Little Pine Cone: Wildfires and the Natural World by Johanna Wagstaffe, illus. by Julie McLaughlin

Review by Charlotte Mundy

Orca Book Publishers, May 2022

32 pages, Hardcover, $21.95 CAD, 9781459828308

Ages 6-8, Grades 1-3

Picture Book, Science/Nature

Fires are a natural part of a forest ecosystem. They help thin out dense forests and shrublands by burning logs, pine needles and leaves on the forest floor. They also create rich soil and new homes for plants and animals. Animals know how to escape the flames of a fire. Birds and furry creatures fly or run away, and small critters burrow underground to safety or take cover under things that don’t burn, like rocks.

Little Jacky is a Jack pinecone who resides in a peaceful forest with all of her animal friends. One day a lightning storm rolls through Jacky’s home and ignites a nearby village, sending everything into chaos. Jacky watches as the fire creeps closer to her home, until eventually her entire world is engulfed in flames. Through the natural course of destruction, life takes on new forms and Jacky, who required fire to spread her seeds, grows into a young pine tree. Johanna Wagstaffe’s Little Pine Cone: Wildfires and the Natural World, illustrated by Julie McLaughlin, explains the process of wildfires through the eyes of a pinecone.

The illustrations provide stunning depictions of Jacky’s story. Vivacious colours splash every page, showcasing the unpredictability of hungry flames and the peacefully renewed blue and green landscapes. Julie McLaughlin scatters North American animals and plant life throughout every page, with each one’s name clearly tagged nearby. A beloved black bear flees the initial fire but returns with adorable cubs after the fires have run their course. Freshly burned forest floors are seen cleared of debris, allowing for the growth of new plant-life as sunlight nourishes the exposed soil. Colourful fireweed and wrinkled morels populate the hardy earth showing renewal and vitality after destruction.

This book could not be more relevant as annual worsening forest fires dominate summer headlines in North America. Educational and lighthearted explanations of dangerously raging forest fires aid in the accurate depictions of these natural disasters. Cleverly told from the point of view of a pinecone, all perspectives are covered from family’s needing to evacuate their homes to Jacky’s livelihood depending on fires for her new seeds to spread. There is also a glossary and fact page at the end which provides more educational material for curious readers!

Johanna Wagstaffe’s Little Pine Cone: Wildfires and the Natural World is a fun, topical and educational read. Her two previous books titled Little Cloud: The Science of a Hurricane and Fault Lines: Understanding the Power of Earthquakes prove that she is a meteorologist who enjoys sharing her knowledge to young readers. Julie McLaughlin’s abundantly brilliant illustrations delicately compliment the text, making for an enjoyable reading experience. If you are looking for a lively, illuminating read then I highly recommend this book!

Charlotte Mundy completed her undergraduate with a BSc in Nursing. Living with the curse of creativity while working in a scientific field, she has been taking writing courses at UBC to satisfy her appetite for literature. She has always enjoyed reading and writing and hopes to one day become an author.

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