There is much research about the importance of reading imaginative literature and also about exploring quality literary texts more deeply through other art forms. Literature (including picture books, fantasy, fairy tales, poems and realistic and historical fiction) affects our cognitive and emotional development – it enables us to further develop our knowledge of self, others and the world more broadly. Understanding the world and the experiences and perspectives of others through reading fosters the development of empathy and compassion and helps us explore possibilities beyond our own particular contexts. While we bring our own life experiences to narrative, at the same time the imaginary world of the story sheds light on the real world: the brain responds to fictional characters’ emotions and dilemmas as if they were actually happening (Nikolajeva, 2014).
We have started a list of quality Australian children’s and young adult literature below that we have read that specifically include the theme of bushfire and how it affects lives and communities. Several are based on the author’s own experiences. It is not an exhaustive list and we hope that others will add other suggestions over time.
These can be used with other art forms and we have also included an example of a drama unit developed to explore Fox.
John Nicholas Saunders | Professor Robyn Ewing AM
President, Drama Australia and Chair, National Advocates for Arts Education | Professor Emerita, University of Sydney
- Cummings, P. & McLean (2019) Through the smoke. Scholastic Australia
The fire awoke like a dragon. Its flames licked the sky, and smoke veiled the sun. With a hungry crackle and an angry hiss, the cruel beast circled, trapping them. Until, through the smoke, knights appeared. Through the Smoke tells the story of three kids, their imagination and a frightening fire in the Australian bush.
- French, J. & Whatley, B. (2015). Fire. Scholastic Australia
One small spark brought fire awake. Winding like a small black snake Fire flickered, fire crept. Flames snickered, bushfire leapt…
Inspired by the bushfires that have affected many Australians, Fire 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 path of destruction. But from the ruins, courage, kindness and new life grows. A beautiful and timely expression of the strength of the Australian spirit during times of adversity.
- McMullin, N. & McLean,A.(2016). Fabish. Allen & Unwin, Australia
Fabish was a handsome grey racehorse. In his racing days, he wasn’t the fastest horse, but he always tried his hardest. And when he retired, Fabish took care of the yearlings in a paddock far away from the training track. Fabish showed the flighty young horses what was expected of a racehorse. One hot summer day, a wild wind blew up and the yearlings were restless. Then Fabish smelled smoke. Fire was coming, fast. The trainer threw open the gate and said, ‘Go now!’ Fabish neighed to the young ones and they galloped away. All through the night, the fire raged and the trainer battled to save the racehorses in the stables.
But what would become of Fabish and the yearlings? Could he save them from the firestorm?
- Whiting, S. & Rawlins, D.(2019). the Firefighters. Walker Books, Sydney.
A lively picture book about firefighters – imaginary and real! Jack, Mia, the narrator and their teacher, Mrs Iverson, are pretending to be firefighters. They zoom through the playground in their pretend fire engines and save the imaginary Lulu’s Ice creamery from destruction. Just when they think their adventure is over, a real fire engine with real firefighters on board arrives for a surprise visit.
- Wild, M. & Brooks, R.(2000/2010) Fox. Allen & Unwin
Dog and Magpie are friends, but when Fox comes into the bush, everything changes.
This breathtaking story has won acclaim around the world: CBCA Picture Book of the Year; two Premiers’ literary awards; honours in Germany, Brazil, Japan; a shortlisting for the prestigious Kate Greenaway Medal in the UK, and more.
- D’Ath, J. (2019). 47 degrees. Penguin.
Twelve year old Zeelie wonders if they’re in danger when temperatures soar to 47 degrees one hot summer day. She hopes the nearby bushfires everyone’s talking about aren’t heading towards her family’s new home.
What will they do if the wind changes direction? What about their belongings and their beloved pets? And why haven’t her mum and brother returned from Melbourne? Nothing can prepare Zeelie for what’s to come.
(Based on the author’s own experiences in the Black Saturday bushfires)
- Cox, D. & Holcombe (2019). The house on the mountain. Allen & Unwin
A fire is coming: we need to move quickly. Mum and Dad start packing bags, grabbing woollen blankets, the first-aid kit, torches, and then the photo albums. Dad puts Ruby on her lead and ties her up near the back door. My chest feels hollow, like a birdcage.
This is the story of a family experiencing a bushfire, its devastating aftermath, and the long process of healing and rebuilding. Very moving.
- Gleeson, L. (1984). Eleanor-Elizabeth, Puffin
Eleanor is unhappy about the family’s move from their home in the cool mountain region to the western plains. There is a new school and new friends to make and there is also the discovery of the schoolhouse. This building on the family farm is where her grandmother did her lessons and hidden there she finds her grandmother Elizabeth’s diary.
- Murphy, S.(2019). My Australian Story: bushfire. Scholastic Australia
Amy is staying in Marysville with her grandmother to help her with some important home chores – it is bushfire season. Summer arrives, as do the fires. Dad is busy helping control the flames in bushfires that have started burning in Victoria. But it is early February 2009, and the Black Saturday bushfire is about to encircle Amy and her family, and teach Amy first-hand about tragedy and survival.
- Southall, I. (2013). Ash Road. Text Classics, Text Publishing Company, Australia
(with an introduction by Maurice Saxby)
It’s hot, dry and sweaty on Ash Road, where Graham, Harry and Wallace are getting their first taste of independence, camping, just the three of them. When they accidentally light a bushfire no one would have guessed how far it would go. All along Ash Road fathers go off to fight the fires and mothers help in the first aid centres. The children of Prescott are left alone, presumed safe, until it’s the fire itself that reaches them. These children are forced to face a major crisis with only each other and the two old men left in their care.