When my country is on fire
January 19th, 2020
When my country is on fire, is writing children’s books still a useful thing to do?
This is a question that has been puzzling me over the last couple of months. When Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia have faced fires fiercer and more destructive than anything we have ever seen; when other parts of the country are in a drought that has gone on for far too long; when climate change is well and truly here – isn’t telling stories a waste of time?
Sometimes, in moments of despair, I think it is. But in my heart I know that stories are more important than ever. Especially children’s stories.
Some picture books can speak to us directly about what’s happening. The House on the Mountain, by Ella Holcombe and David Cox, tells the story of a family experiencing a bushfire, its devastating aftermath, and the long process of healing and rebuilding.
My own picture book, Ella and the Ocean, illustrated by Jonathan Bentley, is about drought, resilience and the importance of holidays.
For older children, there’s what Deborah Abela calls her ‘cranky climate change trilogy’, which begins with Grimsdon.
Or Bren MacDibble’s beautiful How to Bee.
But of course there are a huge number of children’s books that are nothing to do with fire or drought or climate change. What about them? Are they a waste of time?
Far from it. When the world is so uncertain, both adults and children need books that make us laugh. We need books that will take us to places where there are dragons or wizards or multi-storey tree houses. We need books that will allow us to escape for a little while, and remind us of the power of imagination and the possibility of change.
Because imagination and change have suddenly become very important. And what better place to find them than in a children’s book? Between those pages, a mouse can outwit the dreadful gruffalo, an overprotected girl can become a warrior, a young witch and a monster can be friends, even when that seems impossible.
That’s what children’s books bring us; love, courage, laughter – and the power to change what is wrong. Right now we need such stories more than ever.