History Comics: The Great Chicago Fire: Rising From the Ashes was one of the first releases from this new comics line from publisher First Second, who has had great success with their Science Comics.
As written by Kate Hannigan and illustrated by Alex Graudins, this is the story of two siblings (and a puppy, for additional cuteness) who get caught up in the 1871 fire that devastated Chicago and left a third of the city homeless.
Trying to do a good deed, they get separated from their parents and spend the night working to survive and find them. By positioning two children in the horror and uncertainty of the event, the reader is right there with them. The emotions are strong, and the story is easy to follow, even when the locations are unfamiliar.
Some of the facts are uncertain in this historical record, so varying stories about what someone did (or didn’t do, as there was a possibility of delayed warnings) are presented. So is the anti-immigrant context that caused the popular story about Mrs. O’Leary’s cow. Anti-Irish stereotypes were prevalent at the time, and some examples are cited. Although the content is disturbing, it does a good job breaking up the many pages of the kids running around trying to escape the fire.
The overall book is dramatic, with the experience of the children reflecting the facts we know about the catastrophe in a personal fashion. And I admit, I teared up at the eventual reunion. It’s an involving, fast-paced story that puts the reader in the events. The book continues to show us the 1893 Exposition as a way of showing how the city recovered. Plus, with the debut of the Ferris Wheel, it’s visually exciting.
History Comics: The Great Chicago Fire helps launch this line in strong fashion. It’s a great way to learn more about key moments of US history. The book also has a text timeline of events, a map, key sites in the city today, and some additional trivia about Chicago. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)