real life heroes - they're not always human!

by Neridah McMullin, illustrated by Andrew McLean – Allen & Unwin, 2016
ages 2 to 10 years / Australia, powerful lives, read-it-before-you-need-its.o.s.e.

Fabish is a retired racehorse that somehow led seven yearlings to safety during the 2009 Victorian bushfires. 

Those days in February are seared into Australian memories. They were gruelling days even for those of us far away. (For readers outside of Australia, the 2009 bushfires were the deadliest Australia has ever endured.) This beautiful book is about Fabish and his heroic trainer. It’s a true story, told with compassion and with optimism. 

While the story of the bushfires remains a tragedy, the story of Fabish shines with hope: 

Fabish’s trainer was faced with trying to protect all of his racehorses from the fire – a herculean task. 

So he released Fabish and his group of yearlings from their paddock in the hope that they might find a way around it.

For some children there is no substitute for true stories – they want the relative safety of truth so they can deal with the emotions and thoughts brought on by the story without the necessity of separating those feelings from their real world experiences. But limiting a child to a ‘just-the-facts’ style of book means that they miss out on all sorts of opportunities for language development and for exploring opinions and ideas. 

Fabish is a lovely melding of superb narration and thoughtful illustrations. Neither the words nor the pictures insist on an emotional reading, but there is certainly plenty to give a reader pause—especially if they remember the bushfires personally.

The bravery of the trainer and his dedication to his horses is sobering and the devastation that greets him is realistic and ominous. 

In the moments after the fire has passed and the trainer looks out over the blackened paddocks, there’s a deep sense of loss.

This is important. A story about a heartbreaking time cannot be told without moments of grief. Knowing about disasters and knowing that grief is part of that can be strengthening for children, especially when presented as it is here – with a resolution that doesn’t sugarcoat the tragedy but does offer promise of a future. I especially love this description of the world that confronted the trainer after the fire:

"Trees were broken and blackened, and the soil was baked hard. The tack room and machinery shed was a pile of twisted iron and white ash. The wind dropped and the sound of crackling embers filled the air. The trainer’s throat stung. His hands were blistered. The soles of his boots had started to melt when he found an old truck that hadn’t been burnt out. He headed off to the far paddock."

This is an inspiring book—the heroics of the trainer and Fabish are testament to courage and work in impossible circumstances.

Amazon - Book Depository - Booktopia 

Also ...other books about the 2009 Victorian bushfires:

Elizabeth Mellor

Elizabeth Mellor

Jackie French, Bruce Whatley

Jackie French, Bruce Whatley


...other books about facing real life with courage: