Skip to main content

The Firework-Maker's Daughter by Philip Pullman, illustrations by S. Saelig Gallagher 97pp RL 3

Philip Pullman is best known for his trilogy, The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass, three of the finest books written for children, fantasy or otherwise. But he is also the author of several other books, including the entertaining Sally Lockhart Series for teens, set in 1872 London, and this wonderful fairy tale-like gem.

"A thousand miles ago, in a country east of the jungle and south of the mountains, there lived a firework-maker called Lalchand and his daughter, Lila," is how the story begins. Motherless, Lila grows up in her father's workshop and naturally learns his trade. But, when she wants to learn his art and be considered an equal, she is met with her father's dismay. Despite her skill and talent, he had always assumed that she would marry when she came of age. Pullman writes, "Each of them had quite the wrong idea about things, and they were both alarmed to find it out." Furious with her father, Lila seeks the company of her friend Chulak, who is the personal servant of the King's white elephant, Hamlet. Hamlet also happens to be able to speak, but only for Chulak and Lila. It is Chulak who leads Lalchand to tell him the final secret of firework-making that Lila so desperately wants to know.

Through trickery and misfortune, Lila, Chulak and Lalchand all end up in very dangerous circumstances. Along the way they encounter a very funny pirate king, taxi boat driver, chicken farmer, restauranteur, minstrel, named Rambashi, who also turns out to be Chulak's Uncle. They also come face to face with a benevolent Goddess of the Lake and her cousin, Razvani the great fire-fiend. The story culminates with a fireworks competition that could cost Lalchand his life. Pitted against Dr. Puffenflasch, Signor Scorcini and Colonel Sparkington, Lila is not hopeful. But she and Lalchand work tirelessly to prepare and invent a few new fireworks that just might help them to win.

Pullman does well in creating strong, intelligent, fearless female characters in his books and Lila is no exception. The descriptions of the landscape of "a thousand miles ago" are rich with detail and a few British phrases and words thrown in here and there for a touch of colonialism. If your child likes this book, suggest Scarecrow and His Servant and Count Karlstein by Philip Pullman. They are both about 60 pages longer than The Firework-Maker's Daughter, but worth it.

Here is cover art for other versions of this book, which has also been adapted for the stage!


Jeremy said…
Ok, I know I sound like a broken record, thanking you over and over for recommendations...but this was another hit around here. I haven't got a chance to read it yet, but my wife thought it was excellent, and Ivy just started it.

Popular posts from this blog

Made by Dad: 67 Blueprints for Making Cool Stuff - Projects You Can Build For (and With) Kids! by Scott Bedford

On his personal website, Scott Bedforddescribes himself as an "Award Winning Online Creative Professional" working within the advertising and design industry. What is more interesting (and applicable here) is how hisWhat I Made website came to be. While sitting in a Starbucks with his restless young sons, trying to enjoy his latte, Bedford created something out of coffee stir sticks that ended up keeping his boys entertained, finishing his coffee in peace and sparking (re-sparking, really) his creative drive and reminding him of the "enormous joy gained from making things, even simple things, and that this joy is not the complexity or quality of the finished project but in the process of making itself. On Bedford'sWhat I Made website, he even shares Six Cool Coffee Shop Crafts for Kidsthat you can try out next time you want to enjoy your coffee and your kids are making that difficult. I've shared two below - be sure to check out the website and see the rest!


How to Choose Age Appropriate Books for Advanced Readers

How to Choose Age Appropriate Books for Advanced Readers remains the most read post on my blog since I wrote it in 2012. Because of this, I have cleaned up this post, tightened the writing and added in any pertinent information that has come about since it originally ran. When I first started in August of 2008, I was scrambling for content, finding my purpose and my voice and not always doing my best writing. How to Choose Age Appropriate Books for Advanced Readers was one of the first articles I wrote and, as a bookseller and a book reviewer, and now as an elementary school librarian where I have gone from working with kids reading well beyond their grade level to kids reading well below, this philosophy remains my organizing principle and central focus when reading and recommending books to parents and children. 

In the interest of my mission and the attention this article continues to receive, I have updated and expanded this article and included a guide to using …

POP-UP: Everything You Need to Know to Create Your Own Pop-Up Book, paper engineering by Ruth Wickings, illustrations by Frances Castle RL: All ages

POP-UP:  Everything You Need to Know to Create Your Own Pop-Up Book with paper engineering by Ruth Wickings and illustrations by Frances Castle is THE COOLEST BOOK EVER!!!  I know that I haven't dedicated much time to pop-up books here, but they have always held a special place in my heart, and the phrase "paper engineering" is a favorite of mine. Although I didn't know what it was at the time, I did go through a paper engineering phase when I was ten or so. I would sneak off to the back of the classroom during independent work periods and go to town on the construction paper and glue and make these little free-standing dioramas. A huge fan of The Muppet Show (the original), I reconstructed the all-baby orchestra from an episode, drawing and coloring each baby and his/her instrument then gluing them onto a 3D orchestra section I had crafted out of brown construction paper.  I also made a 3D version of Snidely Whiplash throwing Nell off a cliff with Dudley Do-Right wa…