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Sunday, January 24, 2010

How to Scatch a Wombat, written by Jackie French and illustrated by Bruce Whatley. Clarion, Thomas Allen, 2009. $19.95 ages 8 and up

"I've studied wombats, tracking them through the bush, watching and keeping notes, slowly becoming a 'wombat expert', adding to the knowledge of these fascinating creatures. Over the years I've worked out ways that farmers and gardeners can grow vegetables, fruits, and flowers and coexist with Australian wildlife like wallabies and wombats without fencing them out or killing them."

The lesson I have learned in reading this superb nonfiction text is this: if you want to know about something you have no knowledge of, ask someone who has a great affection for it. In this case, ask Jackie French any question you can conjure about wombats, and she will regale you with anecdote after anecdote about her life with them on her farm and in the wilds of New South Wales. Her love for wombats began with a visitor named Smudge and has never ended. In her first book about them, Diary of a Wombat (Harper, 2002), the little beast showed us what power she could evoke when determination and stamina were hers...finally, making the humans adhere to her needs and temperament. What followed for author French was a plethora of inquiries from her readers wanting to know more about the species that few of us have ever seen. Years of observation and interest (thirty years and forty-eight wombats and counting) led her to put pen to paper again and to share with us 'all things wombat'. This book will answer most basic questions and add countless stories about little known creature. She includes a glossary of 'words to know' that is most helpful as we delve into her well-written chronicle.

Bruce Whatley adds to the allure with his illustrations that include realistic renderings alongside his cartoon-like drawings which show the rotund, furry and very likeable creatures as they go about living...their burrows, their ancestors, their babies and their food fetishes.

What a wonderful readaloud this would be to introduce your students to the scientific inquiry process that Jackie French used in order to learn all she wanted to know about these amazing creatures. She is a superb writer and we have the opportunity to share her enthusiasm, her observational skills and her patient determination to become an 'expert'. This is a winning work, fact-filled and never sluggish. Readers will move from one story to the next with interest and zest, always wanting to hear and to know more!

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