Alight: A Story of Fire and Nature
CSIRO Publishing, 2023
32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99
Any of our students who experienced the devastation of the fire dragon that swallowed so much of this country during the summer of 2019-2020 is unlikely to want to pick up this book at first, because they don’t need the memories and they certainly do not believe that any good can come of such destruction.
But, perhaps this is the very book they need to help their healing process because it will help them understand that from what appears to be the death of the countryside, new life is being generated- in some cases, in species that have waited many years for just such an event.
Fire is a natural part of the Australian bush – a recurring phenomenon of the landscape. Since its creation lightning strikes have started fires, and for thousands and thousands of years, First Nations people have managed the environment through its judicious use, and the result is an eco-system that has adapted to cope either through developing survival strategies or recovery strategies. While this is all explained for mature, independent readers in the final pages of this new book from CSIRO Publishing, it is the gentle story that forms the bulk of the book that is just perfect for helping younger readers understand the dependence of fire to maintain a healthy, diverse landscape that nurtures and supports a wide variety of flora and fauna.
In this case, the fire is deliberately lit by experts in a planned burn, and its impact on plants like the Old Eucalypt, the Wallum Banksia, and the beautiful Christmas Bells as well as the Wallum Sedge Frog and the teeny antechinus is followed over the year as they shelter, survive and then thrive for having the flames go through, albeit at a more gentle, cooler pace than a raging fire dragon.. As usual, the text is perfectly pitched for the age group, the sensitive, positive approach is spot on and the illustrations not only life like but also in a soft palette and medium that will be unlikely to stir memories and anxiety.
As well as the explanation of the need for fire in the landscape there is also a comprehensive glossary that will extend the reader’s vocabulary as well as their understanding. As they look at the environment that is emerging as it recovers like the gum trees with their woolly leggings (technically known as epicormic sprouting) they will know that life will go on and Mother Nature is always in control.