one who learns more about the environment and what can be done to help it. While Bard’s book is a drama focusing on Julianna and her struggle to adjust after losing everything, it’s also rather educational, with readers learning the same lessons Julianna and her friends do.
By giving the wildfires and their victims a face, Bard helps make urgent issues from the headlines relatable to young readers…and compelling as well. And by giving environmental activism a face, she helps educate children on what they can do to impact the enormous challenges facing their generation.
Filed under: Reviews
About J. Caleb Mozzocco
J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.
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