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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.

10 thoughts on “When my country is on fire

  1. Love this, Lian!! Well said. 🙂

    1. Lian Tanner says:

      Thanks Sheryl!

  2. Elizabeth Ann Edwards says:

    I absolutely love this Lian. Everything you said is true. I don’t know where wonderful writers like you pull from to write the magic that you do to lift us all back to a place where we can think, and dream and begin to find the hope that will give us all the strength to come together to make a difference in this mess. But I’m so glad that you do, thank you.

    1. Lian Tanner says:

      Thank you for such a lovely comment, Elizabeth. I find it’s all too easy at the moment to believe that only pragmatic actions matter, and to think of what I do as frivolous. But yes, we need the dreams and the hope, to give us the strength.

  3. Ellie Royce says:

    Thank you for this, Lian. The same thoughts have been in my mind and I felt a bit despairing. I’m feeling even more dedicated to creating the best Kidlit I can now!

    1. Lian Tanner says:

      You’re very welcome, Ellie. It’s hard to overcome the despair sometimes, isn’t it. But I think art in all its forms must be a part of our fight against the destruction of our world. Keep writing!

  4. Wendy Orr says:

    Not just beautifully said, but essential. We need stories more than ever when times are hard, and we as authors need to remember that.

    1. Lian Tanner says:

      Thanks Wendy. Without stories, where would we be?

  5. Maggie says:

    Well said Lian. Totally agree. 😊

    1. Lian Tanner says:

      Thanks Maggie!

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