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The Picture Book Buzz

Fire Shapes the World - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

Our relationship with fire is complex. while many people enjoy a warm fireplace or smores around a camp fire, and might even accept prescribed and monitored burns of fields, the destruction of homes and forests prevented generations from realizing that a forest blaze can be beneficial and ecologically necessary. Today, I get the privilege of offering you a sneak peek at a gorgeous picture book (releasing 6/13) which takes a lyrical look at the connection of our world and fire.

Cover image of Fires Shapes the World.

Fire Shapes the World

Author: Joanna Cooke

Illustrator: Cornelia Li & Diāna Renžina

Publisher: Yosemite Conservancy (2023)

Ages: 4-8



Fire, respect, history, conservation, fire ecology, and adaptability.


Life as we know it evolved with fire; there is no us without it.

With lyrical text grounded in the latest research, this picture book shares the primal connection between all living things and fire. Children will grasp that fire is basic and powerful; that it has the capability to both destroy and create; that everything they know in the world has evolved with fire.

There is comfort in understanding the natural processes taking place all around us. By learning the story of fire and how it has changed this planet, this book also addresses the question: Can people adapt to an increasingly fire-prone environment? This answer is: Yes. Because we always have. While fire is to be respected, with proper care and thoughtful planning, it can be a benefit to Earth. We can learn from the past to help create our future. Through understanding, we will thrive.

FIRE SHAPES THE WORLD is an encouraging springboard for conversation illuminated by breathtaking paintings, and it will allow children to explore their connection to this most elemental agent of change.

Opening Lines:

Deep in the wilderness, a fire smolders.

It creeps in yellow and crimson bursts,

flaring as the wind shifts, transforming

the forest around it.

What I LOVED about this book:

Those powerful opening lines are accompanied by an equally powerful, richly colored, and detailed illustration of a forest fire.

Internal image of forest fire moving through the trees.

Text © Joanna Cooke, 2023. Image © Cornelia Li & Diāna Renžina, 2023.

After lyrically defining fire and its requirements, examining its connection to the galaxy, and providing its birthday ("420 million years ago"), Joanna Cooke explores the changes of the plants and animals as a result of fires throughout prehistoric times. Cornelia Li's and Diāna Renžina's gorgeous illustrations help trace and highlight some of these adaptations as . . .

Internal image - volcano errupting on left, ice age and whooly mammoths center, and grasslands and horse on a hill.

Text © Joanna Cooke, 2023. Image © Cornelia Li & Diāna Renžina, 2023.

The world kept changing —

drying and cooling,

wetting and heating —

and fires kept burning.

Life as we know it evolved with fire.

Fire even adapted our lives. For people, 'taming' fire offered security, bonding, and the advent of farming. But somewhere along the way, fire became demonized. Something to fight, to stop at all costs. Something we prided ourselves on controlling. Something that bid its time as we built homes closer to the forests, created a tinderbox of mast, and changed the environment. "Now fire is this:"

Internal image - forest fire in background, firefighters, evacuees, and community members bringing water and blankets.

Text © Joanna Cooke, 2023. Image © Cornelia Li & Diāna Renžina, 2023.

A wailing siren.

A home charred to the frame.

A town uniting.

Even as they show the fervor in the swirling reds, yellows, and oranges of the flames and smoke, I found it tantalizing that every image of fire or smoke is layered with a flowing trail of stars. And while the destructiveness of today's forest fires in evident the shock and sadness of the evacuees, Cornelia Li and Diāna Renžina also highlight the heroes. The firefighters, rescue workers, and community coming together with supplies and support. In a loose illustrative thread, note the mother and daughter seen bringing water bottles. They were highlighted near the beginning snuggling and reading by a wood stove. And they play an important and intregal part in the final couple of spreads.

Scientists, foresters, and governments are discovering that forest fires are required for many plants to germinate, some beetles to reproduce, and many species of birds. Joanna Cooke continues to explore our current relationship with fire, its essential nature, and our ability to adapt. The final two spreads are lyrically and visually stunning, inspiring, and encouraging. And the author's note offers additional depth into humanity's relationship with fire, what we can learn from Indigenous groups, and how we'll need to adapt. It is a beautiful, thought-provoking ode to a powerful and essential part of life on Earth.


Image of a tissue-paper and construction paper campfire craft.
Stacks of microwave smores.

- make your own glowing campfire and indoor smores (if you don't have a firepit).

- which image in the book best represents fire for you? Draw or write a description of your view of, or experience, with fire.

- check out the teacher's guide by Joanna Cooke,

- pair this with I Am Smoke by Henry Herz, illustrated by Mercè López and The Glorious Forest that Fire Built by Ginny Neil.

If you missed the interview with Joanna Cooke on Monday, find it (here).

This post is part of a series by authors and KidLit bloggers called Perfect Picture Book Fridays. For more picture book suggestions and resources see Susanna Leonard Hill's Perfect Picture Books.


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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