The Boy in the Burning House


Tim Wynne-Jones

Number of Pages: 


Minimum grade level: 


Ruth Rose Fisher is probably the last person Jim would choose as a friend. Lately, ever since his father disappeared, Jim hasn't been much interested in friendship anyway. The police found Jim's dad's car in a clearing in the woods, with no sign of him. It was as if he'd vanished into thin air. That was two years ago, and Jim is still devastated.But now Ruth Rose Fisher, the stepdaughter of the local pastor, Father Fisher, keeps trying to talk to him. It's not her dyed-black hair, black lipstick, or nose ring that bother him, though. It's how she knows so much about his family. She knows about Jim's old hobby of jumping from one tree to another, like Tarzan. She knows what time his mom leaves for work every night. And it's the way she stares at him boldly. Ruth Rose gives him the creeps. Especially when she starts talking about how her stepdad, Father Fisher, is a murderer.Read the following passage on page 24 in the hardcover edition: "'Don't you want to hear who he murdered?' she said. Jim shook his head. 'No, thank you.' He started walking away, didn't look back...'I need your help, Jim.''You need somebody's help,' he muttered to himself. He glanced back to see if she'd heard. He had only walked twenty paces or so, but he could hardly see her. In her black clothing, she was lost in the shadow of the pine tree. Now that he had opened some distance between them, he felt a little sorry for her.'I'm sorry I can't help,' he shouted.'You will be,' she hollered back at him.He shuddered at the fury in her voice, but was far enough away by now to laugh to himself at her threat. He was heading down the hill toward the creek, which flowed by as sly as a rumor, when she called out to him again. He looked up and she was standing above him at the lip of the hill, silhouetted against the light--dark and mysterious like a cutout. 'Jim Hawkins,' she shouted, trying to catch her breath, 'Fisher killed your father.'"Is Ruth Rose as crazy as she seems, or could she be telling the truth? Read The Boy in the Burning House to find out.

Discussion questions

Spoiler alert! Some of the questions contain key elements of the plot. Do not read if you don't want to know what happens!

  1. Why do people think Ruth Rose is crazy? Have you ever met anyone like her?
  2. Describe Father Fisher. How do we learn about his true character?
  3. When does Jim first start to believe Ruth Rose's statements about her stepfather?
  4. What does Jim learn about his father while investigating his disappearance?
  5. Why did Jim's father tell him never to say he hated someone?
  6. Why does Jim's mom agree to let Ruth Rose stay for a while?
  7. Do you think Father Fisher's wife, Nancy, knew what he was like? Why or why not?
  8. Who do you think vandalized the Hawkins' house? Why?
  9. Why was Laverne blackmailing Father Fisher and Jim's dad? Was there a better way for her to avenge the death of her son?
  10. This book is set in Canada and written by a Canadian author. Were there any terms or slang words you were unfamiliar with? What were they?

If you liked this book try

  • The Killer's Cousin by Nancy Werlin
  • In the Middle of the Night by Robert Cormier
  • Twisted Summer by Willo Davis Roberts
  • Wolf Rider: A Tale of Terror by Avi

Created in part with funds granted by the Oregon State Library under the Library Services and Technology Act, administered by the Oregon State Library.