Little Smokey / by Robert Neubecker

Little Smokey will be released August 6th 2019…

One of my favorite books as a child and a source of inspiration for Smokey was “The Little Engine That Could.” Like the little engine, Smokey isn’t quite ready to play in the majors. When my kids were little, they always wanted to help- whatever the task- painting a room, planting the garden- and they were told that they were too small. “I know I’m small, but I can help!” was the chorus, and that’s Little Smokeys wish too. And little Smokey gets her day…

I’d like to thank Katherine Harrison, my editor at Knopf for all of her insight into shaping this book- also our designer, Sarah Hokanson, who makes the words and pictures sing. Special thanks to Joe Zimmer, Deputy Director Idaho BLM (retired) and to Christine Schuldheisz, Public Affairs Specialist, United States Forest Service, Fire and Aviation Management; for their expertise and fact checking (airplanes can talk, you know.)

And of course to Linda Pratt, my wonderful agent, who believed in Smoky from the start.


I worked in watercolor most of my life- using it in combination with digital painting gives the art texture, luminosity, and depth. I spent a few weeks on vacation in Vermont and just painted trees- here are a few…

The original Bertha was white/chrome, but I mixed up the colors for better establishing character, and a whole lot of these firefighters are red.

Some scenes from the finished book showing the combo of watercolor and digital.

Some scenes from the finished book showing the combo of watercolor and digital.


That’s all for now. The first review is in from Kirkus;

The little spotter plane that could. Channeling old Disney shorts, Neubecker sets his tale among the aerial firefighters of the National Interagency Fire Center. When it comes to forest fires, the water-scooper and air-tanker planes have clearly defined jobs to do. One little plane, who hasn't even "earned her name" yet, yearns to help her companions, but her every attempt is denied. Then one day, a fire starts that can only be reached by someone small, fast, and brave, and the rest is history. The story of a little vehicle that could has been done before, but this book stands apart. Fully half the emergency planes featured are identified as female (including the biggest tanker and the titular heroine). Meanwhile, watercolor, pencil, and computer illustrations create thick evergreens engulfed in swirls of orange and red flames as white and gray smoke permeates the space that is left. So enthralling are these landscape scenes that they feel positively cinematic. Angled views often present the planes with just one eyeball instead of the two that are clearly present when seen face on, but this inconsistency is only mildly unnerving. Copious backmatter discusses how wildfires start, who fights them, who the crews are, what aerial firefighting is, what readers can do, and where readers can go for more wildfire information. This book may look like a classic, but with forest fires ever more frequent and intense, it's truly timely. (Picture book. 3-6)