Bushfire Books for Children

The 2019–2020 Australian bushfire season began early. Weeks turned to months and the fires expanded and intensified. Words like ‘catastrophic’ and ‘unprecedented’ peppered the media reports. The coverage was unremitting—television, radio, newspapers and social media. Constant updates; microscopic detail.

Some children were directly impacted by the fires. They lost relatives, homes, pets, treasured possessions, favourite places. Others were affected indirectly—disrupted holiday plans, cancelled activities, unrelenting smoke haze. Sometimes, the impact was felt internally, and manifested as anxiety, fear, lassitude, sadness.

Australian authors of children’s books have written about bushfires for many years, but particularly in the last decade following the 2009 Black Saturday fires in Victoria. These  books provide a way to open conversations with children who have been affected by the fires. There is comfort in knowing other children, even fictional ones, have experienced the same losses. And storybook children can offer new ways and words for exploring and comprehending the emotional and psychological impact of fires.

Here is a selection of some of those books about bushfires. The selection is separated into two categories—picture books and junior fiction—with the most recent publications listed first.


Image courtesy of the publisher.

The Bushfire Book: How To Be Aware and Prepare  / Polly Marsden (text); Chris Nixon (illus.) (2020)

Point of view: 1st and 2nd  person Ages: 5+

Author Polly Marsden tells Australian children ‘we are lucky to live here’, but acknowledges that the country experiences dangerous and extreme weather events. She offers facts to counteract fear. There is comfort in knowing that clever people, like meteorologists and firefighters and Indigenous rangers, keep a constant watch for fire. And children can play their part by learning ‘what to do if a bushfire is ever nearby’.

Marsden understands that, even with this blanket of adult protection and armed with practical tips for being pro-active, some children might still be scared. ‘That’s ok!’, she says – talk to someone about how you’re feeling.

Illustrator Chris Nixon’s colour palette uses calming Australian tones – sand and eucalyptus and coral – across a bold backdrop of black and ochre.

The Bushfire Book provides a practical and reassuring starting point for conversations about frightening fire events.

[* This title was published in late 2020 and added to my original post after publication.]

Cover image courtesy of the publisher.

The House on the Mountain / Ella Holcombe (text); David Cox (illus.) (2019)

Point of view: 3rd person (girl)     Ages: 7+

Author Ella Holcombe’s parents died in the 2009 Black Saturday fires in Victoria. In her picture book, Holcombe seeks to capture ‘something about continuity, about movement, about regrowth’. Told from a child’s perspective, The House on the Mountain captures the fear and confusion of both adults and children. It describes the noise of a bushfire and the silence after it passes; the experience of staying in a community evacuation centre; the displacement of relocation when a house is lost; and the ongoing, sometimes inexpressible trauma.

Teaching resources available via the Allen & Unwin website.

Cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Through the Smoke / Phil Cummings (text); Andrew McLean (illus.) (2019)

Point of view: 1st person (plural, 2 boys and one girl)     Ages: 4+

Through the Smoke tells the story of a fire through the lens of imaginative play. Three children play in the bush near farmland, creating a medieval world with mock swords at the ready. When a dragon (fire) appears, they take cover in their imagined kingdom of Everdell. Before long, knights (firefighters) arrive and quench the dragon’s fire with ‘sabres of silver water’ (hoses).

Cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Spark  / Adam Wallace (text); Andrew Plant (illus.) (2016)

Point of view: The fire     Ages: 6+

Fire is Spark’s narrator. ‘I began as a tiny spark all alone in the dry grass.’ The spark seems an innocuous thing until captured by the wind. ‘We tore through forests. We flew over rivers. We razed homes. The clouds cried.’

The book’s illustrations start small, grow in size, and subside again as the fire dies. The text is handwritten (by the illustrator, Andrew Plant) giving the words a lively presence on the page.

While suitable for lower and upper primary school children, this book could also be used with older age groups exploring concepts of design, visual language, point of view and anthropomorphising.

Teaching resources are available from the publisher, Ford St.

Cover image courtesy of the publisher.

