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The Great Fire

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  2,218 ratings  ·  273 reviews
The Great Fire of 1871 was one of most colossal disasters in American history. Overnight, the flourshing city of Chicago was transformed into a smoldering wasteland. The damage was so profound that few people believed the city could ever rise again.

By weaving personal accounts of actual survivors together with the carefully researched history of Chicago and the disaster, J
Paperback, 144 pages
Published October 1st 2006 by Scholastic Paperbacks (first published 1995)
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3.82  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,218 ratings  ·  273 reviews

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This was a good, short book on the Great Chicago fire of 1871. Murphy describes the area, construction, & weather leading up to the disaster. While he uses many personal accounts, newspaper articles, & historical references, he follows 4 disparate people who lived through the fire. One was a 12 year old girl & the others were fairly well-to-do men. These points of views really help capture the immensity & diversity of the experience.

He also covers the aftermath briefly, mostly i
This is supposed to be a young adult book but some of the stories about the Chicago Fire are harsh and gave me the shivers. I think it would be a great book for tweens who had previously read books like Dear America.
Kelly O'toole
This is a non-fiction, award winning account of the Great Chicago Fire. Being a Chicagoan and a history undergraduate major, I found this topic most interesting. Most people are aware of the legend that the fire was started when Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicked over a bucket, but Murphy unravels the history of this fire and reasons behind it. Interesting one can attribute this breadth of this tragedy to class discrimination, as the fire started in a working class neighborhood, thereby perhaps not getti ...more
Kimba Tichenor
Jun 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-history
This popular history reconstructs the story of the 1871 Chicago Fire largely from the perspective of those who were there. The author utilizes these first-hand accounts to highlight how a series of human errors and prejudices led to the fire's rapid spread, despite the fact at the time Chicago had one of the most sophisticated fire alarm systems of that era. This account is both entertaining and informative and is well worth the read.
Apr 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Highly recommended as an introduction to peoples' behaviors in times of disasters. Describes how a series of minor events can lead to a tragic outcome. A map at the end of each chapter shows the progress of the fire as it consumed blocks of buildings and crossed waterways. Including the experience of 12-year-old Clara Innes provides a way for readers to 'experience' the panic and fear of the Chicagoans. (I'd like to know what Clara did with her life. To what extent was it shaped by the fire?)
S. J.
May 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone (children within the recommended age limts however)
Recommended to S. by: The Author (courtesy of another book)
*5 Stars*

Before reading another of his Children's history books, I had written off non-fiction history books labeled for Children or YA because...they JUST WEREN'T GOOD! They wrote down to their readers, as if people without at least a college education couldn't hope to comprehend anything "history". I learned history on my dad's knee and he never talked down to me. So I skipped YA and children's and when straight to reading adult books. Some were extremely difficult to get through and I never g
Errin Tucker
Apr 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This book is nonfiction and is written for more Advanced reader. This book is a Newberry Honor Book, Boston Globe-Horn Book Nonfiction Honor Book and NCTE Orbis Pictus Award winner for Outstanding Nonfiction.

This story was written for more advanced readers such as 5th grade and above. This story is about the major Chicago fire in 1871 that changed the lives of people forever.

I rated this story with 5 stars. There were some pictures that were hand drawn and some photographs. The story was told in
Karen Michele
Dec 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: my-5-star-books
When I taught elementary music, I used to teach a camp song that the kids loved. The words were:

One dark night when the world was all in bed, old lady O'Leary took a lantern to the shed and when the cow kicked it over she blinked her eyes and said, "it'll be a hot time in the old town tonight!

