Fabish the horse that braved a bush fire is an outstanding picture book and I was lucky enough to attend the launch. This is a true, mysterious, intriguing and emotional story of an ex-racing horse who took seven yearlings under his wing during ‘The Black Saturday’ bushfires that swept through Victoria during 2009. Nobody knows where Fabish went to escape the fire, but he returned home with them the following day – completely unscathed, every one of them.
Neridah McMullin has horses in her heritage and totally fell in love with Fabish when she heard his story. She described him as intelligent but also as having a warmth not always associated with race horses. The words she uses in her story are heartfelt and compassionate but strong too – as strong as Fabish, as strong as those that live on the land and deal with the harshness of bushfires.
There is something else I admire about Neridah’s writing – the way she incorporates ‘horse’ and ‘fire’ associated words into her story. She incorporates words not typical in every day language but does not shy away from using them, simplifying them, nor does she explain them. An example of the words used are: clods, yearlings, pranced, flighty, tack, whinnied, and billowing, embers, ablaze, doused, charred, desolate. This is the ultimate sign of a great writer (and publisher). Children learn words from context, and often it is through the words in picture books that they first encounter and work out the meanings of words – sometimes on their own, through implied meaning, sometimes through discussion with adult story readers. There is a lot to talk about with this book.
The words and story come alive too with the gifted illustrations of Andrew McLean. He has used a combination of watercolour paintings and sketches filled in with watercolour paints. Although he stated that this is the first time that he had to draw and paint horses, you get a real sense of the emotional and personality traits of Fabish and all the horses throughout the story. The colour palettes he uses make ever every page alive and you feel totally immersed in the world he creates.
This book evokes the need to re-read again and again, and also, to tell everyone you know how amazing this story about Fabish the very brave horse is.