First Fire: A Cherokee Folktale

School Library Journal - April 2014

K-Gr 2–Long ago, “when the world was new,” Earth had no fire. Then the Thunders threw a lightning bolt, striking a sycamore tree on an island. Seeing the smoking tree, the animals wanted and needed that fire, but didn’t know how to get to the island to carry fire back. Many animals wanted the honor of bringing fire across the water, but Raven, citing his great strength, made the first attempt. While Raven perched on a branch trying to figure out how to accomplish his task, fire scorched his feathers, turning them black. Frightened, he returned to the others without fire. Still today, a raven’s feathers are black. Raven is followed by Screech Owl, Hoot and Horned Owl and Racer Snake all of which are unsuccessful in their quests and return to the fold with some fire-induced change in their appearance. Finally, Water Spider announces she has a plan and indeed, returns with a spark of the fire that warms Earth and its creatures to this day. This pourquoi tale’s text is in a large, clear font accessible to emerging readers. The full-bleed illustrations use a lively palette and the large, animal renderings are quite realistic, which might be frightening to younger readers. There are extensive endnotes that share Cherokee history and further information about fire and water spiders. A serviceable title for those wanting a more illustrated version than those in text-heavy folklore compilations.–Sara-Jo Lupo Sites, George F. Johnson Memorial Library, Endicott, NY

Library Media Connection

In this Cherokee pourquoi tale, a father tells the story of how Raven, Screech Owl, Hoot Owl, Horned Owl, and Racer Snake got their distinct features while in pursuit of bringing fire to their cold land. Each animal fails to bring back the fire, but Spider spins a tusti bowl to carry a flame across the water. Additional information about the Cherokee, fire, and spiders can be found in the back of the book. More teaching activities, quizzes, and related websites can be found on the publisher’s website. This would make a good addition to a library’s folktale collection, especially given the access to multicurricular teaching activities. The story is a simple tale with powerful description; the illustrations mirror the story’s simplicity, however they teeter between being realistic and cartoonish. Even so, it is a great introduction to the folklore genre for young readers. Stacy Holbrook, School Librarian, Barstow Memorial School, Chittenden, Vermont [Editor’s Note: Available in e-book format.] RECOMMENDED

Horn Book Guide

A Cherokee pourquoi folktale explains both how a spider brought fire to the animals and the origins of particular animals' characteristics: e.g., ravens are black because their feathers were burned while attempting to transport fire. Back matter on Cherokee culture and territory is somewhat informative

San Francisco Book Review/Kids Book Review - May 2014

Long ago, there was no fire on earth. It was cold all the time. Then a lightning bolt struck an island, and a tree burst into flames. All the animals that could swim or fly decided to send one member to the island to get the fire to use for heat and light. A white raven flew to the tree, but the raven didn’t know how to get the fire. His feathers were burned black! A screech owl went to the tree next. The heat burned the owl’s eyes which made them red. A hoot owl and a horned owl flew over to the tree, but the areas around their eyes were turned white from the ashes. A racer snake then tried, and it was burned black. None of the creatures could get the fire. The animals were joined by a water spider, and they talked about why they couldn’t retrieve the fire. The spider decided to try because she had a new plan. You’ll have to read the book to find out whether her plan worked or not!

I really like this book because it was a very interesting folktale. I also loved the activities at the end of the story; they were fun!
- Reviewed by  Murphy, Age 8

Children's Literary Classics - July 2014

Author, Nancy Kelly Allen, has taken a timeless folktale and given it wings in this lovely retelling of the first fire encountered by the creatures of this land.  Illustrations by Sherry Rogers are vividly depicted and offer vibrant and expressive renderings of this classic tale.First Fire comes highly recommended to classrooms, home and school libraries and for gift giving.

Feathered Quill Book Review-March 2014

This is a fascinating, fun look at a Cherokee legend that explains how we got fire. The Cherokee storyteller in this tale is relaying to his own children things he heard from his elders. We learn how Raven, Screech Owl, Hoot Owl, Horned Owl, Racer (a racer snake), and Spider attempt to capture the fire and light from the sycamore’s branches and return with it. We then learn how each animal was changed by his attempt. The tale will be quite memorable as children will not only learn about legends, but also how they are passed on from generation to generation. The artwork lights up the pages with excitement and brings the tale to life. Newly independent readers can tackle this beginning nonfiction book with a bit of assistance with words such as “sycamore.” There are four pages of activities in the back of the book. Additional complementary activities can be accessed on the publisher’s website.

Home School Book Review Blog - March 2014

Anyone interested in Native American folklore will especially appreciate First Fire: A Cherokee Folktale.

My MCBooks Blog - March 2014

There are 4 pages of learning activities where children can learn about Cherokee then and now, their territory, fire and many more. I really like the illustrations by Sherry Rogers which helps to tell the story. I highly recommend this book for classroom teaching.

Batch of Books - April 2014

I can't help but be drawn to Native American folk tales.  They come from such an interesting culture and they are both entertaining and educational.  This particular book is a Cherokee story of how animals first found and claimed fire.  Kids love learning about stories like this.  I read it several times to my girls. They loved the explanations of why a raven is black and why the horned owl has white rings around its eyes, among others.  

The story also teaches a good moral.  The animal that finally figures out how to transport fire is not big or powerful.  It is a small spider with a plan.  The book is written well, and the illustrations are a nice fit with the writing.  First Fire is a beautiful story that has been passed down for generations and will give kids a glimpse at the lives of people that lived on this continent long ago.

Tif Talks Books - April 2014

I personally loved seeing the addition of diversity through a Native American tale in this round of releases.

Reader's Haven Reviews - May 2014

This brilliantly written book is a Cherokee pourquoi folktale. Animals are discussed throughout the book. Animals brought fire back to an island to keep them warm when it was cold outside. It answers questions such as, why are ravens black? How do we get fire? Why do some owl eyes look red when you look at their eyes? The illustrations are perfectly matched to an inspiring folktale.