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BOOK REVIEW: The House on the Mountain by Ella Holcombe & David Cox

| 7 February 2019 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: The House on the Mountain by Ella Holcombe & David Cox

Allen & Unwin
February 2019
Hardcover, $24.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell

Picture Book / Cultural Australia / Bushfire


The powerful story of a family who lose their home in a bushfire and their journey of recovery.


There is a fire coming, and we need to move quickly. Mum and Dad start packing bags, grabbing woollen blankets, the first-aid kit, torches, and then the photo albums. Dad puts Ruby on her lead and ties her up near the back door. My chest feels hollow, like a birdcage.

Atmospheric and intensely moving, this is the story of a family experiencing a bushfire, its devastating aftermath, and the long process of healing and rebuilding.

The radio is loud, but the wind is louder, and the phone rings but no one answers it. Dad bangs in and out through the screen door, carrying bags, and Mum pushes me and the boys towards the garage, grabbing Ruby on the way. As we tumble out of the house, the air scorches the back of my throat and stings my eyes. The wind whips at us, and the screen door slams.

Ella Holcombe uses her own experiences in the Black Saturday fires in 2009 as a basis for The House on the Mountain. Though the characters in this story emerge with an in-tact family unit, while Ella’s own parents and dog were lost to the fires, the signs of loss are seen all around, with damaged property, the changes in mood of those around her, and the portraits and flowers and ceremony surrounding the people who “don’t come back”.

In my class there are two kids who don’t come back. And in assembly we talk about all the kids and teachers and families who will never come back.
There are photos of them in the hallways, surrounded by flowers and teddy bears. Sometimes I get tired of seeing their faces, and I just want to forget. In class I sit with my pen not quite touching the paper, frozen.

In this way, the story makes itself more accessible for a younger audience, while not shying away from the tragic loss of the fires, replying instead on readers being able to infer the meaning from the surrounding clues, or to have the discussion with an adult in their life, rather than coming across words that clearly paint that these people died while potentially reading alone.

Though the opening lines and illustrations are rather simple, as the story progresses they become more and more chilling and atmospheric, and I defy you, reader, to make it through this book without getting emotional.

Category: Book Reviews

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