A Fire Engine for Ruthie

Illustrated by Cyd Moore
Clarion Books, 2004

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Ruthie is visiting Nana, who has lots of toys for her to play with: dolls and paints and pretty dress-up clothes. But Ruthie wants to play with fire engines and trains and motorcycles, like Brian who lives up the street. Ruthie uses her imagination to try and make the toys at Nana’s house into the toys she longs for, and shows Nana how much fun it is for girls to play with cars and trucks and buses.

Fire Engine
A fire engine for Lesléa!
(Photo © Mary Vazquez)

Why I wrote this book

I have a young friend who, like Ruthie, loves to play with cars and motorcycles. Some people think only boys should play with toys like that. I wrote A Fire Engine for Ruthie because I think girls should play with whatever toys they think are fun. (And the same goes for boys!)


On the first day of Ruthie’s visit to her grandmother’s house, Ruthie and Nana walk to the grocery store to buy Ruthie’s favorite foods. On their way home, they pass Brian’s house. Ruthie shields her eyes from the sun to watch Brian playing on his front porch with a fire engine. A red fire engine with a black-and-white dog sitting up front and a silver ladder that slides up and down and a yellow hose to unwind and a siren that goes whee-ooh! whee-ooh! whee-ooh!

“Do you have a fire engine to play with at your house, Nana?” Ruthie asks.

“No,” says Nana, “but I have some beautiful dolls waiting at home for you.”

Nana opens an old trunk, takes out her dolls and sits them all around the kitchen table.

“Why don’t we have a tea party?” she asks Ruthie.

“Okay,” Ruthie says though she doesn’t really like tea parties.

Ruthie pretends to pour some tea for Nana. Then she twitches her nose in the air. “Do you smell smoke?” she asks Nana. “Fire! Fire!” Ruthie puts all the dolls into a cardboard box and pretends they’re racing across town to put out a fire…

© 2001 Lesléa Newman


“Newman’s latest recalls the Charlotte Zolotow classic, William’s Doll. Here, however, Newman shifts perspective, centering her story on a girl, Ruthie, and her grandmother, who tries to get her fire-truck-and-motorcycle-loving granddaughter excited about dolls and dress-up… Thankfully Nana eventually opens her eyes, realizing that, although she and Ruthie enjoy different activities, they can still have fun together. Like Zolotow’s William, Newman’s heroine remains true to herself, bolstered by the enduring love of family. A good choice for challenging gender stereotypes and creating a culture of acceptance.”