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John Ward illustration from Fireflies for Nathan

Fireflies for NathanNew paperback version released!

Fireflies for Nathan

Illustrated by John Ward
1994, William Morrow

A boy is introduced to a familiar rite of summer--and to some family history--during a stay with his grandparents in this low-key picture book. Six-year-old Nathan enjoys hearing his Nana and Poppy tell about his father's childhood. So when he finds out that his father liked to catch fireflies, Nathan insists on giving it a try. Though it's a struggle for him to be patient, Nathan waits for dark and embarks on his adventure with great delight. Oppenheim's ( The Lily Cupboard ) simple story has a cozy tone, mirrored in Ward's warm acrylic portraits of an African-American family. Particularly childlike dialogue infuses the proceedings with believable enthusiam. Deep-hued nighttime scenes, lit by the flickering insects, and a glowing sunset demonstrate Ward's skill in depicting variances of natural light and shadow. Families, budding entomologists and anyone who's ever tried to make a firefly lamp will all find something to like here.

"When my children were young, we caught fireflies together. Nathan is one of my grandsons. The editor decided to have the family be Afro-American. I was delighted and, so it seems, were a number of reviewers who spoke of the pleasure of a Afro-American grandparents and grandson having nothing to do with folklore, legend, etc. Just two grandparents enjoying an adventure with their grandson, as they had done with his father."


Nathan, a fetching six-year-old African-American boy whose eyes twinkle with curiosity and delight on the book's cover, is staying with his father's parents in the country. When told that his dad's favorite activity at age six was catching fireflies, he anxiously waits for darkness, catches a jarful of the twinkling creatures, and takes it to bed with him, just as his father did as a child. And, just as his father did, he asks his grandparents to let them go once he falls asleep. Ward's illustrations, mostly double-page spreads, are painted with acrylics on canvas. They range from primitive folk-art style scenes to carefully detailed portraits on impressionist backgrounds to realistic representations of various creatures-goldfinch, monarch butterfly, bullfrog. The lightning bugs appear as phosphorescent dots. This is an honest, heartwarming look at a loving relationship between a child and his grandparents.
--School Library Journal

When six-year old Nathan goes to visit his grandparents in the country, he wants to know what his father was like as a six-year- old boy. Nana and Poppy tell him how his father loved collecting fireflies in the dark. Nathan wants to do that, too, so the three sit outside with a jar and wait for darkness to fall. Night comes slowly in the summer, but when it finally does, the air is filled with the tiny, flickering lights of the fireflies, and Nathan is able to gather them into the jar, just like his daddy did all those years ago. The illustrations, realistic yet richly colored and evocative of summer nights, add to the gentleness conveyed by the recounting of this small but meaningful incident. Also nice is that while Nathan and his grandparents are African-American, the text is universal. A lyrical story that captures the feeling of childhood summers.
-- Kirkus Reviews