The Bushfire Babies / Debra O’Halloran (text and illus.) (2016)

Point of view: 3rd person     Ages: 3–6

Four young animals—an echidna, an emu, a wallaby and a possum—are stranded by a bushfire. They team up to search for their mothers and to find food, water and shelter. The animals are rescued by a firefighter, cared for, and released into unburnt forest. In a reassuring ending, each animal finds its mother.

Three further picture books for very young children that feature the impact of bushfires on Australian fauna are Aleesah Darlison’s Mama and Hug (2016), Maryanne O’Flynn’s Polka Dot Float (2015), and Joanne Crawford and Grace Fielding’s Bilby and the Bushfire (2007). Bilby and the Bushfire is no longer in print, but it is available second hand and in some public libraries. It is worth seeking out for Fielding’s illustrations which combine traditional dot art with contemporary art styles.

One of Grace Fielding’s illustrations from Bilby and the Bushfire

Cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Fire / Jackie French (text); Bruce Whatley (illus.) (2013)

Point of view: 3rd person    Ages: 4+

Jackie French’s text in Fire takes the form of rhyming couplets. The writing is spare and lyrical, leaving room for readers to explore the emotional range of the story. Bruce Whatley’s illustrations, as always, immerse the reader in the heart of the story.

The narrative takes a ‘circle of life’ approach—as time passes after the fire, there is room for grief, friendship and regeneration.

Fire is part of French and Whatley’s Flood/Fire/Cyclone collaboration. Whatley notes on his website: ‘Fire is probably the hardest thing I have tried to paint as its shape constantly changes’.

One of Bruce Whatley’s illustrations from Fire.

Scholastic has teaching resources available for Fire. Enquire directly with the publisher, or key the following terms into a search engine to find a direct link: fire french whatley resources.


Cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Bushfire: A Story of Bravery and Survival / Sally Murphy (2019)

Point of view: 1st person (girl)     Ages 9+

Sally Murphy’s Bushfire is part of Scholastic’s My Australian Story collection, a series of carefully researched novels, each depicting ‘a young person living during an important event or time period in Australian history’. Bushfire’s setting is 2009, during Victoria’s Black Saturday bushfires.

Amy is staying with her grandmother in Marysville. Her older brother is in the UK on a gap year; her mother, a climate scientist, is travelling overseas for work; and her father is employed by Parks Victoria and volunteers as a firefighter. On the day of the bushfire, Amy and grandmother face the fire alone. Murphy includes detailed information on enacting a fire plan and preparing for evacuation. The book also includes historical notes, factual inserts, explanatory notes on climate change, and ‘Ten Ways to Fight Global Warming’.

Cover image courtesy of the publisher.

47 Degrees / Justin D’Ath (2019)

Point of view: 3rd person (girl)     Ages: 10+

Justin D’Ath’s  47 Degrees, like Sally Murphy’s Bushfire, is set during the 2009 Black Saturday fires. D’Ath’s own home was destroyed in those fires and much of his personal experience is channelled into his fictional narrative.

Zeelie is preparing to start Year 7 when the bushfire strikes. Zeelie’s mother and younger brother are in Melbourne and unable to return home. Zeelie and her father enact their fire plan and evacuate from Flowerdale to a community centre in Yea.

D’Ath effectively captures the challenges of caring for pets during a bushfire; the constant interactions with, and the kindness of, strangers; and Zeelie’s underlying sense of displacement and anxiety.

Teaching resources are available from the publisher, Penguin Australia.

Cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Where There’s Smoke / John Heffernan (2010, 2019)     

Point of view: 3rd person     Ages: 10+

Luke and his mother are escaping family violence and building a new life in a small, regional community. The fear of being discovered by Luke’s father (the perpetrator of the violence) is ever present, but then a new danger emerges—bushfire. Heffernan introduces a range of characters, from different age groups, ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds, to build a sense of community and relationship.

Heffernan’s story is particularly effective in conveying the way the community comes together to care for vulnerable people. The shock of a sudden fire is well realised, as is the resultant trauma.

Cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Now / Morris Gleitzman (2010)

Point of view: 1st person (girl)     Ages: 10+

In Now, Morris Gleitzman, picks up the story of Felix, the young Polish Jewish boy he introduced in the novels Once and Then. Now moves Felix’s story forward from his childhood in World War II Europe to his old age in the bush-covered ranges to Melbourne’s east.

Felix, now an octogenarian and retired surgeon, is sharing his home with his granddaughter Zelda. (Zelda’s parents are doctors working in Darfur.) Felix and Zelda share a close bond and their relationship is drawn with great detail and affection by Gleitzman.

When a bushfire strikes, Felix and Zelda fight off ember attacks and spot fires as best they can, but soon realise they can neither extinguish the flames nor escape to safety. They bunker down in a hole and survive the fire with the assistance of dampened blankets, the contents of Felix’s medical bag and a dose of good fortune.

Throughout the novel, memories of Felix’s wartime experiences are triggered by everyday occurrences and by the realities of living in extremis.

Now won a Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year Award in 2011 and was shortlisted for the Australian Book Industry Awards (Book of the Year for Older Children) and the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards (Children’s Fiction). In 2010, it was also shortlisted for the UK Guardian’s Children’s Fiction Prize.

Teaching resources are available from the publisher, Penguin Australia.

Cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Ash Road / Ivan Southall (1965, 2013)

Point of view: 3rd person     Ages: 12+

Ash Road was originally published when the grandparents of today’s children were children themselves. Its author, Ivan Southall, died over a decade ago. But, despite its sometimes dates language, Ash Road remains a classic for both children and older readers.

Three youths—all male, and itching to stretch their wings of independence—accidentally start a bushfire while camping. Southall explores the ramifications of the boys’ actions in their own lives and in the lives of those impacted by the fire. The character development is complex and sophisticated. Interior lives are fleshed out and emotional responses explored. Adult characters are realistically flawed. Across the generations, there is panic and meanness and desperation; but there is also courage and personal growth.

A compelling aspect of Ash Road for today’s readers is the scenario of being confronted by a bushfire without the communication back-up of mobile phones or social media or even ABC radio updates.

Ash Road won the Children’s Book of the Year Award from both the Children’s Book Council of Australia and the New York Times Book Review in 1966.

Teaching resources for Ash Road are available from Reading Australia.


There are many other Australian books with a bushfire theme. When searching Australian library catalogues for books about bushfires, use (separately) the subject terms Wildfires and Forest fires, in combination with Australia, and either Juvenile literature or Juvenile fiction.

Cover image courtesy of the publisher.

This blog post focuses on fictional works. A good starting point for those looking for non-fiction responses to bushfire is Neil Grant and David Williams’ From Kinglake to Kabul. First published in 2011, the book is an anthology of writing created by students from Kinglake, Victoria and Kabul, Afghanistan. Each of the student contributors has experienced tragedy, either in bushfire or war; each finds a way forward.

Published by Allen & Unwin, From Kinglake to Kabul is suitable for students in the early years of secondary school. Teaching resources are available via Allen & Unwin’s website.


  • All books referenced in this blog post were sighted at the National Library of Australia. One criterion for selection was that the books be easily accessible through public or school libraries, or available for purchase through bookstores or from the publisher. For this reason, some older and out-of-print books were excluded.
  • The Australian Psychological Society offers a range of information sheets to assist people recovering from bushfires. One sheet is specifically for ‘parents and carers looking after children who have been affected by bushfires’.

The final illustration in Jackie French and Bruce Whatley’s Fire. ‘And time itself defeats the pain As dry air thickens into rain.’

Words for Winter—Australian Children’s Books

Winter in Australia. What picture forms in your mind when you read those words? Beanie-clad children throwing snowballs? Chilly afternoons at the footy? Maybe you’re imagining a goanna hunt, or perhaps you’re thinking about an altogether different name for the cold season—Wurrgeng.

