<B>A touching tribute to America's heroes</B> Perhaps in the future when we look up bravery in the dictionary, it will say, 'see New York firefighters." One thing is certain, after the events of Sept. 11, none of us will ever look at firefighters the same way again. Survivors of the tragedy speak with deep reverence of passing firemen on the stairs, men who were headed toward danger instead of running away from it, intent on saving lives without any regard for their own safety. Those who serve as firefighters and risk their lives to save others have always been counted among our heroes, but the brave deeds of the New York firefighters have lifted them above the norm and into the realms of mythology.

In <B>New York's Bravest</B>, author Mary Pope Osborne pays homage to these men in a fictionalized version of the life of a legendary New York firefighter. When it comes to children's books, Osborne, author of the popular Magic Tree House series, is no novice. She skillfully weaves actual events into her tall tale to create a touching tribute. <B>New York's Bravest</B> is dedicated, To the memory of the 343 New York City firefighters who gave their lives to save others on September 11, 2001." Osborne's hero, Mose Humphreys, is to firefighters what Paul Bunyan is to lumberjacks. In 1848, according to Osborne's historical notes, a character loosely based on the real-life firefighter began appearing on the Broadway stage, performing larger-than-life heroic acts. Soon, stories about Mose turned up in newspapers, books and plays and through the years the legend grew until it took on mythic proportions. When others ran away from danger, Mose ran toward it," the author notes in an eerie reminder of 9/11. Described as eight feet tall with flaming red hair, hands as big as Virginia hams and arms so strong he could swim the Hudson River in two strokes the Mose in <B>Bravest</B> is indeed a powerful figure.

The large format design of the book along with the different views and angles of the bold paintings add to the illusions of size and perspective required for this tall tale. On one page, artists Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher portray Mose from street level so he looms overhead and practically leaps off the page as he hits the cobblestone street in a dead run headed for a burning building. In another scene, Mose lifts a stuck trolley, filled with people, that blocks his way to a fire.

On the next page, Mose is high on a ladder, using an ax to hack his way into a blazing tenement building window while a woman screams, My baby's in there!" He enters the building and moments later reappears and starts down the ladder just as it catches fire. Mose leaps through the air, lands on his feet and then reaches into his stovepipe hat and pulls out the baby.

For his many heroic acts, Mose is rewarded with gifts of food and drink. A double-spread depicts him seated at a table surrounded by food, eating from a mountainous bowl of beans and eggs while a young woman plies him with pies.

For years Mose does his duty, putting out fires all over town. When a hotel fire near the Hudson rages out of control, he is on the job. All night Mose runs in and out of the building, rescuing guests and employees. The hotel is destroyed, but all the people are saved. As the sun comes up, the firefighters look around for Mose, but he is nowhere to be found. They stare at the burned-out hotel and grow silent.

Mose was never seen again.

But it was hard for the firefighters to believe that Mose was really gone and many rumors sprang up Mose was in California mining for gold or driving a mule team in the Dakotas. In the end, the words of an old-timer help the other firefighters cope with their loss. Mose ain't any of those places," he said. Truth is, Mose is right here. Wherever we climb our ladders toward a blazing sky, he climbs with us. That firefighter he'll never leave us. He's the very spirit of New York City." And so he is.

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