Drought by Jackie French

cover image

Ill. by Bruce Whatley. Scholastic, 2018. ISBN 9781743817599
(Age: 4+) Recommended. Themes: Drought, Outback, Sheep, Water. Bruce Whatley's recognisable colour wash and graphite pencil illustrations will entice readers into the domain he recreates, that of a land where no rain has fallen for several years. The parched outlook, dying sheep, withered trees, grassless plains, speak volumes as to the harshness of the lives of the people and animals who inhabit this world, reminding us that this is happening more often.
An older woman peers out at the barren hills, telling her granddaughter that droughts take their own time. Their garden is no longer watered, their showers reduced to a a few minutes with rank water, the sheep are sold so they can be fed, the crops have withered in the field, everyone is hoping for rain.
Jackie French talked to a group of children in outback New South Wales and it is their words she uses to create her couplets, pairs of rhyming lines, bringing closer a world far removed from most Australian children. The lines on each page show a different perspective of drought for these families, reliant on the rain for all their needs, unable as town and city kids, to turn on the mains water.
Her spare lines are splendidly illustrated by Whatley, his sympathy for the Australian landscape a standout in this picture book.
A homage to the collegiate spirit of Australians is given towards the end where truck loads of food, clothes and books are taken to the outback to be distributed to those in need. The image of the convoy of trucks, their headlights shining the path from the city to the bush, highlights the link between city and country.
The pictures could be a useful introduction to class work about the Australian weather and its climate, the disasters and triumphs, the iconic images that endear the Australian bush to us all, and how all of us are tied together during a disaster.
Fran Knight