English-language children’s books with winter settings often feature seasonal motifs from the northern hemisphere. Think of C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: ‘It is winter in Narnia,’ said Mr. Tumnus, ‘and has been for ever so long …  always winter, but never Christmas’, or Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising which opens on mid-winter’s eve: ‘The Dark has its strongest power of all rising between now and the Twelfth Day. This is their preparing. Theirs is a cold strength, the winter feeds it.’

But winter in Australia doesn’t coincide with Christmas or the Twelfth Day, and it doesn’t always bring snow. How have Australian authors interpreted the season in their writing for children?

Here is a collection of Australian titles about, or set in, winter. There are picture books, junior fiction titles, books for readers in early adolescence, and poems.


Cover image courtesy of Allen & Unwin

The Snow Wombat /  Susannah Chambers (text); Mark Jackson (illus.) (2016)

Ages 3+

Wombat traverses a snowy landscape through Australia’s high country, encountering a variety of fauna and flora, en route to a warm, deep burrow. Lilting, sometimes rhyming, text; double-page, borderless illustrations.

Snow on the stockman’s hut.
Snow on the crows.

Snow on the woolllybutt.
Snow on my…

(Shortlisted for 2017 CBCA Book of the Year, Early Childhood)

Cover image courtesy of Stephen Michael King

A Bear and a Tree / Stephen Michael King (text and illus.) (2012; 2019)

Ages 3+

Ren is sad that her favourite tree has lost its leaves. Her friend, Bear, needs to hibernate, but keeps Ren company for a time before gathering some of the leaves he has collected for his winter bed and placing them on Ren’s favoured tree.

A Bear and a Tree was first published in 2012. It is no longer available as a separate book, but it is included in the 2019 release, The Puffin Book of Bedtime Stories.

Cover image courtesy of Penguin Random House

Snow Rabbit, Spring Rabbit: A Book of Changing Seasons / Il Sung Na (text and illus.) (2011)

Ages 3+

Although not created by an Australian author, I’m sneaking this one in because of its world-wide appeal. South Korean author/illustrator Il Sung Na traces the winter lives of land animals, sea creatures, and birds across different continents, and through a variety of  seascapes and landscapes. With minimal text, the reader follows creatures that hibernate, migrate, change layers (fur, feathers) for winter warmth, and search for food in inhospitable environments.

First published in Australia as A Book of Winter (2009) by Koala Books, it is now available through Penguin Random House as Snow Rabbit, Spring Rabbit: A Book of Changing Seasons.

(Selected for the Best of 2011 Children’s Books List by Kirkus Reviews)

Cover image courtesy of Little Pink Dog Books

Johnny’s Beard / Michelle Worthington (text), Katrin Dreiling (illus.) (2018)  

Ages 5+

Johnny’s beard is his pride and joy. One day, he meets some animals and birds afraid of freezing when the snow comes. Johnny offers a warm, safe haven in his splendiferous’ beard, but soon regrets his decision—the creatures stab and peck and poke. Johnny chops off his beard. The creatures snuggle into their hairy nest, and, come spring, Johnny sports a new whiskery adornment—a moustache.

(Shortlisted for 2019 Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year Awards, 5–8 years)

Cover image courtesy of OUP

Winnie and Wilbur in Winter / Valerie Thomas (text) and Korky Paul (illus.) (2016)

Ages 5+ (Series: Winne and Wilbur)

Although Valerie Thomas is an Australian author, Winnie and Wilbur in Winter has a distinctly northern hemisphere feel. Winnie, a witch, and her black cat, Wilbur, are  tired of winter so Winnie casts a spell and turns her immediate environment into summer. Her garden erupts—hibernating animals waken, spring flowers bloom and wither in the heat, neighbours crowd around seeking warmth. Winnie casts a new spell and returns to winter. With a good slug of hot chocolate and a serve of muffins, she decides that ‘Winter is lovely too’.

Cover image courtesy of Honeyant

Tracking and Hunting Ruumiya / Margaret James (text); Jesse Young (illus.) (2018)

Ages 5+

This book, part of the Reading Tracks series, was originally designed for ‘Indigenous learners, Middle School age and older’, but is also suitable for younger children.

