Firegirl by Tony Abbott Age: 8-12 years old Format: Audio CD Length: 2 hours: 52 minutes (3 discs) Read by: Sean Kenin Find this book at your local library
Tom’s life is nothing special or out of the ordinary. He’s in 7th grade, he is not the popular kid by any means, but he has a couple of friends. He has a crush on the most beautiful girl in the school and he loves Cobra cars. During a routine day at school, his teacher announces that a new student will be joining their class. Jessica Finney, a burn-victim receiving treatment at a nearby hospital will be in their class during her stay in the city. Once Jessica enters Tom’s life, nothing feels or looks the same anymore as Tom struggles to overcome his fears, doubts and insecurities.
This is a very thoughtful and touching book. Tony Abbott touches on some very serious issues in a very light and easy manners. In one swell swoop, he discusses prejudice, divorce, friendship, tolerance, acceptance and bravery. Jessica is shy, but friendly. In a classroom full of 7th graders, no one really knows how to act around her, although the class tries to be as “normal” as possible. Although getting to know Jessica sparks a change in Tom, I don’t think it was Jessica herself that did anything, although their chat about superhero powers did alter Tom’s view of himself. So did learning about Jessica’s accident and realizing that his friend isn’t really a friend.
Tom is a character most kids can relate to. He’s a little bit chubby, very much shy, and often daydreams about being something better or brighter than his reality. He is often questioning his actions, the actions of those around him and analyzing what people say and do. He’s very introspective, sometimes to a fault, but most of the time, he realizes that people aren’t what they appear to be, which is the greatest lesson he learned from Jessica. I think having gotten to know Jessica for only three weeks helped ground him, and establish a footing in his future self. He’s not sure what his future will be, or who he is supposed to be, but in the head, he’s better prepared to take on whatever happens.
Although what happened to Jessica is severe, I think elements of this story can be applied to virtually anything. Jessica is stigmatized because of the appearance of her skin, so this book can crossover to discussions about racism, about appearance, about disabilities and differences. It goes a long way towards discussions about “don’t judge a person until you’ve walked in their shoes.”