Ford Street, 2016
32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.95
“I began as a tiny spark in the dry grass. All I wanted was a friend.”
And soon enough a friend comes along. Wind. Together they play and as Wind whistles and picks him up, Spark begins to grow and fly. Skipping and sprinting through the bush, chasing animals and tickling trees, Spark is enjoying the power and wants to go faster, be bigger – and Wind is happy to oblige, So Spark grows ever larger feeding on the bush until…it is not fun anymore. But Wind will not stop and together they tear through forests, fly over rivers, raze homes and the clouds’ tears just sizzle on their back. Then, eventually, Wind hears Spark’s pleas and stops. Turns. And together they slink home through the destruction and devastation and end as they began.
Every Australian summer fire dragons race out of the bushland and across the grasslands consuming all in their path with their insatiable appetites. Not content with destroying the vegetation and the creatures that live within it, the dragons devour everything in their paths, totally indiscriminate of their diet and vanquished only when they meet a greater force of water or an opposing wind. They leave behind a smoking, desolate landscape and lives that will be forever shaped by their hungry tongues and never-full stomachs.
And as summer approaches every year, the one certainty that embraces this vast country is that somewhere, someone’s life will be affected by fire and that will include our children. Whether they and their homes are directly impacted or it’s the ominous curl of smoke or an orange glow on a distant horizon or a six-o’clock news report; whether it’s a local blaze or one that makes international news like those that raced through the Canberra region in 2003 or the Victorian Black Saturday fires of 2009, the tentacles of a fire reach far beyond its jaws.
Like those children, the author’s life has been touched and tinged by the dragon and from that experience in 1983 when the Ash Wednesday fires devoured so much of south-eastern Australia has come this remarkable picture book that tells the story from the fire’s point of view. Through personification, a first-person perspective and superb illustrations that give life to the text as Wind did to Spark, Wallace and Plant bring the fire to life – something that has no control over its journey or its destiny, focusing on the here and now rather than reflecting on the aftermath and the afterwards as most stories with such a focus do.
What we, as educators can do, is to take a step backwards rather than forwards and get our students to consider where did Spark come from. Was it born of lightning? Or an accident? Or deliberate?
Since the 1970s the risk of bushfires in Australia has increased and while ABS statistics suggest that lightning is the predominant cause particularly in remote areas, other sources say “Human-caused ignitions are by far the most prevalent” in more populous areas. Therefore as the bushfire season rapidly approaches and there is a greater fuel load as there has been above-average rainfall, this book would be the perfect springboard for a fire-awareness program with our students – how to prevent fires from starting and what to do if they threaten. Encourage them to bring up the need for a bushfire survival plan at the family dinner table, even for those who live in the city because as Canberra children can attest, being in a suburb is not necessarily a safety blanket.
This is a powerful book that will not only resonate with many readers but which can also play an important role in keeping those in our care safe.
Teachers’ notes are available.