The book opens:

It is winter in the Western Desert, real cold.
The land is dry and the grass is long.

A young girl, her older sister and their cousin set out on a goanna hunt. (The Luritja word for goanna is ‘Ruumiya’.)  ‘The goanna is sleeping because it is winter, and its body slows down in the cold.’ The family group catch a goanna, gut it, and cook it under hot coals. Later, they ‘light the long, dry grass … so it will burn down and clear the country’, enabling them to ‘see the goannas’ burrows better next time’.

Tracking and hunting Ruumiya was inspired by a hunting trip led by Elder Daisy Tjupamtarri Ward in her country near Warakurna in the Ngaanyatjarra Lands, Central Desert.

Cover image courtesy of Starfish Bay Publishing

Seed Magic / Natalie McKinnon (text); Margaret Tolland (illus.) (2018)

Ages 6+

A gentle spider shows Anxious Ant how seeds can be saved over winter and planted in the spring, thereby yielding new food for another season.

(Starfish Bay is due to publish The Wildlife Winter Games in late 2019: ‘Competing against each other in 10 winter sporting events are a selection of Arctic and Antarctic creatures that are experts on snow and ice.’)


The next three books take readers through one year’s complete seasonal cycle.

Cover image courtesy of Penguin Random House

All through the Year / Jane Godwin (text); Anna Walker  (illus.) (2010)

Ages 3+

It’s hard to go past any book with illustrator Anna Walker’s name on the cover, and Jane Godwin’s text uses rhyme effectively.

Teachers’ resources for this book are available via Reading Australia.

(Shortlisted for the 2011 Australian Book Industry Awards, Book of the Year for Younger Children)

Cover image courtesy of HarperCollins

The ABC Book of Seasons / Helen Martin and Judith Simpson (text); Cheryl Orsini (illus.)  ( 2014)

Ages 3+

A book for the very young. From an illustrated selection in the section on winter, children choose which clothes are most suited to cold weather.

(Shortlisted for the 2015 Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year Awards, 5–8 years)

Cover image courtesy of Allen & Unwin

Walking with the Seasons in Kakadu / Diane Lucas (text); Ken Searle (illus.)  (2005)

Ages 5–16

‘In the Gundjeihmi-speaking people’s land in Kakadu, there are six seasons in the year.’ The months of June, July and August fall in the season of Wurrgeng when the mornings are cool and the wind blows from the south-east. The creeks dry up, but the floodplains are rich with flowering waterlilies and visiting birds, insects and people. Freshwater crocodiles (gumugen) lay eggs, the blue quandong (yirrlalal) flowers and fruits, the kapok trees (andjed) lose their leaves, and the yams (angindjek and garrbaba) are ready to dig. This is a book to pore over and learn from.

Detailed teachers’ notes are available via Allen and Unwin.


Cover image courtesy of Penguin Random House

Goblin in the Snow / Victor Kelleher (text); Stephen Michael King (illus.) (2010, 2014)

Ages 6–7   73pp. (Series: Gibblewort the Goblin) Adventure

Gibblewort the goblin thinks he is headed for Austria but, at the last minute, the address label on his postbag is changed to ‘Snowy Mountains, Australia’. In his unexpected destination, Gibblewort encounters snow gums and brumbies and a wedge-tailed eagle. His adventures continue when he inadvertently becomes a champion snowboard rider. Eventually, Gibblewort is trapped in a giant snowball and has to wait until the spring thaw before he can make his way home to Ireland.

This title, first published in 2010, is no longer available as a separate book, but is included in the 2014 release, Gibblewort the Goblin: The Winter Escape Collection. (The second title in the collection, Goblin at the Zoo, is set in Australia, but not noticeably during winter.)

Cover image courtesy of HarperCollins

Baffled! / Jen Storer (text); Claire Robertson (illus.) (2018)

Ages 8+ 288pp. (Series: Truly Tan) Mystery

Clearly set in the depths of winter, this story opens with Tan and her sisters quoting lines from Shakespeare’s ‘Blow, blow thou winter wind’. The  winter season plays a role in the story: there are preparations for the Royal Winter Lantern Festival and a competition to crown the Winter Queen. Meanwhile, Tan is kept busy with secret spy business—investigating the Windrustle sisters and their seemingly haunted house.


