Fireboat by Maira Kalman

Maira Kalman is one of my favorite artists, so when I found a copy of Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey on the street, I clearly had to bring it home. I don’t know why it took me so long to get around to actually reading it: I like Kalman, I like boats, I like books about NYC. Well, no matter: I finally read it, and aww, what a sweet/touching picture book this is. I actually got to take a (free!) ride on the John J. Harvey in 2010, so I think I must have learned the boat’s story at that time, but I’d forgotten. The John J. Harvey was built in 1931 and served as a fireboat in NYC for decades, fighting fires on the piers when they were crowded with passenger ships and cargo ships—but was due to be sold for scrap after being retired in 1995. Instead, the boat was bought and restored, and ended up being called into service on September 11, 2001—first to ferry people uptown, and then to actually pump water at the World Trade Center site. The gouache artwork in this book is classic Maira Kalman (I find her style really quirky and charming), and I like the way Kalman tells the story, too, starting with the background of what else was happening the same year the John J. Harvey was first launched and then moving on to the boat itself, and then to the events of 9/11. From other work I’ve seen of hers, it seems like she’s very much interested in stories told through things from the past, and also in how things from the past can still be interesting/useful/beautiful, and this book fits in with that sensibility perfectly.






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