Teacher's Guide for
Corey's Fire
by Lee Wardlaw

About the Book:
Corey stared in disbelief at the charred wasteland. Everything was gone – destroyed by the firestorm that turned her neighborhood to blackened ash. The loss was devastating – but for Corey, the loneliness was worse. Everyone was too busy trying to put life back together to understand her problems . . . everyone except the one person she thought was too tough to care about anything.

“[Wardlaw’s] unflinching realism in describing the fire and its aftermath adds sizzle to an already appealing romance.”  
                                                                         - Publisher’s Weekly

An IRA/CBC Children’s Choice Book
An ALA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers Book
A California Collections Book
A Recording for the Blind Book

About the Author:
Lee Wardlaw is the author of 25 award-winning books for children and young adults.  Corey’s Fire is based on personal experience:  Lee’s family home and the neighborhood where she grew up were destroyed in a Santa Barbara brush fire. To learn more about Lee and her books, visit her website at www.leewardlaw.com

Share the title and allow students to predict its possible meanings. Show the cover, encouraging students to study the photograph.  Ask them to make further predictions about the title, main character, setting, and the story.

Discussion Guide:
Who are the most important people in Corey’s life? How does she get along with them? Is this typical for a teenager? Why or why not?

  1. Describe Topher. How does Corey feel about him? Why? Would you like him for a neighbor yourself, or not?
  2. Describe Topher. How does Corey feel about him? Why? Would you like him for a neighbor yourself, or not?
  3. Would you describe Ericka as a great best friend to Corey? Why or why not? What qualifies a friend to “best” status? Do guys make this distinction with friends or not?
  4. How does the fire reach Corey’s house so quickly? What are the Santa Ana winds? Is escape possible? How?
  5. The individual members of Corey’s family react quite differently to the tragic fire. How does this cause conflict where a functional family once existed? How can one event change a family so fundamentally? Can you think of other examples where this could happen?
  6. Whose reaction is the most difficult for Corey to accept? Do you think her brother is being fair? Are people who are put in such extraordinary circumstances usually fair?
  7. How does Corey react when she learns about Ericka’s home? What would be the most difficult loss if your own home burned?
  8. When Topher takes Corey to the canyon for the first time after the fire, what does she learn about him? At this point, what predictions would you make about Topher’s past? Would he be a good risk for friendship (or possibly more) or not? Why?
  9. Do you think Ericka should still host a party so soon after the fire? What are the arguments for having it? What are those against it? With whom do you agree?
  10. What decision do her parents make without asking Corey’s   opinion? How would you feel in this situation? Is she right to still be hopeful about Jabberwocky?
  11. How has Topher tried to deal with his huge loss? Why do you think some people are able to accept loss and change while others don’t want to face it? Which one are you? Can those who hate change learn to accept it?
  12. After the fire, do you think Ericka is being an especially good friend to Corey or not? Why? How could she show her concern? What happens between them at the costume party?
  13. How was the published article in the newspaper not what Corey expected it to be? Do journalists often use this tactic for their subjects? Why?
  14.  What does Topher try to get Corey to understand? How does Topher’s own story end up reflecting hers? How do they inspire different behaviors in each other?
  15. Describe what Corey does to show her parents her commitment to living in the canyon again. Would your parents be impressed by this action? Is it fair for Corey to put this pressure on her parents or not?

After Reading:

Ask the students:  What is an epilogue?  What is its purpose in a story?  Why do you think the author added an epilogue in Corey’s Fire?

What does Corey mean in the last line of the book when she says that she “likes the sound of change”? 

What has Corey learned about herself – and her friends and family – at the end of this book?  Has she made an significant changes?  Have her experiences or changes affected you?  How?

Read About the Author page at the end of the book.  Lee Wardlaw has said that Corey’s Fire is based on true events.  What parts of the novel do you think really happened to Lee and her family?  What parts do you think the author made up?  Think about and discuss why an author might need to make significant changes in a fictionalized retelling of a true story.

Across the Curriculum:

Language Arts
As you read the novel, keep a journal as if you are one of the characters in the book. Try to see each event as that character would. You must write at least ten entries over the course of the book and they should prove your understanding and comprehension of the novel.

Think about what Corey took with her when she had only a few minutes to evacuate her house.  If you were in a similar position, what things would you take with you, and why?  Would you make a different decision if you knew you might never see your home again? What possessions would be the hardest for you to lose in a fire or flood? Which ones would be irreplaceable?  Which have the most emotional value to you and your family, and why?

Ask students to imagine what it would be like to lose their home and all their belongings.  Have them brainstorm what essentials they would need to immediately to get through the first few days after a disaster.  (Examples:  underwear, pajamas, day clothes; toiletries such as toothbrush and toothpaste, soap, shampoo, comb and brush; food for themselves and their pets; a temporary place to live, such as a motel, campground, apartment, etc.).  Have them price these items.  Next, have them discuss what items they would need in order to set up an entirely new household (apartment/house rental, kitchen supplies, furniture, clothing, food, etc.).  Using the local newspaper, catalogs, the internet, etc., have them research the cost of these necessities and prepare a budget for a family of four for six months. Discuss the economic and social impact of disasters such as this (ie; fires, hurricanes, tsunamis) on families and communities. 

Natural History/Science
Have students research the natural causes of wildfires in different parts of the United States and/or around the world.  Note key similarities and differences in climate, vegetation, terrain, etc.  What positive and negative effects do wildfires have on the soil, vegetation and animal life?  How have certain plants and animals evolved to survive in high-fire areas?  (For example, some seeds are stimulated to grow by smoke, ash or heat caused by fires.)  What technological advances have been made in firefighting in the last 100 years?  200 years?

Create a website, pamphlet or poster concerning some aspect of fire that you’d like to study.  (Clear the specific project with your teacher before you begin.  Possible topics: Fire safety, elements needed for fire, Sequoia trees, slash and burn agriculture, etc.

Create an I-pod play-list for Corey, Topher or Ericka that you think best represents their personalities and/or their story. Explain your choices in a brief journal.

With a partner or small group write a reader’s theater script for one of the scenes in the book. Act it out for your class and have the other members of the class rate your performances on a scale of 1-10.

Character study:
One of the ways a reader gets to know a character is through the things that they say. Find a quote for each of the characters in the novel that you think best represents who they are. Fill in the chart, below:










This guide was created by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, with additions by Lee Wardlaw.  Tracie is a reading specialist and author of Reaching for Sun from Bloomsbury. Visit her website to find dozens of other guides to children’s literature.