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New York's Bravest


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


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 entre 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.

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 (Copplia) 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.

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