CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 14 . . . . March 2, 2007
Wombat Takes on Tasmania. (Wombat Smith).
Anne Sautel. Illustrated by Scott Stewart.
Montreal, PQ: Lobster Press, 2006.
95 pp., pbk., $6.95.
Grades 1-3 / Ages 6-8.
Review by Stacie Edgar.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
When Wombat became a member of the Smith family, no one, except perhaps the occasional stranger meeting him for the first time, seemed to notice that he appeared a little different. The biggest difference, everyone agreed, was probably his hair, for although it was brown like Mr. and Mrs. Smith's, and his sister Mary's too, it grew not only on his head, but all over his body.
Wombat Smith, a gutsy, confident world traveler is, well, a marsupial. This daring young boy, I mean, wombat, is searching for his true identity. After learning that, unlike the rest of his family, he is a wombat, the young fellow (14 in wombat years) sets off to the other side of the world.
Wombat Takes on Tasmania, the first volume in the "Wombat Smith" series, focuses on the theme of self-identity and belonging. He feels that he belongs, but, when he discovers that he is different, Wombat goes out to search for other marsupials just like him. Recognizing his need for independence, his adopted parents encourage him to fly to the island of Tasmania to find his roots.
The trip, however, is not exactly the adventure that Wombat Smith envisioned. Impatient to seek out and meet his long lost relatives, he immediately sets off into the bush without waiting for the guide his parents had arranged. As he ventures deeper and deeper into the jungle, he discovers many strange creatures. The thoughtful young traveler had researched Tasmania before his trip and recognizes the wallaby, pademelon, kangaroo, bettong, potoroo, etc. from pictures in the texts.
Wombat Smith tries to communicate with these strange creatures but fails. When he discovers the wild wombats, he gets the same results. They will not come anywhere near the civilized and cultured marsupial. Wombat longs for the comforts and companionship of home and realizes that, even though the wild wombats look like him, he is different inside. Finally, Wombat Smith abandons his dream of meeting this relatives and tries to go back home. Then he is captured by a local farmer and narrowly escapes being sold to a zoo in China. Finally back with his adopted family, Wombat Smith realizes that home is where he truly belongs.
Author Anne Sautel creates a very thoughtful character who thinks aloud for the reader.
"I should have learned how to build a proper shelter at Boy Scout camp," he said sadly. "If I had gone to Boy Scout camp." And he decided right then that he would become a Boy Scout, just as soon as he had the time.
On a self-discovery adventure, this character could help some readers on their own quest for identity. Many children, for one reason or another, feel that they do not belong. Some children may identify with the character of Wombat Smith because they are curious about their own identity and romanticize about being adopted from an exotic country. Other children may truly have been adopted and are curious about their roots. This early novel is also didactic in showing the behaviours of different Tasmanian animals. This knowledge could be incorporated into a Social Studies units on Australia.
The adventures come alive for young readers with the appealing illustrations by Scott Stewart. The brightly coloured cover gives young readers a glimpse of the young wombat's backcountry trek. Inside, the black-and-white drawings, shaded with grey tones, support each chapter to help the reader create an image of Wombat Smith's journey.
First released by Canadian publisher, Lobster Press, Wombat Takes on Tasmania was translated into French by Les Éditions Homard. The second volume, Beijing Breakaway! is scheduled for release in the spring of 2007.
Stacie Edgar recently graduated from the University of Winnipeg and currently teaches in the Winnipeg School Division.
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