Home / Books / The Firework-Maker’s Daughter by Philip Pullman | Book Review

The Firework-Maker’s Daughter by Philip Pullman | Book Review

The art of story-telling is as old as humans and some of our best loved books are those written for children. Author Philip Pullman is well-known for his well-admired works including His Dark Materials series. While we have enjoyed the multiverse of this series, we also enjoy the relatively small books written by the author which tell interesting stories and are also illustrated, making them suitable for young children.

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And one of such books is The Firework-maker’s Daughter. Recently, we had a chance to revisit this magical little tale in form of 2018 edition, published by Puffin and illustrated by Peter Bailey.

Book Cover:

Let us take a look at the cover page of this book.

The Firework-maker's daughter by Philip Pullman - Book cover

The Firework-maker’s daughter by Philip Pullman – Book cover

The cover page of this book appears to be fun-filled and energetic at first glance, especially if you like vintage book covers. The latest version (Kindle Edition) has a more interesting and appealing cover page for sure.

Through the illustration made using minimal resources, the cover page tries to cover the core theme of the book. Be it the illustration of a person or of a smoke vomiting structure, they are related to the story.

I found it quite interesting and faithful to the story, simple but not eye-catching cover page.


Lalchand is a firework-maker and now the sole parent of infant daughter Lila. She grows up in the workshop playing with the fire and learning how to make fireworks. All along the way, she has been experimenting and making new ones, and so in her heart she knows she is going to be a firework-maker when she grows up. But her father has very different views from Lila.

Lila’s friend Chulak looks after the king’s white elephant. Named Hamlet, this elephant can talk and is generally sent out to townsfolk by the king as a punishment. Chulak and Hamlet are planning to run away. And when Lila tells Chulak about his plans, he tricks Lalchand into telling him the secret of beoming a firework-maker.

And so Lila starts a journey toward the volcano at Mount Merapi, to meet fire-fiend Razvani and get the Royal Sulphur. Only, she does not know that she must have the three gifts or the gourd of magical water. On the way, she meets Rambashi and his mates and eventually makes it to the fire-pits.

Back in the city, Lalchand sends Chulak and Hamlet to help Lila. But, the king sentences him to death once he is told that Lalchand helped in escape of the precious white elephant.

Will Lila survive the fire-walk? Would Lalchand’s life be lost in the city? What will happen to Chulak and Hamlet?

Views and Reviews:

You know the book is going to be enjoyable with an opening line like this:

A thousand miles ago, in a country east of the jungle and south of the mountains, there lived a Firework-maker called Lalchand and his daughter Lila.

Written in style of classic fables, with just a little twist, that becomes apparent as the narrative evolves. The book is written with short, simple, sentences and features clear events, but with little reminders and threads of magic and adventure. For example, the author uses the classic White Elephant in the story to create a lovable Hamlet that talks:

Now the King of that country owned a White Elephant. It was the custom that whenever the King wanted to punish one of his courtiers, he would send him the White Elephant as a present, and the expense of looking after the animal would ruin the poor man; because the White Elephant had to sleep between silk sheets (enormous ones), and eat mango-flavoured Turkish Delights (tons of it), and have his tusks covered in gold leaf every morning. When the courtier had no money left at all, the White Elephant would be returned to the King, ready for his next victim.

As you can see, the exaggerations of imaginations become entertaining. I could visualise the author telling the story to a wide-eyed young audience, as I read the book.

Although Lalchand and Lila are Indian sounding names, the illustrations put them in Asia with the iconic triangular hats and Chinese looking garments. Lila makes little dragons through her fireworks and city has both prawn and batic sellers on its streets. The kingdom has elements from Asia as well as West and the display of fireworks sees an eclectic mix of artists:

The invited Firework-makers arrived the very next day, together with all the other famous artists and performers: the Chinese Scout and Guide Opera Company, Senor Archibaldo Gomez and his Filipino Mambo Orchestra, the Norwegian National Comedy Cowbell Players, and many others.

The first Firework-Maker was Dr Puffenflasch from Heidelberg. The second visiting Firework-Maker was Signor Scorcini from Naples. The third Firework-Maker was Colonel Sam Sparkington from Chicago.

And the book has quite a few humourous elements. You couldn’t help but laugh at how young Chulak turns the broad, white back of Hamlet into a moving billboard. Or the antics of Rambashi who is trying one thing after another – from keeping hens, to piracy, to restaurants to singing bands…His description is also a good mish-mash of cultures:

He was the stoutest man in the group, wore an ostrich plume nodding in his turban, an enormous black moustache, and a tartan sarong.

The readers will love Lila as she realises her dream of becoming a Firework-maker and finding her place in life. And amidst the laughter and the adventures, Philip Pullman also weaves the life lessons:

Fire burns away all our illusions. The world itself is all illusion. Everything that flickers like a flame for a moment, and then vanishes. The only thing that lasts is change itself.

The illustrations by Peter Bailey are peppered throughout the book and capture the whimsical, eclectic mix of the background and characters are are really enjoyable.


An entertaining, magical fable for young readers that will be very suitable to read aloud and share sparkles while the firecrackers light up this Diwali…

ThinkerViews Rating:

Around 8 stars out of 10.

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