Little did I know that the song was a part of the ridicule and misinformation put out about the "Great Fire" as the Chicago fire of 1871 has come to be known. Jim Murphy got a well deserved Newbery Honor fo
This is a very different version of the story of the Chicago Fire than I have ever heard before. It uses real accounts from various people, photos, maps, and artifacts to tell the story of the errors, mistakes, and confusion that made the Chicago Fire the infamous disaster it became. Listening to this book had both its advantages and disadvantages. The advantage was the way it was read. Listening to the various accounts of actual people who were involved in the Chicago Fire read with such energy ...more
May 16, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So the story we think we know is NOT the story.
Murphy tells the story of the Great Chicago Fire through the people who were affected. The story is centered on four witnesses to these events -- two very journalists, a visitor, and a 12-year-old girl who is separated from her family as they were fleeing from the fire.
Murphy presents an overview of events leading up to the outbreak as well as the series of mistakes at the outset that allowed the fire to get out of hand. He captures the panic, the
Mar 31, 2014 rated it really liked it
I still remember when I read "Blizzard" by Jim Murphy. It was August and I was working on a siding job in the blistering sun in the hot hot heat. Haha, very interesting timing to read a book about people freezing to death and 20 feet of snow etc...

Now I'm in Mongolia. How appropriate if I could say it was one of those great -30 degree days.. However, it is March, and it was lovely Spring weather. Oh well. Bad timing.

Anyway, who knew that it WASN'T Mrs. O'Leary's cow that started the great Chicag
Nov 04, 2009 rated it really liked it
Awards Won: Newbery Honor (1996)

As someone who is not a native Chicagoan, I found this book very fascinating and educational. The photographs that accompanied the narrative provided a great mental image of the destruction that Chicago faced that tragic night.

I think that this would be a great book to use when third graders learn about Chicago. The book is definitely appropriate for older readers, but could be used for a whole group read-aloud to engage the students. Other content areas could al
Sep 26, 2012 rated it it was ok
This book is good for people who are interested in history, or how it happened. It was a good book but, I'm not really into history books. It jumps around a lot, so I found it really hard to know from who's point of view it was coming from.
Jul 16, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction-kids
Although my children & I learned about the Chicago fire from this book, we all found it to be, for the most part, very dry & boring. How many different ways can you say that a fire spread?
Dec 02, 2017 rated it liked it
I found this book an interesting read. At times it could drag on with details while at other times the action and anticipation felt by the characters led me turning from page to page to find out what happened. I really appreciated the first-hand accounts that were told in a story format and woven together to more or less occur at the same time. These parts of the text were the most engaging as a reader.
It was interesting to see so many people reacting to the disaster the way I would expect peop
Jul 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a wonderful account of the historical Chicago Fire of 1871. I like how it reads as a fiction story in the beginning, and many chapters throughout. My favorite part would be the pencil drawings and captions that accompany them, and the actual photographs. I like that the author notes that newspaper media sources of the time had a tendency to embellish on facts and flat out make up stories particularly the story of Catherine O'Leary and her cow.I found the final chapter titled "Myth and Re ...more
Jul 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: newbery-honor
For a short read, this book was extremely compelling. Although full of facts, Murphy offsets them with journal excerpts from those who experienced firsthand the Chicago Fire of 1871. I enjoyed learning about the real Mrs. O'Leary, from whose barn the great fire started; how fire prone Chicago's buildings and homes were due to most everything being constructed solely out of wood, the critical misdirection of fire departments which greatly detained much needed help; and the mass chaos that ensued ...more
Hannah Elizabeth
Sep 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-3090-11-20
The award-winning book "The great fire" was about a HUGE three-day fire that occurred in Chicago on October 8th, 1871. This rich novel explains some background knowledge about the city and zoomed in on families who were affected by this tragedy.

I rated this book four stars because I liked how it told the story through the victim's eyes. It kept me engaged and gave a good overview of this tragedy.

