Jackie French’s notes at the back of the book reveal, ‘This is a true story except for the details.’ When soldiers returned from WW1, they brought with them the Spanish Flu. By 1920 many schools and businesses were closed. Those who were ill quarantined themselves. But people still needed to eat. Livestock and gardens needed attention. The woman who would one day become Jackie French’s Great-Grandma, together with a group of local children, spent their time helping others.
‘Pandemic’ is the story of how Jackie French’s Great-Grandma marshalled children in her community to deliver books, newspapers and magazines along with soup, fruit, eggs, milk and lemon barley water to those quarantined indoors. They formed an essential service to prevent the flu’s spread. Those inside were unable to care for their vegetable gardens and their cattle and sheep, but the children, under the guidance of Great-Grandma, filled this need too. This heart-warming story offers a message of compassion and kindness delivered in an era long ago. French’s choice of language adds another dimension to this story by personifying the Spanish Flu as ‘leaping from a stranger’s cough at a football match, sneaking through classrooms, lurking on doorhandles a sick person had touched.’
Bruce Whatley, artist for this book, was quarantined in an Adelaide hotel during this book’s production. He used what material he had – a ballpoint pen for lines and a limited number and colour range for his colour washes. This has resulted in a muted-toned palette dominated by colours of dusky rose, greys and creams. This limitation, along with Whatley’s soft line work, gently dripping edges and realistic figures bring these times, these people, and this situation, alive for the reader. The realistic artwork does not shy away from the grim wartime and those dealing with the pandemic, yet the illustrations offer the warmth of human endeavours to help those in need. The back endpapers offer a light tough by featuring Great-Grandma’s recipes for Banana Custard and Lemon Barley Water.
The Natural Disaster series is created by the team of Jackie French and Bruce Whatley. The series includes ‘Flood,’ ‘Fire,’ ’Cyclone,’ ‘Drought,’ ‘Pandemic’ and ‘Earthquake.’ These provide young people with ‘you are there’ insights into particular disasters in Australia. The series raises awareness of the impact of these times on people and the environment.