The Fire Within

Style: Good

Attitude: Unobjectionable

In Brief: Lightweight and quirky style. Slightly odd family situation. Easy acceptance of an outsider.

Cover of The Fire Within

Author: Chris d'Lacey

Publisher: Orchard

Published in: 2001

Age Range: Children

Period: Contemporary

Setting: English Town

Genres:  AnimalHumorousMagic


  • David, a student, becomes a part of the Pennykettle family when he takes lodgings with them, writing stories for 10-year-old Lucy and learning about their dragons.
  • Liz Pennykettle is a young single mother who takes in David as a lodger and treats him as her son.
  • Lucy Pennykettle is a 10-year-old who delights in the neighbourhood squirrels and who treats David, the student lodger, like a big brother.


David, a student, takes lodgings in the Pennykettle household, looked after by Liz, mother of 10-year-old Lucy. Mother and daughter treat him in a very natural way as one of the family, but keep from him the secret of the dragons whose pottery images are all round the house.

Lucy is concerned about the loss of the local squirrels, caused in part by the their neighbour Mr Bacon who cut down a large oak tree. David helps her try to find one squirrel in particular, who is blind in one eye and therefore more vulnerable, and writes her a story for her birthday concerning the squirrels.

Slowly, David comes to realise that there is something more than a little dragonish about Liz & Lucy themselves.


Literary Qualities: This book has a very lightweight, humorous and natural touch. You believe quite as readily in Lucy's easy acceptance of their new lodger and her impatience, as in Liz's motherly attitude towards him. While the story of the squirrels forms a natural foreground to a child-helps-nature story, the slight mystery of the dragons is left carefully unexplored, adding flavour without intruding on the main storyline.

Family Situation: Liz & Lucy live alone, before David arrives, but no explanation is given, unless it's the slightly mystical one which David surmises for himself.

David ran a thumb along the dragon's snout. “Erm, this might sound like a silly quyestino, but how is it possible to make him cry?”

“By not loving him,” said Lucy, as if it ought to be obvious.

“Imagine there's a spark inside him,” said Liz.

“If you love him, it will always stay lit,” beamed Lucy.

“To light it, you must give him a name,” said Liz.

“Something magic,” said Lucy. “Think of one — now!”

David had a think. “How about... Gadzooks?”

Lucy turned on her heels. “They like it!” she said, looking round the shelves.

“They do?” said David, raising an eyebrow. As far as he could tell there were no dragons doing backflips or flapping wings for joy.

Lucy nodded so fast her head looked in danger of coming right off. “Didn't you hear them going h—?”

“Gadzooks is a lovely name,” said Liz, giving Lucy a nudge with her shoulder. “It suits him very well. Now, tour over. Time we went downstairs, I think

Monday 4th August 2003