Thursday, December 23, 2010

Heat is on

The ease with which we can ignite a flame, whether lighting a candle or starting a fire, is something we all take for granted.  But fire, as a subject for study, has the intrinsic value of opposing qualities.  Yes, we’ll learn about heat and light but we’ll also learn about the destructive nature of fire, as well.   There’s a certain inherent tension with a topic like this.

50 burning questions: a sizzling history of fire by Tanya Lloyd Kyi (304.2 KyF 2010) is a compilation of the various aspects of fire, combining social history, science, and technological development.  In another words, my kind of book, and it really sets up ‘fire’, presenting all that is good and bad about it.

It starts with a look at the advantages fire would have had for early humans; protection from animals, heat and light.  If nothing else, we learn just how adaptive humans really are.
          *Who would have thought that a good light source would be a smelly, oily fish?  The Northwest Coast First Nations peoples did, when they discovered that an oolichan fish would burn very much like a candle.

          *Who would have thought that baking clay would result in a waterproof container?
 Earliest evidence comes from eastern European about 27,000 years ago.

          *Who would have thought that fire could be used as a means for communication? The light from stone towers set along coastlines warned sailors of danger or smoke generated from wood fires acted as early warning systems.

Very inventive.

Try out a few of the activities spread throughout the book to really understand some of the principles involved.

The book also provides lots interesting information about our emotional and psychological connections with fire, too.  Think about this in terms of religion and folklore.  Many stories relate how humans came to have fire and the importance of light.  There is a powerful response when we think about the Nazi book burnings of the 1930s and 40s with huge bonfires burning thousands of books.  Or tall crosses burning in front of people’s houses as a way to create fear by the Klu Klux Klan.  Or the fear generated by the spread of wildfires that may or may not have been set by arsonists as was the case in 2009 in Australia or in California during the 1980s.  The power of fire is very real on many levels.

If you think this book sounds familiar, you’d be right.  In 2007, Annick Press published Burn: the life story of fire by the same author.  The information in that book was pretty much the same as 50 burning questions without the colourful, fun, and often goofy graphics.  50 burning questions would have more kid appeal.


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