Today we read a cautionary tale about the dangers of taking a joke just a little too far. First published in 1958, “Sam and the Firefly” by P.D. Eastman is ultimately an engaging story about friendship and redemption – with a side of drama!
Sam is an owl who wakes at night to find everyone else asleep. He cannot find anyone to play with but a firefly named Gus. At first they have fun with the discovery that Gus can use his tail light to write words in the sky; Gus proves a prolific sky-writer. He writes “Gus and Sam”…”Fish” and “Wish”…”House” and “a Mouse”…”Yes”…”No”…even “Kangaroo” and “Thermometer!”
Gus is excited with his new-found skill, but it soon becomes clear that things are getting out of hand. When Gus jets off to an intersection and begins scrawling competing instructions in the sky, he causes a big car crash. Then he gets airplanes all crossed up by doing the same thing high in the sky – all the time pursued by an increasingly dismayed Sam.
After causing a stampede at the movie theater by scrawling “Come in! Free show” in bright lights above the marquee, Gus finally pushes his luck too far. He changes “Hot Dogs” to “Cold Dogs” on a hot dog vendor’s stand – and the vendor manages to catch him and put him in a jar! Sam desperately wants to free his friend, but does not know how. As the man drives Gus back out into the country, the man’s car gets stuck on some train tracks…and a train is coming! In the nick of time, Sam fetches the jar, frees Gus, and has him write “Stop, Stop, Stop, Stop” in front of the train. The train stops, and the car is saved! Gus has learned an important lesson, and he and Sam continue to be friends…playing every night, but no more bad tricks.
“Sam and the Firefly” has some outstanding illustrations – simple but with a charming, vintage feel. There is just enough danger to keep little listeners engaged, and some repetition and rhyming that might be nice for beginning readers. Overall, an excellent choice for read aloud…it has been read many times in our house.