Friday 27 November 2020

The Fire Wombat

The Fire Wombat by Jackie French and Danny Snell (Harper Collins) ISBN: 978-1-4607-5933-2 RRP $19.99 HB

Reviewed by Nean McKenzie 

Following the horrific bushfires this Summer, The Fire Wombat is a lovely tale focusing on the animals and how they survive the ordeal. The story is told in rhyme from the perspective of a wombat, accompanied by engaging illustrations. To escape the fire, the animals all shelter underground, getting along for a change. Then they set off to look for food and water after the fire has passed and eventually find carrots and piped water supplied by the humans. Finally, the wombat returns home as rain helps the bush regenerate.

There were articles in newspapers during the bushfires at the start of this year, telling of wombats leading other animals to safety, then other articles saying this was made up. But it is a good story. I understand Jackie French lives very close to where the fires came and she describes herself on her website as an ‘honourary wombat’ so is eminently qualified to write this book.  Evocative lines in the story such as, ‘Other creatures woke and fled, Spurred by age-old pounding dread’ and ‘To ancient tunnels cool and deep, Where even bushfire’s breath can’t creep’ give a great appreciation of how it feels to be in the path of an inferno.

A highlight for me were the illustrations by Danny Snell also illustrator (and author) of Seagull, illustrator of Ozzie goes to School and many other books.  There are appealing looking cockatoos, goannas and echidnas who all find places to go. And worried looking bandicoots and wallabies who follow the wombats to their burrows.  The Fire Wombat talks about the bushfires without dealing with the humans – until the pages near the end where there are pictures of people, organising fundraisers and boxes of carrots for the animals.

Bushfire is a scary thing for young children, but this story deals with the positives of it. The main character survives and helps other animals to. The people in the community band together to do something worthwhile. And then the bush recovers. While the bushfire ‘monster’ is a terrible thing, life goes on afterwards. This is a great message in a picture book for young children.

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