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Children's Fiction Self-esteem & Self-reliance


by (author) Philippa Dowding

Cormorant Books
Initial publish date
Feb 2021
Self-Esteem & Self-Reliance, Homelessness & Poverty, General
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Feb 2021
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Feb 2021
    List Price

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Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels

  • Age: 9 to 12
  • Grade: 4 to 7


Winner of the 2021 Governor General’s Literary Award for Young People’s Literature - Text
Firefly lived in the park across from her mother’s home. It was safer there. But after the bad night happens, and her baseball-bat-wielding mother is taken away, social services sends Firefly to live with her Aunt Gayle. She hardly knows Gayle, but discovers that she owns a costume shop.



Yes, Firefly might be suffering from PTSD, but she can get used to taking baths, sleeping on a bed again, and wearing as many costumes as she can to school.

But where is “home”? What is “family”? Who is Firefly, for that matter … and which costume is the real one?

About the author

Philippa wrote her first novel when she was nine. She burned it, then immediately wished she hadn’t. This unfortunate early episode made her realize that writing was a gift, and that all writing can be rescued from the fire, so to speak, with effort and hard work. Philippa was born in England, and came to Canada with her family in the mid-60s., settling in Oakville, Ontario. At university she studied English and Literature, first at the University of Western Ontario, then at the University of Toronto. She emerged with a Master of Arts degree, and a burning desire to write, which is why she became a professional copywriter. She worked through the 1990s as Senior Copywriter and Creative Manager for Maclean Hunter and Rogers Publishing. In 2000, she struck out on her own as a freelance copywriter, a job she continues to love today. Her clients include magazine publishers, fundraisers, advertising agencies, NGOs, movie producers, website owners and others. Her work has won several industry awards for magazines as varied as Maclean’s, Chatelaine, Today’s Parent and The Beaver.

Philippa Dowding's profile page


  • Nominated, Forest of Reading - Red Maple Award
  • Winner, Governor General's Literary Award for Young People's Literature - Text

Editorial Reviews

“This is a terrific read from an accomplished author.”

Monica Kulling, author of <i>Mary Anning's Curiosity</i>

“In this affecting novel, 13-year-old Firefly is sent to stay with a relative, after her mother gets taken into custody. Life with Aunt Gayle, who owns The Corseted Lady costume shop, offers a beacon of light out of the darkness of the “Bad Night.” Firefly’s compelling story unfolds through her indomitable and spirited first-person narration, and flashbacks revisit her troubled childhood of neglect and parental struggles with addiction. Aunt Gayle’s care and kindness wraps around Firefly like a comforting, hand-knit blanket. Being surrounded by steadfast support, along with seven million costumes in the shop, allows Firefly the opportunity to try on different identities and begin to discover her true self in the process.”

Linda Ludke, Collections Management Librarian, London Public Library

“I know Philippa Dowding is better known for her speculative fiction like Oculum, The Strange Gift of Gwendolyn Golden and Everton Miles is Stranger than Me but I think her first foray into realistic fiction has demonstrated that she has important messages to share and she doesn't need to dress them up in the fantastical. Reality can be just as powerful and colourful, even if stitched with anguish.”

CanLit for LittleCanadians

“In Firefly, Philippa Dowding presents serious topics such as homelessness and mental health in a way that fosters the readers’ compassion for the dramatis personae, thus allowing them to develop sympathy for the characters that are often vilified. The novel would be useful as a natural segue to the mental health literacy component of the curriculum for senior elementary students.”

Canadian Children's Book News

“With poetic prose, a memorable character and evocative settings, Philippa Dowding deftly handles challenging subjects in this emotionally honest story. Supported by a unique cast of characters, Firefly will shine for readers and resonate long after they close this quietly powerful book.”

Governor General's Literary Award Peer Assessment Committee: Aviaq Johnston, Karen Rivers, and Ken Setterington

Firefly was an enjoyable read filled with interesting characters, emotional moments, and mental health awareness and education. A realistic book that youth may easily relate to. Highly Recommended

CM Magazine

“The appeal of Firefly, like so much of Dowding’s work, isn’t limited to young readers. Her nuanced depiction of trauma, the search for identity, and the desire to define what ‘family’ means will resonate with readers of all ages.”

Open Book

“I believe the author provides readers who have had a hard life some comfort in knowing that others go through troubled times too and gives others a glimpse into harsh realities that some kids endure. The book is enlightening and invokes empathy in the reader.”

North Texas Mensa

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