Book review: “The Firework-Maker’s Daughter” by Philip Pullman

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This short story from the author of I Was a Rat! and Clockwork takes place in an unnamed kingdom, where a girl named Lila has been raised by her firework-maker father. She wants to follow in his footsteps, but he thinks a girl’’s place is to get married. Meanwhile, her best friend Chulak is planning to run away with the king’s talking white elephant, Hamlet, whom Chulak takes out for exercise.

One day Chulak tricks Lila’s father into telling him the secret to becoming a firework-maker. As soon as she hears about it, Lila set off for the volcano where the Fire Fiend is to give her the royal sulfur she needs. Then Lalchand, the firework-maker, tells Chulak the other part of the secret: without magic water from the Goddess of the Emerald Lake, Lila will be burned to a crisp! Chulak and Hamlet immediately run away, racing to get the water and bring it to Lila before it is too late.

Though their journey through the jungle includes humorous encounters with a group of hapless would-be pirates, etc., the best part of the story takes place when Lila returns and finds her father under arrest for stealing the king’’s elephant. The king offers Lalchand a chance to live – but only if he wins a firework contest against brilliant craftsmen from Germany, Italy, and America.

Here is a story that sizzles and pops with excitement, humor, mystery, and suspense. The courage and friendship of Lila, Chula, and Hamlet are both enjoyable and uplifting, and the solution to Lila’s quest may provoke some serious thought and discussion.

Recommended Age: 12+