Land of fire near the continent of ice


My son wiped the sleepiness from his eyes one recent morning and replaced it with a pensive gaze.

"So, Mommy, why would they call an island off the tip of South America 'The Land of Fire' when it's so close to Antarctica? It should be called 'The Land of Ice.'"

I took another sip of coffee and wondered what prompted this question.

Before I had a chance to ask, he provided an explanation.

"I was reading 'Clipper Ship' last night. The people took a trip around South America to get to California where they could hunt for gold. On the way there, they passed an island that in some other language - I think it's Spanish - means 'The Land of Fire.'"

(Got a globe? You can find Tierra Del Fuego near Cape Horn.)

We looked on Washington County Free Library's Web site,, for other titles by the author, Thomas P. Lewis.


One of his books, "Hill of Fire," is about the birth of a volcano in a poor Mexican farmer's field.

Volcano? Bingo.

"I would imagine that there are volcanoes on Tierra Del Fuego, dear," I said, watching the grin spread across his face.

Then we looked at the book's jacket and learned that Lewis lives in White Plains, N.Y.

On a whim, I said I'd try to call the author, talk to him about the book and ask if our hunch was correct.

I have to admit that after my son walked away, I wasn't very hopeful. I didn't know if the author would return my call. I didn't know if he had moved. The book was written in the early 1970s. I didn't know how old the author was when he wrote the book ... or if he was still alive.

I could check a geography book to see if the island is home to a volcano, but I made a promise to my son and thought it might be fun to talk to the author if I could reach him.

Through directory assistance, I got the phone number for a Thomas Lewis living in White Plains.

I called and got his answering machine. His message mentioned a writing group, so I was hopeful that this was the correct person.

But when he didn't return my call for several days, I almost forgot about my son's question.

Then, one day I came home and there was a message from Mr. Lewis on my answering machine.

I called him back. What a delightful conversation we had.

Even though he has never been to Tierra Del Fuego, he's heard it's a quite intriguing place.

And, yes, there is volcanic activity there, which explains the island's name.

"I seem to be drawn to volcanoes for some reason," says Lewis, 66.

He has presented programs in schools after kids have read his books. They usually do projects to coordinate with what they've read, he said.

One that stands out in his mind was a paper cone volcano. A small light source and a piece of dry ice in water was placed under a construction paper cone. The light made the cone appear hot and the dry ice produce smoke, giving the impression that the volcano was about to erupt.

Lewis suggested talking to a teacher for other volcano project suggestions.

Here's one recommended by Jeanne Ecton, a mentor resource teacher for Washington County Public Schools:

Build a cone of sand and make a hole in the top of the cone. Pour some baking soda and vinegar into the hole to simulate volcanic action.

Once I told my son about that, he had to try it in his sandbox.

I think we went through half of a box of baking soda and a half quart of vinegar. ( I have to admit ... it was a lot of fun seeing the reaction of those two substances and the reaction on my kids' faces as they watched the bubbly mixture ooze down the cone.)

When baking soda is mixed with vinegar it produces carbon dioxide gas, according to "Janice VanCleave's Volcanoes: Mind-boggling Experiments You Can Turn into Science Fair Projects."

As the gas forms, it expands, creating bubbles.

VanCleave recommends adding flour and red food coloring to simulate the foamy magma in an active volcanic eruption.

Guess that will be this weekend's project.

Both "Clipper Ship" and "Hill of Fire" are part of the Harper Group "I Can Read" series.

While some of the characters are fictitious, the events are historical.

Lewis is now working on his first group of novels for adults.

Perhaps the setting will include a volcano.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page.

The Herald-Mail Articles