by Becky Westbrook and Jet James
Evie is a spirit girl. When her island home is devastated by bushfire, she emerges from the shelter of her cave to discover her community has lost all hope. But Evie refuses to believe that hope can be destroyed alongside homes and livelihoods. ‘The fire may have taken many things, but the fire can never take everything’ she says. Finally, Evie finds a glimmer of hope in the eyes of a young boy named Tom even though he teeters on the brink of grief and despair. Evie helps Tom find new inner strength, ‘Are you listening to the earth Tom?’ Her eyes sparkle. ‘Listen to the earth, the fire, the water, the air. They are part of you,’ and together they guide their community towards hope again.
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.
Author: Becky Westbrook
Illustrator: Jet James
Release date: April 12, 2021
RRP: AU$29.99 (hbk)
Territory: English language market
Format: Hardback Size: 210 x 260 mm
10 percent of the proceeds of this book will support the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Network.
Becky Westbrook on RN Breakfast with Cathy Van Extel
Becky Westbrook in the print media
‘A compelling coming-of-age story set in the backdrop of natural disaster. Author Becky Westbrook doesn’t shy away from the desolation left behind in the wake of fire, trusting that young readers are better served when exposed to the harsh reality of life rather than sheltered from it. Main characters Evie and Tom both represent resilience – Evie for Nature as a whole and Tom for humanity in particular. The true lesson is that nature and humanity are not separate, but inextricably bound. Jet James’ evocative pictures complement Westbrook’s story, leaving the reader heartbroken and hopeful at the same time.’
—Michael LaReaux, A Place to Run Free
‘An amazing story told of hope, in the form of brave and unrelenting Evie, will instil in many children the sense of courage and being brave that we need now and for the future.’
—Cathie Tydeman, Kangaroo Island Bushfire Recovery Officer
Foreword Clarion Review
Becky Westbrook’s comforting picture book, Evie and the Bushfire, addresses Australia’s devastating recent fires with a touch of magic.
Evie is a spirit girl who wakes up feeling fire in her bones. As birds screech warnings, and farmers and police do their best to take animals and people to safety, Evie shelters in her cave,
weeping as fire ravages the land. She tries to comfort people, but most do not feel hope and so cannot see her.
Only Tom can see Evie, and when he, too, starts to lose hope, Evie shows him that what is most important still remains: the courage of those who work together to put out the remaining fires and care for injured animals; the compassion of those who help each other rebuild; and the resilience of the land, as green shoots sprout from the char. Aboriginal elders teach Tom and Evie that fire, used wisely, can be a friend. Tom, with all that he has seen and learned, carries his renewed hope to others.
The story carries a powerful message: that hope and resilience are stronger than even the greatest disaster. It takes a child’s-eye view of the wildfires to provide age-appropriate information
about them, and it conveys deep respect for nature.
Primitive in style and sensitive in their rendering, the book’s illustrations bring the fires to life in earth, smoke, and fi re tones. As the story progresses, brilliant reds and greens give signs that rebirth is at hand. A drawing of Evie weeping
is moving, and the bright red feather and soaring bird at the story’s conclusion are uplifting. Internally, short paragraphs are balanced with illustrations of varying sizes, making for pleasant reading.
Evie and the Bushfire is a picture book about understanding and dealing with the Australian Black Summer fires.
—Kristine Morris, Foreword Clarion Review
Glam Adelaide Review
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.
—Vanessa Elle, GLAM Adelaide Review
The production of this book was generously supported by the Government of South Australia and the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Network. Kangaroo Island was severely impacted by bushfires that started on 20 December 2019. The fires affected approximately 49 per cent of the Island. Tragically two people lost their lives. The size and scope of the fires mea n South Australia is yet to fully realise the long-term impacts of the disaster on the Kangaroo Island environment and economy, and on the health and wellbeing of the Island community. 10 percent of the proceeds of this book will go to support the work of the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Network.