Children’s Book Council of Australia
Notable Book (2019) – Picture Book of the Year

Drought, illustrated by Bruce Whatley and text by Jackie French (Scholastic Australia)

Book cover for Drought

Drought is the latest title in Jackie French and Bruce Whatley’s critically acclaimed natural disaster picture book series, following on from Flood, Fire and Cyclone.


Book cover for Flood
Book cover for Fire
Book cover for Cyclone
Book cover for Drought

Another excellent addition to this very Australian book series Drought brings us up close and personal to the many aspects and phases, trials and challenges of a ‘big dry’ in our rugged rural and outback areas. We experience, through the eyes of a girl on a family farm, the full cycle of this natural phenomenon. Starting with a still green backyard cricket pitch; through the mounting changes that are made on the farm to cope with the worsening conditions; to the impact on local flora, fauna and people.

I remember when rain stopped,
When day by day
the water dropped …

All across a sun-bleached land,
Drought spread its
deadly hand.


The text, like water, is used sparingly but each line is carefully constructed to distill and strengthen their impressions and impact. Just as effective is the way the illustrations are executed. They have a ‘washed out’ and subdued colour palate, like they may have once been bright and vibrant but have faded in the harsh sunlight. The illustrator has cleverly let the colours run off the sides of the page on many of the images, the colours leaving the drawing just as the water is leaving the landscape being depicted. 

A word from the professionals

Sometimes when writing a book review, and trying to appear clever and insightful, it’s actually better to step back and let others speak to the work. A few words and thoughts from the creators of the work often brings more meaning and appreciation:

The visual elements of drought can be deceivingly beautiful. Amazing patterns in cracked soil, the extraordinary reds of the earth contrasting with the grey and whites of dead sun-bleached trees, the breathtaking sunsets and vast blue skies over flat treeless horizons . . . These are iconic images of Australia. Unfortunately, they mask the brutality of the elements that create it.

The illustrations were created with graphite pencil and an acrylic wash.

Bruce Whatley


It was a workshop of kids out west who accidentally showed me how bad drought can be. ‘Dad just sits by the radio and cries,’ said one. ‘Mine sits out in the paddock, looking at the sky,’ said another. Kid after kid casually told me of the endurance of living with drought.

I also remember the glee as a small boy at the end of a drought gazed at the rain in the school yard and informed me that ‘I can have a bath tonight.’ A bath of your own, filled as high as you want it, is a luxury to dream of when you must live with drought. 

You’re all in it together during a drought, and if you stick together life can be good.

Jackie French


Final thoughts

While they are a reality in hard times, I should mention it’s not all doom and gloom and the depression of both land and people in this picture book. Drought is as much about the positive themes of perseverance, resilience, the generosity of strangers, patience and renewal – again, of the land and of those that live on it. It may come late but a drought does always break, eventually. The rain, and life, return. Always.