HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Fire in the Wind
Author: Elizabeth Baker
Illustrator: Robert MacLean
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1961
Language level: 1 (nothing objectionable)
Reading level: Ages 10-15
Rating: 4 stars (GOOD)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Baker, Elizabeth. Fire in the Wind (published in 1961 by The Riverside Press Cambridge, a division of Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, MA). The book begins on Sunday afternoon, Oct. 1, 1871. Jeff Bellinger lives in a modest home at Chicago, IL, with his father, a Civil War veteran who is now a Chicago policeman, and his mother. Jeff loves horses and collects horseshoes. Jeff’s school friend, Arthur Arnold, is from an upper class family which has a lot of horses, including a prize race horse named Queen. Colonel Eoff, the owner of as mining company out west, is in Chicago and has an accident with Mr. Arnold, but the two become friends and start talking business. Another friend of Jeff’s, Newman Higginbotham, who is a new boy at school recently arrived in Chicago from Ottawa, Canada, gets a job helping take care of the Arnolds’ horses.
The one day, Jeff goes to the Arnold’s house but no one is at home. Colonel Eoff is sitting on the porch, waiting for Mr. Arnold to keep an appointment. That evening, both Queen and Newman Higginbotham are missing. The Arnold’s stable hand, Charlie, accuses Newman of stealing Queen, based on rumors from his friend Ben, who works at the livery stable patronized by Colonel Eoff, where Newman had worked before he quit to go to school and began working for the Arnolds. Jeff knows that his friend didn’t steal the horse, and when he goes to the livery stable he finds one of Queen’s horseshoed and begins his own investigation into the matter to clear his friend’s name. All this activity leads up to the great Chicago fire. What will happen to the Bellingers? Will they save their home? Will they even survive?
This book was recommended to me several years ago. It is the kind of good historical fiction for young people that was popular in 1930s, 40s, 50s, and early 60s, having believable fictional characters who exhibited exemplary qualities while living in historic circumstances, but fell out of favor in the later 60s and 70s as the humanistic anti-American revisionists began to gain control of the major publishing firms. There are a couple of items that some people may not like. Jeff’s mother encourages him to fight, literally, for his rights against a bully at school if necessary. And Jeff does stretch the truth a little during his investigation, but it might be argued that any kind of “undercover” work necessarily involves some degree of deception. Even though it is fiction, there is a lot of historical information about both the early days in Chicago and the time of the fire. I found it extremely interesting and enjoyable. There is also a 1995 juvenile fiction book entitled Fire in the Wind by Betty Levin.