The Great Fire

by Jim Murphy

Paperback, 2006


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Call number

J 977.3 Mu


Scholastic Paperbacks (2006), Edition: 1, 144 pages


By weaving personal accounts of actual survivors together with the carefully researched history of Chicago and the disaster, [the author] constructs a ... narrative that recreates the events.... And finally, he reveals how, even in a time of deepest despair, the human spirit triumphed, as the people of Chicago found the courage and strength to build their city once again. -Dust jacket.

Local notes


User reviews

LibraryThing member cbl_tn
One dark night when we were all in bed
Old lady Leary lit a lantern in the shed
And when the cow kicked it over, she winked her eye and said
There'll be a hot time in the old town tonight.

Before I read this book, that sums up about all I “knew” about the 1871 fire that destroyed most of Chicago. I
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found out that the little I knew was wrong. The fire did start on the O'Leary's property, but a reporter added the bit about the cow and the lantern to add some color to his story.

Murphy pieces together eyewitness accounts to tell the story of the fire, beginning with the initial alarm raised when someone noticed the flames in the O'Leary's barn. He describes several things that went wrong in the process of reporting and responding to the fire. He tells about the chaos during the fire, as people fled to what they thought was a safe place, only to have the flames catch up to them and force them to flee again. Families became separated in the crowds, and it must have been terrifying for them, not knowing if their loved ones were safe or if they would ever be able to find them again. Murphy also describes the rebuilding that took place following the fire, and the problem faced by the poorer residents of the city, who couldn't afford fire-proof building material like brick and granite.

The book is targeted for middle grade readers, but it's written in a way that readers of any age can enjoy. It would be a good choice for readers looking for a brief, non-scholarly account of Chicago's Great Fire.
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LibraryThing member Cottonwood.School
A vertible cinematic account of the catastrophe that decimated much of Chicago in 1871, forcing more than 100,000 people from their homes. Jim Murphy tells the story through the eyes of several survivors. These characters serve as dramatic focal points as the fire sweeps across the city, their
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stories illuminated by fascinating archival photos and maps outlining the spread of fire. 1996 Newbery Honor Book.
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LibraryThing member macfly_17
This was a very informative book about the fire of 1871 that left almost 100,000 people homeless and killed many others. The author takes the reader from minutes before the fire started to the rebuilding of the city. He set straight some nasty myths that most people believe about the cause of the
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fire. I think the best part of the book is that there are personal accounts scattered through the pages, which makes it seem more real.
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LibraryThing member abbylibrarian
Well-researched, but rather dry. I listened to the audio recording of this title and it was fine, but not especially captivating.
LibraryThing member bnhays
This book gives personal accounts to the chicago fire. It explains many mistakes and the overall chaos of the situations. This has been a great informational book with maps to outline the damage as the fire spread. This would be a good book for children just because all of the pictures, maps, and
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the personal account of the 12 year old that they can relate to.
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LibraryThing member awiltenburg
A serious and true story about the Great Chicago fire. The story line was dry and factual but the sketches and pictures kept things interesting and gave me enough umph to continue reading. The historical facts about the way fires were fought was interesting and almost laughable. The way the entire
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disaster was handled was terrible, life altering, end of the world type terrifying. There were personal stories woven into the factual narration that helped to humanize the disaster and helped the reader to understand just how awful the experience was. It also illustrated the news reporting ethics of the day and illustrated how rumors can be taken for truth and the negative consequences of rumors. I think I could use this book for older students only because of the magnitude of the event. I may be able to teach a themed history of firefighting unit with the historical data, or maybe city planning, disaster response, newspaper writing & news reporting ethics.
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LibraryThing member nmhale
This children's nonfiction account of the great fire that devastated Chicago is a wonderful resource for kids and adults. The retelling focuses on the adventures of four different people involved in different ways with the catastrophe, branching out to give more factual information where
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appropriate. This structure helps to keep the account personalized, and more interesting, while still imparting all the relevant detail. Side by side with the well-written content are the photographs and illustrations, all of high quality, that really bring to life the events described. I liked this book, which taught me more about a subject I knew only cursorily, and was in a small and easy dose, considering that nonfiction is not an area in which I read extensively.
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LibraryThing member prkcs
Personal accounts of survivors and careful research helped construct a narrative of how the people of Chicago found the courage and strength to rebuild their city after the devastating fire of 1871.
LibraryThing member sweetiegherkin
The Great Fire is an excellent piece of juvenile nonfiction, providing a detailed account of the beginning, spread, and aftermath of the 1871 fire in Chicago, Illinois. The author intersperses facts clearly based on extensive research with quotes from eyewitnesses. In this way, the reader gets both
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the overview of the event as well as the experience of looking at snippets of the days’ events through the eyes of survivors. Murphy manages to capture the emotions of the day and describes them in such a way that the reader feels them, too. Written in simple, clear language, this book is easily accessible to young readers, but it is a fascinating account that will be of interest to adult readers as well. The many illustrations, particularly the maps showing the spread of the fire at the end of each chapter, are an additional bonus that helps shed light on this piece of history.
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LibraryThing member lovingkelsea
This is a great book to use in a history class. This books is more interesting to read than the average history book. Its a great source of historical fiction. It gives detail accounts of the massive fire that destroyed the city of Chicago during the 1800's.
LibraryThing member katieginn
Traumas that unfold across the 24 hours of a burning fire. A very interesting information book children can learn a lot from. THe diversity and multitude of persoal accounts in presented in both text and facts from public view.
LibraryThing member szierdt
"Chicago in 1871 was a city ready to burn" through the chaos of this event and from the perpective of a few personal accounts, Murphy includes details of why, what and how this major historical disaster came to be. Also present are the class and race issues that existed in Urban areas. Great
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resource for lessons on materials that we choose for our built environments, emergency preparedness, history of firefighting, social issues surrounding class and race and journalism. In regards to journalism, this book lends to encouraging children to be critical thinkers and aware of sensationalized or manipulated media. For this reason, this book would be useful for a study on newspapers/media and how to critically read articles or present information in a truthful, reliable way.
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LibraryThing member kirolsen
This is undoubtedly a book for older children. The book is mostly text but the story is fascinating. Jim Murphy has done a lot of research on this historical event, the 1871 Chicago Fire. He does something special in this book by compiling the interviews he has done on the people who lived through
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this time and turning it into a fascinating story. Very worth the read just to get the experience of living through this time.
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LibraryThing member cmesa1
The great fire occured in 1871 in Chicago. It began one Sunday evening whena small fire broke out inside the O'learys' barn. People ignored the danger signals. However is hard not to pay attention and ignored the signs when the enitre city is basically built of wood.
This was a devasting experience
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for people how they were seeing how everyhting they had built was just consumed by the flames.
however even a time of deepest despair, the human spirit triumphed, as the people of chicago found the courage to build their city once again .
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LibraryThing member marissakb
I like that this book was told through the eyes of people that survived the fire. It is always amazing to me to learn about major events like this that I had never even realized occurred previously. The photos in this book were fantastic as well.
LibraryThing member eekazimer
This book combines first-person accounts with a narrative that reads like a novel. The pacing of the narrative matches the panic of the real life characters as they search for their family, run through a city in chaos, and try to escape the fires. Sepia colored maps, photos, and illustrations
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graphically show this historic incident and give a sense of the time period. The maps interspersed throughout the book give a graphic representation of the fire and how it spread over time. Murphy also informs the reader of the difference in communications back in 1871 with that of today and how a series of mistakes, led to the conflagration.
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LibraryThing member rgruberexcel
RGG: A description of the great Chicago fire. A bit confusing since the history is told from lots of different perspectives, so there's no central character to engage the reader. Also despite maps, it's difficult to follow the logistics of what is happening. Reading Level: 10-14.
LibraryThing member athomp2
This book tells the story of the Great Chicago fire of 1871. The story follows various people and details their experiences, perspectives and emotions as the fire progresses. The author includes numerous details to help the reader understand how different the city was built in that time, and how
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such a significant fire could have developed and progressed. The book includes various illustrations and maps intended to help the reader visualize the event and the fire's progression. However, with all the street and location references, the reader is often flipping forward or backward to find a map to try and visualize what each character is describing.
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LibraryThing member LenaReece
The book about a Chicago fire that happened in 1871 and devastated the entire town. The writer puts into the story eyewitness accounts and factual commentary. The narrator provides photographs, etchings, and maps in to this book.
Personal Reaction:
At the look from the cover of the book I
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thought it may be about a small fire. The book accounts about the horrible fire of 1871 in Chicago with eyewitness accounts. The book was very heartwrenching and compelling to make you want to read more.
Extension Ideas:
1. History lesson
2. Fire safety
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LibraryThing member bdharrel
The Great Fire is an amazing book and highly recommended for middle school students.The book explains why Chicago, a city built mainly of wood, was vulnerable to being wiped out by fire and how everything went wrong on the night of the disaster.

