Bruce Whatley’s illustrations for ‘Fire’ capture the essence of bushfires and their impact on the people and animals that withstand its onslaught. Complementing the art is Jackie French’s rhyming verse using a staccato rhythm that generates powerful images and captures the emotions especially when read aloud. Fire itself is personified with striking imagery such as ‘oven’s breathe swallows the day’ and ‘flames are laughing higher, higher.’ The opening scene features cool colours and alludes to the impending fire: ‘Hills bleached gold, a baked blue sky leaves lay limp in air sucked dry’. This illustration features a cockatoo perched on a tree limb and a house in the distance. The final page again features a bird, this time soaring through the sky, a house in the distance, alluding to the ongoing struggle between nature and people: ‘King fire has a short harsh reign Good things will grow again.’ Between these opening and closing pages, a bushfire rages across the landscape, a house and car alight, firefighters struggle to contain the fire, and families grieve for their loss.
The artwork captures both the beauty and devastation created by fire. The flicker of the flames, their rampaging blitz on the countryside are devastating to see. Each double page spread captures the savage nature of the fire, with the heat and flames burning and flickering, drawing the reader into the experience. The pages’ cream-coloured edges intensify the red-hot and yellow-orange heat, dirt, dust and particles flying through the air. The tragedy of bright yellow and orange glowing embers destroying a house and car capture the personal loss caused by fire. Together artist and author ensure the reader and viewer experience ‘Fire’ with all its power.
The creators include notes at the back of the book in which Bruce Whatley discusses his illustrative style for this book and Jackie French explores her personal experiences with fire including a plea for learning to live with bushfires.
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).