‘Drought’ is one of four books in the series, ‘Natural Disaster Picture Books’ created by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley. This title captures the impact of the Australian drought on people and the land. Presented solely in verse, the rhythm, rhyme and imagery captivate the reader and evoke strong emotional responses especially when read aloud and shared with a group.
The endpapers set the scene with a dry, parched and cracked landscape empty of life. A first person narrator invites the reader to share a personal experience with the drought. The plight of animals is described vividly as ‘thin-ribbed wombats’ and sheep that ‘stagger.’ Bruce Whatley’s double page spreads offer haunting animal skeletons scattered across the landscape, trees that wither and leaves that ‘crunched like cornflakes.’ The art is realistic, yet also symbolic in the choice of images and colours.
Words and images together portray a land that is suffering. A particularly potent illustration reveals the parched landscape from above with Whatley’s signature technique of dribbling acrylic wash off the page with soft touches of grey graphite pencil. There is an emotional image featuring a double page with trucks wending their way along the road carrying hay, fruitcakes and grains to aid those suffering from the drought. The best gift of all arrives when ’purple castles fierce and vast, bring rain at last.’ The illustrations capture all these emotional moments so astutely that readers will sign with relief when rain finally arrives. A following page reveals greenery sprouting again amongst the dry, parched land with this timid greenery appearing in the final endpapers too. A final page shows a young girl ecstatic with joy – ‘at last, I’ll have a bath.’
The creators include notes at the back of the book in which Bruce Whatley discusses both the beauty and the brutality of drought while Jackie French describes her personal experiences with Australian droughts.
The ‘Natural Disaster Picture Books’ is a series of four books written by Jackie French and illustrated by Bruce Whatley which includes: ‘Flood’ (Scholastic 2011), ‘Drought’ (Scholastic 2011), ‘Fire’ (Scholastic 2014); and ‘Cyclone’ (Scholastic 2016).