Review of Underground Fire: Hope, Sacrifice, and Courage in the Cherry Mine Disaster

Underground Fire: Hope, Sacrifice, and Courage in the Cherry Mine DisasterUnderground Fire: Hope, Sacrifice, and Courage in the Cherry Mine Disaster
by Sally M. Walker
Intermediate, Middle School     Candlewick    224 pp.    g
10/22     978-1-5362-1240-2     $24.99
e-book ed.  978-1-5362-2470-2    $24.99

Cherry, a town in north-central Illinois, had seemingly sprung up overnight once several veins of coal were discovered; most residents were recent immigrants. Walker opens her solid account by providing background about mining, immigration, and coal before getting to the events of November 13, 1909, when the Cherry Mine fire started after kerosene from a torch began dripping onto bales of hay. While many miners escaped, a good number remained trapped, waiting to be rescued. The narrative splits at this point, alternating between the miners’ harrowing efforts to survive and the people waiting impatiently aboveground for news. Rescue efforts were complicated by the mine conditions: the temperature remained too hot, the air too poisonous, and embers smoldered, waiting to rekindle at any moment. Miraculously, a small group of men was rescued a week later, but the mine was then shut down for several months before the bodies of the dead could be recovered. While Walker draws attention to the corporate greed that led to unfair working conditions, including child labor, readers may also recognize some contemporary parallels to this story, including the rescue of thirty-three Chilean miners in 2010 (see Scott’s Buried Alive!, rev. 7/12) and twelve Thai boys and their soccer coach in 2018 (see Soontornvat’s All Thirteen , rev. 9/20). An assortment of maps, diagrams, and photographs accompanies the main text, while source notes, bibliography, and an index are appended.

From the September/October 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Jonathan Hunt
Jonathan Hunt is the coordinator of library media services at the San Diego County Office of Education.

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