Books for while the smoke lingers

Smoke Sunrise December 2019
Smokey Sunrise December 2019

Our house is safe from fire.

We breathe the smoke sent from the behemoth Gospers Mountain fire to the east and the collective dragon that rages on the south coast of New South Wales. When the wind comes from the west, we choke on dust lifted from a parched and bare earth. Our country is screaming to get our collective attention. Drought and bushfire preoccupying our waking thoughts. Summer 2020.

The television is dominated not by the sound of leather on willow but the crackle and roar of fire. Insatiable. Unstoppable. My boys have a daily ritual that involves ‘playing firefighting’. DSX’s Christmas Lego helicopter has been commandeered to carry a water bucket and dump water or retardant on the upturned blue kiddie lounge, now dubbed, the Blue Mountains. While DSS has his trusty fire engine rushing to the Green and Pink Mountains (the couch cushions are never where they’re meant to be) as they erupt in flames.

Then swooping in is the Lego helicopter, collecting and evacuating the many mini-figures who need to be safe. A couple of police vehicles are patrolling road blocks in the hallway, a vet triage station for Ted’s and toys who need patching up and a ‘pay it forward’ snack centre supplying food and drink on the kitchen island bench. The boys using play to make sense of the carnage that they only have a glimpse of.

Underpinning all of the play, are the Helpers. There are always Helpers at times of adversity. There is always Kindness too. The kindnesses we will never hear about. Kindness will be there.

We live with a longer smouldering ‘fire’ that is drought. Undermining our livelihood like a disease, unstoppable under the current conditions. Rain and practical management solutions. Resilience all around us. Another story. Another day.

To make sense of the current bushfire, of course, we turn to books. Here is a short selection that we have read in the last month or so.

If you are anything like me, a sentimental oft times weepy softy, do a pre-read so you know what to expect.

Here are five that we have borrowed from the local library or found on Storybox Library and YouTube. Creating opportunities to talk as a family is important.

Fabish: The Horse that Braved a Bushfire by Neridah McMullin ill. Andrew McLean

As a horsey person, this story hit me “in the feels”. This is a beautifully illustrated picture book based on the true story of a heroic horse called Fabish, who saved a group of young horses during the Black Saturday bushfires.

In his racing days, he always tried (read, he wasn’t fast but was probably easy to have around the stables). When he retired, Fabish took care of the yearlings. About now, I’m thinking of Uncle Odie, that quiet gelding who gets put with the youngsters to teach them how to be horses in the pecking order. When the bushfires came the ‘trainer’ relied on Fabish to keep the yearlings safe while he took care of the racehorses at the stables. The writing is evocative and the illustrations are haunting. Often illustrations of horses can be cartoon-ish, not this time. Andrew McLean has channelled his inner Degas to suggest the movement of the horses.

A CBCA Shortlist book for 2017 and shortlisted for the Eve Pownall Award for Information Books

Teacher notes and teaching guide available on Scholastic Australia.

Fire by Jackie French ill. Bruce Whatley (2015)

What I love about Jackie French’s Flood and Fire is that they focus on not just the natural devastation but the kindnesses, friendships and regeneration of life after natural disaster. Fire is written in a rhyming couplet and before long I find myself almost singing the story. It is a moving and sensitive story of a natural disaster as seen through the eyes of a cockatoo.  The fire mercilessly engulfs homes and land, leaving a devastating path of destruction. But from the ruins, courage, kindness and new life grows. A quick google will find teacher resources, shared discussion prompts and artwork prompts.

CBCA The Picture Book Notable Book 2015

Through the Smoke by Phil Cummings ill. Andrew McLean (2019)

Through the Smoke was DSX’s pick for a Christmas story book. We love the language as the imaginary dragon wakes and its firey breath bears down on the adventuring trio who take refuge at Everdell. The courageous knights in yellow arrive to defend the keep and quieten the frightening beast once more.

The House on the Mountain by Ella Holcome ill. David Cox (2019)

Written after the Black Saturday bushfires, this is a story about an ordinary day that turned into anything but ordinary. It charts the story of a family who lose everything and their journey to recovery and rebuilding. For the adults there is a beautifully haunting One Plus One interview with the author that fleshes out the tragic backstory of this story Keep the tissues handy.

Available on Storybox Library and read courageously by the author.

Australian Geographic : Geography Series Floods and Bushfire (2019)

Part of the Australian Geographic curriculum based geography series aimed at grade 4-6 (but read as a shared text with DSX who is almost 7), this book looks at the two extreme weather events bushfire and flood, that have a significant impact on both the natural landscapes and communities here in Australia. This easily digested non-fiction book information for students to investigate occurrences of bushfire and flood in Australia, the results of such extreme weather and ways in which we can prevent or mitigate their occurrence

This is by no means an exhaustive collection simply a few books we have read lately to try to put context around what we are seeing on the television and smelling on the wind.

Most of all stay safe, talk to your kids.

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