All the Things

A blog by Holly Papa.

Magnus at the Fire by Jennifer Armstrong, Illustrated by Owen Smith

by | Oct 31, 2009 | Blog | 4 comments

magnus at the fire

Our Double Scoop for the month of October is Magnus at the Fire. Please note that the picture of the cover is not indicative of the high quality pictures in the book, we just couldn’t seem to find a very in-focus picture to post.

Cari: What did you like about this book?

Holly: The illustrations were my favorite part, they are so vivid and they have a classy, timeless look to them.

Cari: I liked the illustrations a lot too, if I collected story book art – I would want a print from this book. In addition to the illustrations, I liked the story.

Holly: Definitely. I liked the story because it’s not a common one to hear about. When you have a child who likes firetrucks you get stories about firetrucks and firemen and this story goes back before the days of the fire truck.

Cari: I love that this is based in historical fact, but it’s not a non-fiction picture book.

Holly: So does that make it a historical fiction picture book or something?

Cari: I think there is a term for it, but I’m not sure. Do you want to summarize the story a bit?

Holly: After working for several years, the fire station gets a new engine, a motorized version, and Magnus is thereby retired. They put the horses out to pasture with nothing to do. The pasture is next to the firehouse, and Magnus didn’t understand what was going on. The next time there is a fire Magnus jumps the fence and beats the motorized fire truck there and saves the day.

Cari: We should probably clarify that he is a firefighting horse meaning he pulls the steam engine that pumps the water to fight fires. I was trying to figure out what breed he was, because I don’t remember what kind he was.

Holly: I think he was a draft horse. The book says . . . “a mighty gray stallion” . . . at least in the pictures these guys are really big.

Cari: I think you’re right, they may be Percherons, a type of draft horse – they are beautiful animals. Fire fighting horses were trained so that when a fire bell rang, a harness would come down and their stall door would open and then they were ready to  pull the steam engine that would pump water to fight fires, which could weigh several thousand pounds. I guess Magnus had been trained really well because he didn’t bolt when he smelled the smoke.

Holly: What attracted us to the book in the first place was the picture of the stallion on the front. When we discovered it was about fire, I thought it would be a nice way to introduce the topic of fire safety without making it scary.

Cari: Makes sense. Isn’t October Fire Safety Month?

Holly: It sure is! We encourage all our readers to take some time to check their smoke detectors, talk to your children about fire safety and have a family evacuation plan. My 6 year old gives me a fire safety tip he’s learned at school almost every night as he heads to bed. If you’re not sure where to start, ask your kids what they learned in school about fire safety.

Now for Our Trip Down Memory Lane – Fire Drill

So a lot of our family vacations had a few common themes besides being crammed in a van for hours on end – our mom would usually have a stash of candy in her purse. The trick was to get front seat privileges (like volunteer to swap seats with Dad so he can take a nap or volunteer to take care of the baby to get free access). Of course this worked best while Mom was driving, but you did have to time it right to make sure your hand didn’t happen to be in there at the same time as hers.

We often spent time at our grandparent’s farm in Rupert, Idaho on the Snake River. At the time of this story Cari is 15 and Holly 14. Our dad happened to have taken the two oldest boys to Scout Camp. What does a mother, with 6 remaining kids and no husband do? She packs up the family van, along with the dog, invites the neighbor boy, because there just don’t seem to be enough people already, and we set out to spend a few days at a partially complete farm home in Rupert, Idaho. At this point, Cari would rather have spent time at home with friends, but being as they were busy on vacation she didn’t put up too much of a fuss.

Fire Safety Tip #1: The partially completed home was that way because it burned down in a fire a few years previously- due to a problem with the chimney, while there were renters living there. No one was hurt, thank goodness, but please consider this a reminder to get your chimneys cleaned out!!!

After a few days basically camping in a wood shell structure, we are about to head home.

Fire Safety Tip #2: The neighbor boy burned his foot by walking through hot coals without shoes on. Always wear your shoes around fires, and watch for hot coals. Don’t walk through extinguished fire pits, they might still be hot!

Cari: Ooh, I get to sit in the front of the van, I am the oldest (but my real reason is Mom has a stash of M&Ms in her purse and it’s not like she can supervise terribly well while driving if you know what I mean. . .)

Holly: I’ll sit next to the baby (and the M&Ms)!

Cari: I cannot wait to get home to take a real shower, Rupert is a lot better than it used to be at least we have flushable toilets, but seriously people stink!

15 minutes Later

Holly: A few M&Ms later. . . Mom what’s that white stuff coming out the back of the van?

Mom: Oh, um, I think we need to stop.

Cari: That looks like smoke, is that smoke?

Mom pulls to the side of the road, clouds of white stuff coming out from under the hood.

Holly: Is the van on fire?

Mom: I have no idea just get out of the van, EVERYBODY OUT!!!!

Cari: Everybody! Away! From! The! van!

(Imagine a circus act here, where people continually exit the vehicle and you can’t possibly figure out how they all fit in there in the first place)

Meanwhile a semi-truck driver pulls up behind us, a skinny guy with a mustache, hops down from his cab and hauls over to us as fast as his legs will carry him. Our rescuer has arrived wielding a bright red fire extinguisher.

Fire Safety Tip#3 It’s always a good idea to have a fire extinguisher in your home, boat and your car isn’t a bad place either, just make sure you know how to use it and maintain it.

