February 2019 marks the 10th anniversary of the tragic Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria and to mark this Justin D’Ath has written 47 Degrees, a fictional account of a young girl’s fight for survival during a bush fire, based on his own first-hand experience.
Zeelie and her father are at home alone when they hear the news that bush fires may be on the way towards the small town of Flowerdale where they live. After deciding that they will stay and defend the house rather than evacuate, they start to put their fire plan into action.
Zeelie knows that her dad has things in hand with a detailed plan, water pumps, sprinklers and all sorts of equipment but as the dark clouds begin to roll in, she wonders if they really should have left. She also worries about her mother who earlier in the day, took Zeelie’s brother to the hospital with a suspected broken arm. Where are they and when will she see them again?
The descriptions are so vivid that when Zeelie is sent out to retrieve her neighbour’s dog and finds herself putting out spot fires, you can’t help but hold your breath. It’s clear that Justin D’Ath knows what he’s talking about – the fear, shock and confusion jump out from the page and take hold of you.
This is a very important book that provides an invaluable insight into what families went through during Black Saturday. The book could also be a great starting point for discussions about the long history of bush fires in Australia. Covering community, responsibility, family, friendship and bravery, children will definitely have lots of questions for you after reading this and it may lead to them researching further.
A tense and fast-paced read, your 10+ reader won’t be able to put this down without knowing the ending and neither will you. Zeelie and her family may be products of Justin D’Ath’s imagination but much of what happens in the book is based on what happened to him – he has even included his house and dogs. He thought that writing this book would be hard and painful, but actually found it to be very rewarding and deeply satisfying.
If you get a chance to take your child to one of the events that D’Ath will be doing around the time of the anniversary it would certainly be worth the effort. His story is one that will stay with you long after you have finished the book.
Born in New Zealand, Justin D’Ath was one of twelve children. He came to Australia in 1971 to study for missionary priesthood but after three years, left the seminary in the dead of night and spent two years roaming Australia on a motorbike! Whilst doing that he began his writing career contributing pieces for motorbike magazines. He published his first novel for adults in 1989 and this was followed by numerous award-winning short stories, also for adults. Justin has worked in a sugar mill, on a cattle station, in a mine, on an island, in a laboratory, built cars, picked fruit, driven forklifts and taught writing for twelve years. He wrote his first children’s book in 1996 and to date he has published over 50 books. He has two children, six grandchildren, and two dogs.