A good picture book melds a well-crafted text with illustrations that interpret and extend the narrative. The illustrator’s choice of artistic style is central to how effectively this combined narrative is communicated to readers.
Australian Children’s Laureate Jackie French and illustrator Bruce Whatley have had a long and successful collaborative relationship. Their latest picture book is Fire (Scholastic, $24.99 hb, 32 pp, 9781742838175), a companion book to the award-winning Flood (2011). French poetically charts the fire’s progress, as it grows from a winding, creeping snake to a ‘blood-red wall’ that swallows all before it. Whatley interprets French’s text with a series of impressionistic double-page spreads that capture the growing horror of the bushfire. Caught up in the burning landscapes are those whose lives are affected: native animals fleeing the flames; firefighters struggling to cope with the enormity of the disaster; families grieving for what they have lost. In the end there is hope; the fire is extinguished, the bush regenerates, lives are rebuilt.