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Children's Nonfiction Water Sports

Fire on the Water

The Red-hot Career of Superstar Rower Ned Hanlan

by (author) Wendy A. Lewis

James Lorimer & Company Ltd., Publishers
Initial publish date
Mar 2011
Water Sports, Post-Confederation (1867-), Emigration & Immigration
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Mar 2011
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Jun 2007
    List Price

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Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels

  • Age: 12 to 17
  • Grade: 4 to 6
  • Reading age: 12 to 17


How did the son of Irish immigrants outrow blueblood scullers from Oxford and Cambridge to become one of the most famous athletes of his time? Award-winning author Wendy A. Lewis recounts the compelling story of the "Boy in Blue," from his childhood on the Toronto Islands, where he rowed himself to school on the mainland every day, to laurels won around the world.

[Fry Reading Level - 3.8

About the author

Wendy A. Lewis was born in Ottawa but has spent most of her life near Leaskdale, Ontario, where one of her favourite authors, L. M. Montgomery, wrote many of her books. Wendy always knew she wanted to be a writer, and for years she wrote bits and pieces of stories. She also studied English Literature at the University of Toronto, worked as a tutor, a retail store owner, and in sales, marketing and public relations positions. Finally she realized that to get a story published, you have to finish writing it! So that's what she did.
She is the author of several stories and books used as classroom readers, as well as the picture book In Abby's Hands, and Graveyard Girl, a collection of stories for teens, which received the Canadian Authors' Association Vicky Metcalf Award for excellence in young adult short fiction. To get at the heart of her stories, Wendy has prowled through cemeteries, jumped out of airplanes and counted the eggs of a giant leatherback turtle in Costa Rica.
Sometimes Wendy gets ideas for stories from real events. One day, her daughter came home with a leopard frog she had named Cheetah. During the week that Cheetah lived with the family, Wendy could see how sad Amelia got when grown-ups kept asking "when are you taking the frog back to the pond?" That's how the chapter book, Cheetah, came to be written.
Wendy loves to visit schools and libraries to talk about the writing process and conduct creative writing workshops. She lives in Uxbridge, Ontario with her husband, two daughters, two teddy bear hamsters, a Rag Doll cat, a Betta fish, and occasionally, a visiting frog.


Wendy A. Lewis' profile page


  • Winner, Best Books for Kids & Teens - Canadian Children's Book Centre
  • Short-listed, Forest of Reading - Red Maple Award

Editorial Reviews

"Lewis skillfully uses quotations from contemporary newspapers to convey a sense of immediacy ... sporting enthusiasts will enjoy this book [that will open new areas of local history to residents of the Toronto area or anyone who wondered about the origin of local place names like Hanlan's Point and Ward's Island."

CM Magazine: Canadian Review of Materials

Librarian Reviews

Fire on the Water: The Red-Hot Career of Superstar Rower Ned Hanlan

Ned Hanlan was one of Canada’s first superstars. The story of his rise from fisherman’s son on Toronto Island to world champion rower is a lively one — full of anecdotes that reveal how a young man of spirited character, talent and determination navigated his way through the often corrupt world of international rowing.

It was his personal style that marked him, from his unique rowing technique, to the clowning antics he indulged in during races. Backed by a group of local businessmen, and benefitting from technical developments such as the sliding seat and the indoor rowing machine, Hanlan systematically beat the reigning sculling champions of Canada, the United States, England and finally Australia, winning over 300 races between 1880 and 1884.

It has been almost 30 years since the last biography of Ned Hanlan was published, and author Wendy A. Lewis puts a fresh and relevant spin on the story. Hanlan’s triumphs are brought to life through quotes from newspapers of the day, while textboxes throughout the book help to put the period into perspective for young readers. The description of Hanlan’s return from England in 1879, having effortlessly beaten their rowing champion, illustrates the extent of his fame: the fleet of welcoming boats as he reached Toronto Harbour was three miles long.

Fire on the Water is one of Lorimer’s Recordbooks, a hi-lo series on Canadian sports history. Reluctant teens and young readers alike may be surprised at just how compelling the story of this small but wiry champion is. Set in a time before even radio, much less television or the internet, it also offers a fascinating glimpse of the early days of celebrity media coverage.

Source: The Canadian Children's Bookcentre. Winter 2008. Vol.31 No.1.

Fire on the Water: The Red-hot Career of Superstar Rower Ned Hanlan (Recordbooks)

How did the son of Irish immigrants out-row blueblood scullers from Oxford and Cambridge to become one of the most famous athletes of his time? Author Wendy A. Lewis tells of the “Boy in Blue,” from his childhood on the Toronto Islands, where he rowed himself to school on the mainland daily, to laurels won around the world. Blackand- white photos included.

Source: The Canadian Children’s Book Centre. Best Books for Kids & Teens. 2008.

Other titles by Wendy A. Lewis