Fire by Jackie French

cover image

Ill. by Bruce Whatley. Scholastic, 2014. ISBN 9781742838173.
(Age: 4+) Recommended. Fire, Australian rural life, Volunteers.
The evocative water colour illustrations impel the reader to look carefully at every page, to steep in the atmosphere created, to ponder just how anything survives during a fire like this. Whatley has drawn a fire so intense the heat rises form the pages, the smoke and ash almost choke the reader, and the haze created, blinds. Any child reading the words and stepping into the fire will be under no illusion just how ferocious it can be. Several illustrated pages stand out, the page with the words, 'Oven's breath swallows the day', has an image of a shell of a house, its burning structure exposed and about to fall, and the page which begins with the words, 'Leaves are ash and trees are dust', has a stunning image of a burnt tree, the embers still glowing. Two amongst an array of shocking images, seen often on the television news, but rendered here with subtlety and emotional pull that surprises.
French's spare rhyming words tell of the passion of the fire, sweeping across all in its path, its unstoppable nature tempered by volunteers, and in the end, 'Good things will grow again'.
As with Flood, the French/Whatley combination that drew people's attentions to the work of the volunteers after the mammoth Brisbane floods in 2010, this book too, draws its strength from the sense of community, of family and volunteers, working together to contain this natural disaster which is part of Australia's summers.
Fran Knight