Sunday 18 May 2014


Fire by Jackie French, illustrations by Bruce Whatley (Scholastic Press)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-74283-817-5
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Jackie French and Bruce Whatley have once again produced a beautiful, evocative and powerful picture book where text and illustrations blend together creating a moving experience. Fire is a simple story, told in smooth rhyme, of a bushfire, hungry and intense, sweeping across the land. It speaks of the brave fire-fighters, the affected people and the cyclical nature of our earth.

The words used to tell the story are not only poetic and evocative, but they also create a build up in the intensity to match the flames. As the fire increases in power, short, sharp text controls the reading speed, increasing the urgency:

   Time to run, to try to flee
   Gulping smoke and singed debris.

Then, as the emergency lessens, so too, the text calms and softens:

    Riches are a loved one’s hand
    Safety from the flame-fed land.

The words themselves force you to slow down.

The illustrations are amazing. The way the fire has been captured, with flicks of paint adding to the swirling ash and dirtiness of the landscape, creates a tense atmosphere. Whatley’s illustrations capture emotions, the panic, the claustrophobia, choking fullness of the fire and the poignant grief and despair of the aftermath.
The ending, full of hope and regrowth, balances the story nicely. As does the cockatoo, through whose eyes we see the beginnings of the fire, and the beginnings of the recovery.

This story would be suitable for four year olds and older. The rhythm and the way it sounds when read out loud is very engaging and exciting. It is intense, but not scary and the language is easily accessible for them:

  Fire trucks, a barricade
  Arched hoses of the fire brigade
  Holding the red monster back
  Facing each high blazed attack.

For young and old, this picture book will encourage many important conversations - fire, living in the bush, and the cycles of nature, among others. I would encourage older children to read it too. Fire shows beautifully how poetry, words and images can create incredible emotion. And anyone who has been close to such an experience (and bushfires are not uncommon in Australia) will relate to this story.


  1. Are you up? It's 3.21am and I'm reading this in bed,unable to sleep...

  2. Hi Sue, If you can't sleep at least you can't go wrong with a Jackie French book!


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