How do we talk with children about bushfires in an age-appropriate and constructive way?
Bushfires are a natural & prevalent part of the Australian landscape. More often than not, bushfires are viewed in a negative light, with devastating impacts covering the news. Alight: A Story of Fire and Nature, is a children’s narrative non-fiction picture book written by Dr Sam Lloyd and illustrated by Samantha Metcalfe that shares the importance and benefits of bushfire’s natural role in the environment.
Through following the journey of various native flora and fauna, Alight explores how healthy fires help the bush grow and flourish. In choosing the characters of the story, Sam drew upon inspiration from the environment of the Sunshine Coast, particularly the wallum heathland ecosystems. Other iconic species that were incorporated into the story include banksia, wallum sedge frogs and antechinus. This narrative examines various ways that fire is necessary for healthy ecosystems, such as its role in flower production and seed release. Aimed at early and young readers between the ages of 4 and 9, this book is also a helpful resource for teachers and parents looking to teach children about bushfires.
Alight discusses events that occur during a planned fire. Planned fires occur when land managers or other stakeholders purposely light a fire in bushland. These key stakeholders have relevant training, experience and permission to create these planned fires and a great deal of planning goes into such fires to ensure they are safe and meet the desired goals.
In Alight, the fire is small, leaving scattered, unburnt green patches that preserve plants and provide shelter for animals. Planned fires are usually conducted to maintain healthy ecosystems, reduce the risk of unplanned wildfires, or for cultural reasons. Planned fires are vastly different to unplanned wildfires that are usually more destructive and may not to leave any unburnt patches in the area. They can be triggered by both natural and human-related events. Unplanned wildfires are more difficult to contain and may cause devastating impacts for humans, animals, and the environment.
Access Alight here: https://www.publish.csiro.au/book/8045
Dr Sam Lloyd is a scientist and fire ecologist who has a passion for science communication. Alight is her first children’s science book. Sam believes that science and nature picture books create a platform to connect with our environment and share stories that incorporate scientific concepts into conversation. Sam aims to inspire readers to learn about healthy bushfires and their necessary role in an Australian context. In our interview with Sam, she expressed the joys and challenges of her writing journey in explaining intricate processes that occur within fire ecology to a younger audience. Sam said that it was difficult to navigate the balance between “keeping children engaged in the story” while ensuring the story was still “scientifically accurate and informative”.
The primary takeaways Sam aims to impart to readers revolve around understanding the pivotal role of fire in maintaining the health of Australian bushland. Additionally, she emphasised that “everything [in the ecosystem] is connected”. These key messages serve to bridge readers to their environment and its underlying scientific concepts.
In her role as a Principal Scientist for a state-based fire program, Sam works with government, utility and agency land managers and private landholders, to improve fire literacy and capacity around fire management planning, build partnerships and improve fire and biodiversity management outcomes across Queensland. For aspiring fire ecologists, Sam stresses the need for a solid foundation in applied ecology and fire management and behaviour, together with a willingness to engage across the sector and work collaboratively. According to Sam, a well-rounded expertise in the scientific aspects of ecology, coupled with good communication skills and an understanding of the value of engaging with practitioners, is essential for success in this field. Sam also suggests supporting or joining your local rural fire brigade for hands on, relevant experience of fire in a supportive and friendly environment.
Read more about Sam here: https://blog.publish.csiro.au/alight-fire-and-nature-sam-lloyd/
When exploring how fire affects animals, Alight also shares how the antechinus uses hollows as habitat. When exploring this topic with children, other resources include children’s books such as A Hollow is a Home by Abbie Mitchell and Life in a Hollow by David Gullan.
You can read Sam’s review of Hollow is a Home for Children’s Books Daily here: https://childrensbooksdaily.com/book_reviews/a-hollow-is-a-home/