The Great Fire of London

This strikingly beautiful historical picturebook has been published to commemorate the three hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the great fire of London of 1666. It is a very fitting tribute to that event. It is a model of how to present facts to children in a clear, logical, well-written but always engaging style. It uses contemporary accounts, most notably Pepys’s diary. Nothing of importance is omitted, neither the long hot summer that preceded the fire, nor the improvements in fire services that followed on from the positive lessons learned. It is imbued with a palpable love of the great city that was and is London. It made this reviewer long for something similar that would introduce Irish children to great historical events as for example the 1916 Rising.

The historical research underpinning this book is meticulous, but used gracefully and unobtrusively. The story is never allowed to lose focus or momentum.

James Weston Lewis’s stylish illustrations stunningly evoke the great fire. They have the quality of fire itself, in their limited palette from yellow to copper to flaming red-gold against varieties of blue. They are reminiscent of the work of some of the great Soviet children’s books illustrators. Everything here – a wonderful map of London, the river that seems alive, the beautiful fiery endpapers and cover image – contributes to the effectiveness of this exciting book. It is really suitable for all ages, but most especially for children from 8-14 years.