Teaching Idea
Since this Non-fiction talked about such a big tragedy I don't really
Dec 02, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: engl-420
I was familiar with the devastating event that was the Great Fire, but this novel gave an enhanced perspective into the details that transpired with first-hand narratives and action that bring the fire to life through an exiting narrative. Beginning on a Sunday evening, a small fire broke out in a barn, but gradually the fire grew and spread. Due to how common of an occurrence fires were during the time, many people did not adhere to the warnings. The city primarily made
Debra Pawlak
Dec 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Although this was a short book, the research was impeccable and brought the Chicago Fire to life on a personal level. You can't imagine what the residents lived through as fired burned uncontrollably through the city. There were heroes and those who were less than noble. We often look back at tragedies like this with an historic perspective, but forget about the personal toll. Jim Muphy did a fine job merging the facts with the real people who lived through the ordeal. I just wish the book had b ...more
Jun 23, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
The Great Fire is an interesting history book that describes the huge fire that nearly wiped out Chicago in October 1871. The experiences of several real people are described, which brings the story home and helps readers feel empathy for those affected. The aftermath of the great fire is also explored, as well as the trends of reporting and journalism of the time and how they helped spread mostly false and inflammatory information. I recommend this book for readers in grades four through six, a ...more
Apr 19, 2018 rated it liked it
Genre- Nonfiction
Awards- Newbery Medal
Illustrations- There are not much pictures in the book but there is some photography, maps, and sketches of Chicago and the fire that took place.
Summary- This book tells the story of the great fire of 1871 and the wrong choices that were made that resulted in this destructive fire that engulfed Chicago.
My view- I thought the book was interesting and I enjoyed the language and work choice that the author used.
I listened to this book rather than reading it, which I think was a disadvantage. Didn't realize it was a Newbery honor book or meant for a middle school audience so rather disappointed in how it told the story but now I understand. I think the photographs and maps that the book included would have been helpful. Last chapter was the best, when the author talked about the lasting changes to Chicago and cities in general caused by the fire.
Mar 15, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018, newberry
TITLE: The Great Fire
WHY I CHOSE THIS BOOK: It met my reading challenge by being connected to the book before it, Devil in the White City, by having the same setting, Chicago
REVIEW: The author wove together first person accounts and general research to come up with a compelling history of the Great Chicago Fire. Mrs. O'Leary and her cow get vindicated, a little. As this was a kid's book and a bit short, it has wet my appetite for a more definitive rendition.
Oct 19, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kids
My 9-year-old loved listening to this book. It helped him think, not only about fires, but about how news spreads, what it means to listen to someone else's experience, and how people respond in emergencies. Each time we get a book like this, we cannot listen to it quickly enough for his taste. He's getting the historical story, but also insight into human psychology, story-telling, and changes that we see in our daily lives. Definitely recommend!
Steve Ward
Oct 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: newbery-award
This was a well researched book about the great Chicago fire. The author centered his retelling of the events around four people who survived and had written about their harrowing escape. He also tried to debunk the myths surrounding the cause of the fire that still today are considered by some to be fact. Overall an engaging coverage of this momentous event. I’d recommend this book to any reader over ten.
Laura Hoyler
Oct 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
May 01, 2018 rated it did not like it
How in the world was this a Newbery Medal Honor book? Surely there were better children’s books published in 1996. This book is overly dramatic, condescending, and pushes a political agenda. (The whole “rich people are evil” thing.) I wanted more facts about the fire and less personal accounts.

Newbery Medal Honor book in 1996.
John Bryant
Apr 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
The Great Fire is a historical nonfiction book, discussing the famous Chicago Fire. It details how the fire may have started and how the actions of certain citizens possibly prevented the fire from being contained. It also discusses how the family whose barn the fire started in were driven out from Chicago, and were forced to move elsewhere because of the death threats they received.
Dec 09, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Just visited Chicago this past weekend and wanted to learn more about the GREAT FIRE. I have always liked Murphy's nonfiction and this was no exception. The chapter discussing the FACTS would make a great lesson for students who are learning about the influence of media on news and what the public believes. Very pertinent to media and news today.
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An American author of more than 35 nonfiction and fiction books for children, young adults, and general audiences, including more than 30 about American history. He won the Margaret Edwards Award from the American Library Association in 2010 for his contribution in writing for teens. Jim lives in Maplewood, New Jersey, in a hundred-year-old house with his wife Alison Blank, a children’s TV produce ...more
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“The fire was barely fifteen minutes old. What followed was a series of fatal errors that set the fire free and doomed the city to a fiery death.” 2 likes
“...a single tongue of flame shooting out the side of the O'Learys' barn.
(Where the fire started)”
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