The book retells the stories of a few of the
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survivors. As I read through their accounts, I felt like I was in 19th-Century Chicago.

The book also does a great job debunking the myth of the O'Leary cow kicking over a lantern and causing the colossal fire that destroyed Chicago.

I can use this book to help students understand and discuss the socioeconomic division.
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LibraryThing member ediekm1990
This is another great historical book about something different than what is typically learned about in history books. The information was presented in an exciting manner that makes the reader want to keep turning pages. I'm not even sure I knew about this fire before I read this book.
LibraryThing member CharlesHollis
The author approached this story from a chronological, rather than a thematic, point of view. As such was the case, they placed their focus primarily upon the events of the blaze as they occurred from the first spark in the O'Leary Barn until the aftermath of the conflagration as the embers still
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smoldered. To progress the story, the author relied upon the personal accounts of several eyewitnesses as well as statements by more well known individuals such as contemporary politicians and intellectuals. This book is interesting because it depicts life prior to the world of Chicago as the "White City" and the subsequent World Fair. It also reveals the undercurrent of class tension which would come rushing to the surface immediately after the blaze.
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LibraryThing member GSoto95
This book is a narrative retelling of the Chicago Fire of 1871 which destroyed wooden towns and cities and left nearly 100,000 people homeless. It has personal accounts with historical research and pictures of what it looked like at this point in time.
I didn’t know much about the Great Fire of
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1871 before I started reading this story. It was very engaging, with pictures and a story that was easy enough to follow, but also very interesting that made me want to keep reading.
Extension Ideas:
1) Students would be able to write an ‘account’ or what they would do if they had been in one of the homes or towns that burned down.
2) I can have the class read the book in sections as we go through early history of the colonies.
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LibraryThing member electrascaife
An okay introduction for middle grade students to the Chicago fire and its immediate aftermath. Not exactly gripping, as I would think it certainly could have been, but it also seems to be pitched at just the right level in the amount of content and detail it gives.
LibraryThing member smpenni
This is an interesting non-fiction book about the great Chicago fire. For students in IL this might be of particular interest since it is Illinois history. The book reads well and includes maps, timelines, etc.


Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

9.9 inches


0439203074 / 9780439203074
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