The Firework-Maker’s Daughter is a fantastic adventure story that crackles and sparkles as bright as the fireworks that Lila dreams of making.
I love reading a story that is set in a different culture to that of my own - absorbing the sights, smells and sounds that leap off the page. Stories like this are so important as they broaden children’s understanding of the world, people and places. Pullman never actually tells the reader where the story is set but we are given hints as to it’s location - “in a country east of the jungle and south of the mountains,” and with references to a fried-prawn seller, a batik-painter, rickshaw drivers, bullock-carts and silk-traders - all suggesting an Asian setting, a mix of India, China and Indonesia. Not actually saying where the action takes place just adds to the mystery and magic of this tale.
Lila has only ever known fireworks and how to make them. She has been raised on Crackle Dragons, Leaping Monkeys, Golden Sneezes and Java Lights. So it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to her father, Lalchan, when Lila says she wants to be a Firework-Maker. But Firework-making is no serious job for a girl and Lila’s father would much rather see her get married. Lila, strong-minded and determined, is not one who will bow to what society expects of her and whilst her father might not be willing to share the secrets of becoming a true Firework-Maker with her, he is not so tight lipped when speaking to her best-friend Chulak.
When Chulak shares the secret with Lila she sets off an a daring quest to fulfil her dream. What awaits is a perilous journey to the grotto of the fire-fiend, a ritual that has been carried out by all Firework-Makers before her, to collect the magic ingredient. Along the way she will encounter a ragtag bunch of pirates, a ferocious beast and treacherous terrain. But what if Chulak’s information isn’t correct? Lila is running towards danger and her actions could have devastating consequences.Will her friend and the King’s white elephant, Hamlet, save the day?
I really enjoyed this short, quick read full of messages about aspiration and positive thinking. It is an easy read providing lots of opportunities for discussion around the themes of friendship, family, courage and perseverance. Through Lila, Chulak and Hamlet (the elephant) Pullman has explored the qualities needed to achieve your dreams and readers will hopefully take positive messages from this.
Young readers will particularly love Hamlet, the talking elephant, who amongst his many different jobs, acts as a walking advertisement billboard - Chulak, ever the entrepreneur and never one to let a money-making opportunity go to waste allows people to ‘graffiti’ the elephant in return for a small fee. They will also be laughing out loud at Rambushi and his inept pirate crew who spend more time arguing and in the water than they do in the boat, and with their swords made of wood and wrapped in foil they are fooling nobody.
Accompanying the text are soft black and white drawings by Peter Bailey which add another layer of magic and mystery to the read. The drawings also mean that the book does not feel text heavy and so it serves as a great read for those children transitioning to longer reads and chapter books.
The story fizzes and pops with excitement, humour and suspense. A great adventure story for children of 7+.