Semi driver: Is it on fire? Is it on fire?

Everybody dazed and unsure- lots of shrugging shoulders.

Mom: We don’t know . . .

Cari:  Hey, does anyone hear sirens? Oh my goodness, look! There’s a red pick-up on the frontage road. Great this is so embarrassing not to mention we really stink.

Holly: I see a green fire engine!

Brother #3 – Wow that is so cool a fire truck, Mom is that a fire engine?

Semi-truck driver tries to lift up the hood, burns his hand, so grabs a rag and then opens the hood ready to take on any flames. . . There’s no fire! It’s only steam! You blew a hose lady!

Fire Safety Tip#4 Use something to protect your hands when touching hot surfaces, there’s a reason fire fighters wear gloves.

Everyone: Phew! We’re not about to be blown to kingdom come.

Farmer from the pick-up leans over the fence:  Are you guys alright? Is there a fire?

Mom: No, just a lot of steam, thank goodness!

Farmer: Good, I was working in my fields and I saw some smoke. I’m a volunteer fire-fighter so I radioed for the fire engine and thought I’d meet it here. Glad no one is hurt!


One of our brothers worked as volunteer firefighter in New York - Apparently this experience had a positive effect.

Woor wrooo – wroo – wrooo Arrives the fire truck

Cari: Great here come more people, are you kidding me? this will be a great story to NOT tell people.

Farmer: Well, I’ll call you a tow truck, you just be careful now.

Mom: Everybody back in the van, and be sure to put on your seat belts just in case someone hits us or something..

Meanwhile – sitting in the van for about an hour, in the heat of summer with our seat belts on- just in case. A few more M&Ms later . . .

Holly: The tow truck’s here! Finally!

Cari: Yes, we can’t seem to have a family vacation without one. (Some of our earliest memories on vacation happen to be in tow trucks, not sure exactly how many times).

Tow Truck Driver: Okay so let me get this straight: You have 7 kids and a dog? Hmmm, well it’s not exactly safe to have you travel in the van while I’m towing you, company regulations you know.

Mom: Well, we’ll manage somehow. I think we could all fit in the tow truck, except the dog.

(If you thought we looked like a clown circus act coming out of the van, you should have seen us load up in the tow truck)

Cari: Are you kidding me?

Holly: Well, we are related to Grandpa B- the ultimate in packing lots of things in small places.

Cari: (Rolling eyes) I guess since I am the shortest big person here you’re gonna make me sit next to the driver.

Mom: Yes! Now get in the truck. With all the gears you are the best person, you have the shortest legs you know, but you’ll only have to hold the youngest on your lap. Holly you get the neighbor boy and brother #3, I’ll take brothers 4&5.

Holly: (rolling eyes- there’s nothing comfortable about having your younger brother’s friend, who has a ‘secret’ crush on you, sit on your lap).  Fine, I’ll do anything to get out of this terrible heat.

Cari: Well, at least you don’t have to worry about being jammed by gears (and you’re closer to the M&Ms, darn it! I can’t reach those M&MS.)

We arrived at Twin Falls, Idaho and found out that our van would take a lot more work to repair then we had time for. We decided to rent a mini van to go home in. Only one problem. All the rental agencies were maxed out. Not even a car to rent. Why? Because of all the wild fires in Sun Valley, Idaho- Home of the rich and famous.

Fire Safety Tip #4: Don’t try to rent a car when there are wild fires where rich people live- you won’t have enough money, and the cars will be already taken anyway).

Twin Falls is the nearest airport to Sun Valley, so of course there was nothing available at any rental agency within any reasonable distance whatsoever. Luckily, the really nice tow truck guy convinced a dealership to let us rent a mini-van to go home in. After hauling around a circus in his tow truck, he was overcome with gratitude for the free entertainment. Right!?!

Note: We do not promote driving with kids on your lap as a safe alternative to a seat belts/car seats. We realize that any number of things could have happened to us resulting in injury and our grateful that none of us received any lasting affects beyond wanting to take candy and a cell phone on every road trip.

Jennifer Armstrong’s Website

What are some of you favorite road trip stories or books about fire?


  1. Lynn

    You guys crack me up. A few times my two cousins, mother, aunt, and I drove the 24 hour drive from Rhode Island to Florida without stopping. You think a car is big until you’re in it for 24 hours with three kids, cooler, etc.

  2. Cindy O'Neil

    Do you remember when we practiced home fire drills? One of the kids suggested we crawl down the stairs face first as that kept the head lower and more protected from smoke. So we tried it. Not very easy.

    Funny post. Some events in the past I would like to forget and the the engine problems and being towed with 7 kids and a dog was one I thought I had forgotten. The post reminded me of the unexpected adventures of being a mother. Now I can see the adventure from the point of view of two of the kids instead of just my own point of view.

  3. kim baise

    when we were kids we’d go camping in the mountains in our vw bus. one time we were having lunch at the fold-out table in the van and my dad bent over and accidentally pressed down the fire extinguisher. i remember laughing as the white powder foam was spraying all over the place…a blizzard!
    you guys are so much fun. love your posts and the hores book sounds like a good one for the visuals.

  4. kim baise

    oops!(correction) i made a booboo spelling…i really meant “horse!”


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