Books & Literature

Book Review: Evie and the Bushfire, by Becky Westbrook

CHILDREN’S BOOK: Inspired by bushfires that have affected many Australians, Evie and the Bushfire is a moving and sensitive story of surviving a natural disaster, narrated through the eyes of children.

A touching picture book with hauntingly beautiful images and a profound message.

When the summer bushfires devastated Kangaroo Island in 2020, it seemed that hope and light had disappeared from the community. Local resident and children’s author Becky Westbrook penned Evie and the Bushfire in tribute to her home and community who had survived some of the worst conditions imaginable. 

This is the story of Evie, a spirit girl, who embodies hope and tries to bring it back to Kangaroo Island after the fires. She persists through the emptiness, continuing to visit local farms even though they struggle to find their faith again. 

The strong sensory detail captures the setting of the bushfires well, transporting readers to a dark, burnt place. This, together with the hauntingly powerful images by award-winning Queensland illustrator Jet James, emphasises just how horrific the bushfires were to live through, and the long-lasting effects they had on the island.  

While this is a children’s book, the lyrical prose within also has the power to move adults. Westbrook illustrates some profound concepts that are still simple enough for children to understand, including the sense of lost hope: “Today nobody could see her for she was hope and today they had none.” 

The story explores how much was lost in the fires, but as the narrative progresses, we are shown the things that were not lost. We see the bravery in the firefighters, the resilience in the community, and the compassion in the people who volunteered to help. Evie and the Bushfire highlights the little things that make a big difference after a disaster, from a green shoot on a blackened tree to a homemade meal from a stranger. 

Land and fire almost serve as characters themselves in this story. Surprisingly, the latter is not the villain. The author shows Ramindjeri men walking with fire in their hands and delves into the important role of fire in connecting people to nature. Along with sharing the beliefs and values of First Nations people, this also encourages children to come to terms with fire rather than to live in fear of it. 

Despite the horrors endured by Kangaroo Island, Evie and the Bushfire reassures us that hope remains; fire is not strong enough to destroy courage, resilience, or community spirit. 

Part of the proceeds from the sale of this book will go to support the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Network. Becky Westbrook has also decided to give every family on Kangaroo Island with children under 10 years of age a copy of the book to help her community heal.

You can keep up with Becky’s work on her website.

Reviewed by Vanessa Elle

Distributed by: Stormbird Press
Released: 12 April 2021
RRP: $29.95

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