his is the story of Morris Bird III. He is a nine year old boy growing up in
Cleveland in 1944. I also grew up in Cleveland, (though I wasn't born until the 1960's), so I
was interested in reading this novel. The central event is the explosion in Greater Cleveland of
a set of natural gas storage tanks. The explosion is so powerful that it flattened an entire neighborhood.
I had never heard about this disaster before (though I certainly remember the Cuyahoga River catching on
fire in 1969! I asked my mom if she recalled the gas explosion in 1944, and she certainly did. It was a
huge story in the middle of World War II. It was such an enormous explosion that over
a hundred people were killed and hundreds more were injured.
Before the reader gets to the explosion and Morris' heroics, the novel introduces the Cleveland
neighborhood where events take place. Naturally, we learn all about Morris and his family. He has a six
year old sister named Sandra that he is responsible for walking to school. He thinks he is in love with
the girl next door. His best friend is a genius named Stanley Chaloupka. We also are introduced into a few
adults, such as the naughty nanny and the woman who wants to run away with the dentist.
Although Morris is a good hearted soul, he is not a saint. We learn that he will steal trifles
(comic books, candy) from the store. The central element of this story is Morris' plot to skip school and
travel to the new house of Stanley, who has just moved away. Since Stanley's new house is an epic 4 miles away,
Morris has to carefully gather supplies and plot the best course (using a map that he has "crooked" from the local
dimestore). Since Stanley now attends a different school, Morris has to use an unfamilar device called a telephone
to arrange his visit.
Four miles is a long way for an eleven year old to trek, but its much too far for a six year old.
Unfortunately, Morris' has intended to ditch his sister at school, but Sandra won't go along with his scheme and
threatens to ruin his carefully planned adventure. So Morris must improvise with a wagon.
The journey and the setbacks that Morris faces are used to show his character. So when the big
explosion hits, we understand why he acts as he does.
Overall this is an interesting book. I don't know if I would consider it a forgotten classic. The
hype for the book seems a bit much - comparing it to Tom Sawyer and Catcher in the Rye? No, it isn't close to that level. (I admit I am not a fan of Catcher in the Rye).
The Amazon reviews for this a full a wonderful blurbs, but I don't think this book merits that kind of praise.