Australia is well known for its wild range of weather - the drought and flooding rains. Already in 2019 the country has experienced floods, fires, an ongoing drought and the threat of a cyclone. One way to explore this weather in the classroom is through a range of picture books which highlight different weather conditions - using these picture books to help us to get a deeper understanding of this weather and its impact on Australians.
Flood, Fire, Cyclone and Drought by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley
These are probably the best known picture books about extreme weather in Australia. Starting with Flood - a story of the 2011 Queensland Floods - these creators have built a powerful collection of text and illustrations which bring the events and the impacts of natural disasters in Australia to life.
Although these books are part of a series, there are little individual differences which are interesting to discuss as students compare and contrast the books. Two of the books are very clearly linked to specific events - the 2011 Queensland Floods in Flood and Cyclone Tracy (which hit Darwin in 1974) in Cyclone. Fire and Drought are more general - a look at natural events which can impact large areas of the country year after year.
One of the ‘must-do’ activities with these books is to explore the author and illustrator notes to look at the intentions of the creators as they come into the work. For both of the creators, there are personal elements or feelings to these creations and they have strived to create their work to show not just the events and impact of the disaster - but the way people come together to help and rebuild during and after the disaster.
Another great way to look at these books is to look at what is happening ‘before’, ‘during’ and ‘after’ - to explore the heavy stillness of the air in the heat before of fire or the endless days of rain before the waters being to rise in flood.
The House on the Mountain by Ella Holcombe and David Cox
This beautiful book - probably best for middle primary and upper primary - takes us through a story of a bushfire which rages into the mountain home of the narrator and destroys her family house. It looks at the race to escape the fire and the fight to rebuild life afterwards - including looking at the emotional impacts of the fire.
The author includes a powerful author’s note about her own experiences with the Black Saturday bushfires, where she lost her home and her parents. This may or may not be something you wish to share with your students (depending on their age), but for older students it might be interesting to explore the author’s focus on regrowth after a fire. This is an interesting aspect of extreme weather which can sometimes be forgotten as journalists and other story tellers begin to move away from natural disasters in search of the next story.
A House on the Mountain would also allow for an excellent timeline activity, tracing the events of the story - and how the narrator feels - through from before the fire to the rebuilding after the fire.
All I Want for Christmas is Rain by Cory Brooke and Megan Forward
This Christmas book is also an excellent look at drought for younger readers. Jane lives on a farm and wants rain for Christmas to break the drought. Jane believes that Santa is the perfect solution to the drought. This book highlights the difficulties of drought, the impact of a lack of rain on the environment and the people who work in it. It’s a particularly good introduction to drought for younger students.
There are a number of different activities which you can do with this book, including looking at what happens when there is a drought. Students can list some of the things which Jane highlights as issues, combining it with some videos of drought to enhance their understanding of drought.
Two Summers by John Heffernan and Freya Blackwood
This is a really gentle look at the impacts of drought - comparing a visit from a friend from one summer to another. As you progress through the book there are little mentions of how things are different, how things are harder.
This is a great book to use for looking at inference. There’s many places where the narrator just gives a little bit of the story, without fully telling the reader about the worry and concern they are experiencing. Even hearing that his friend will travel for seven hours gives the reader a little clue about the difference - the divide - between their life and the life of his friend.
The comparisons between one year and another is another things which students can use when talking about weather in the classroom. What is it like before a weather event? What is it like after a weather event? This could apply to floods and cyclones as well as drought.
Big Rain Coming by Katrina Germein and Bronwyn Bancroft
Big rain is coming . . . but when? This lovely book, best suited for younger students, explores the anticipation of waiting for rain when it’s really, really hot. My favourite part is when the clouds gather, but it still doesn’t rain.
This is a great book for working on prediction, with its easy, repeating structure. Students can also use it as an example of what it’s like to wait for something - whether it’s rain or something else in their lives.
Big Rain Coming is also good for exploring what happens before it rains - whether it’s clouds gathering, a wind picking up, or even the sound of rain moving towards you. The beautiful illustrations also offer room for exploration, especially looking at how colour and lines are used to create a beautiful world. Students might like to compare this with some of Bronwyn Bancroft’s other illustration work as well.
Mrs White and the Red Desert by Josie Boyle and Maggie Prewett
The children of Mrs White and the Red Desert are working hard to clean their house so they can entertain their teacher. They want to show her why their homework is grubby, but as she arrives a red dust storm also comes along, giving them the perfect demonstration.
As well as the dust storm at the centre of this book, there’s some lovely other exploration of weather. We hear about hot desert winds and the pitter-patter of rain. We see that the weather is a daily part of life, that is races around (and through) the house and soothes the children to sleep. And that it has an impact on the lives of the children when they are away from home.
This is another great book for inference - we don’t see what happens at school before the teacher comes to visit, but we can infer it. We infer how the dust storm destroys the dinner.
We also see what the impacts of a dust storm can be. Students can explore pictures of dust storms - both in the cities and away from the cities and discuss what the impacts of dust storms are during and after the storm. They may also like to explore the weather conditions which make dust storms more or less likely.
Mustara by Rosanne Hawke and Robert Ingpen
This is another book about a dust storm, but in this storm two children are caught in the middle of it, without warning, with a camel to protect them. Mustara is a historical fiction, giving a few glimpses into a different world of explorers and the use of camels in exploring inland Australia.
The historical fiction aspect of the book gives students another area to explore - what other weather events impacted people in the past? What other stories do we know of big weather events? Students might like to compare accounts of weather from the past with more recent accounts of weather and talk about how people deal with weather the same or differently.