The three books listed below are out of print but, given the stature of their authors, copies are still available in public libraries and can also be obtained through second-hand booksellers.

The Winter Door / Isobelle Carmody  (2006)

Ages 11-14 315pp. (Series: The Gateway Trilogy) Fantasy

Rage Winnoway longs to return to the land of Valley but finds it ‘destroyed by a cruel, enchanted winter flowing through a gateway from another world’. (Quote from author’s website.)

When the Mountains Change Their Tune / Eleanor Stodart (1985)

Ages 12+ 140pp. Adventure

Four male youths set out from Canberra and head to Guthega for a cross-country skiing adventure. They become trapped by a blizzard on the top of Dicky Cooper Bogong. One of the party is injured in a fall; another develops hypothermia. Now lost, the boys build a snow cave to survive. Although two boys return to Guthega, a search party has already begun looking for the missing contingent. All return safely.

Although the language is slightly dated, Stodart’s story moves at a good pace and contains detailed information on skiing.

Winged Skis / Elyne Mitchell (text); Annette Macarthur-Onslow (illus.) (1964)

Ages 12+ 247pp. Adventure

Fourteen-year-old Barry Milton is living with his parents in Thredbo while continuing his education by correspondence. Barry teams up with 17-year-old Michael Hastings and the pair take skiing lessons together, go on cross-country runs and compete in the NSW ski championships.

Elyne Mitchell’s in-depth knowledge of Australia’s high country is evident in detailed accounts of the landscape around Geehi, Mount Twynam’s west spur, Jagungal and Mount Sentinel, and she includes precise descriptions of snow conditions and skiing manoeuvres.

Mitchell also weaves a range of literary references into her story, including quotes from David Campbell’s, ‘Winter Stock Route’.

Despite somewhat dated language, the book may well appeal to readers who are skiing enthusiasts.


There are plenty of Australian poems featuring winter. A handy way to source these is via AustLit or the Australian Poetry Library using either keyword or subject searches. (Fees or subscriptions are required for complete access. Check details on the respective websites.)

Another avenue, for older poems, is the National Library of Australia’s Trove service. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, newspapers published poetry regularly. Poems found via Trove are generally out of copyright and can be freely used.

To round out this post, here are some brief extracts from Australian winter poems.

On winter afternoons
the city is a vast art gallery,
an exhibition of paintings and sketches:
views of streets, squares, buildings,
their perspectives muted in the dim light,
edges softened by a gentle rubbing of fog

From ‘Winter Afternoons’,  Poems in My Luggage / Colin Thiele (1989)

Our son splashes carefully home
from puddle to puddle,
Deep stepping stones.

We walk a shout behind
watching from our clothes
breathing clouds into the sky.

Around us the hard economy of winter,
frugal colour schemes, and underfoot
the worn currency of leaves.

From  ‘Winter Piece’, Readings from Ecclesiastes / Peter Goldsworthy (1982)

It is Morn—and the frost-bleaching hills are all white,
Like the bones of a summer world dead;
And the ice-crusted waters blink blind in the light,
Like the eyes in a sightless man’s head

From ‘A Winter Morning’ / Charles Harpur (1853)


  • Age recommendations in this post are based on publisher and review websites, and on my own reading.
  • If you have other suggestions for this wintery list, please include them in a comment.


  • In Australia, publishers are legally required to deposit copies of their publications with the National Library of Australia. I was able to read all books cited in this blog post at the National Library—a cultural institution that has my ongoing affection and gratitude.
  • Reading Time, the journal of the Children’s Book Council of Australia, has reviewed some of the titles mentioned above as well as winter-themed books by non-Australian writers. You can find those reviews here.

Excerpt from Walking with the Seasons in Kakadu / Diane Lucas (text); Ken Searle (illus.)  (Allen & Unwin, 2005)