Score: 89/100 (8.9 out of 10)
Finding the Blaze by Maryellen Eyer captures the joys and wonders of hiking with your family and friends!
Hiking is one of our favorite activities! It provides great steady-state cardio with an additional resistance benefit due to terrain and elevation. It is also a terrific social and bonding activity that allows families, acquaintances, and friends to adventure and explore new grounds together.
One of the best things about going on a hike, as this book illustrates, is getting to see new and exciting flora and fauna, plants and animals.
In Blaze, a mother and her son, Alex, a curious and precocious little boy, are excited to be hiking up the trailhead on Hadley Mountain in New York, a 3.4 mile hike. Specifically, their goal is to reach the historic 40-foot-tall Hadley Firetower at the summit that was built in response to a string of wildfires in the early 20th century.
Accompanying mom and Alex for most of their journey are two hikers, a couple and their dog. The male hiker is referred to as “Salt” because of his white shirt. Meanwhile, the female hiker is referred to as “Pepper” because of her dark, tanned skin. Pepper is the owner of the giant dog that serves as the book's namesake, Blaze. Blaze also gives us one of the tensest moments of the book when he goes missing, providing some form of conflict for the protagonists.
This book is a relatively easy read and is great for older children and young teens. It would make a decent first chapter book with its short length and simple language.
The book also excels at bringing the hiking experience to life including the characters resorting to eating snacks (“energy pellets”), having to transverse steep sections of the trail that require actual hands-and-feet climbing, and the discovery of at least one unique animal: a newt.
The book does a good job at teaching some of the basics of hiking including bringing a paper map, coming prepared with food, and traveling with others in a buddy system.
There were times, however, when what was happening in the book seemed a bit flat and uninteresting. There was little to no actual conflict or tension in the book, which contributed to that feeling. The only real conflict or tension occurs when Blaze, the dog, goes missing. It also doesn't seem like most of the characters had time to develop or to become more than two-dimensional. Literally, Salt and Pepper never really outgrow their nicknames. They're just there. Alex, however, does stand out a little bit as being curious and insightful, such as when he talks about the history of the fire towers.
The art of Anthony Richichi is always at least serviceable, and it's always nice to see some nice illustrations in a children's book.
Check it out on Amazon!