I’ve been a fan of Jackie French’s Diary of a Wombat since it was published in 2003 (Clarion). The pithy, droll text and charming illustrations work wonderfully together to create an incredibly funny and appealing book. Bruce Whatley’s wombat is adorable — somehow he manages to convey real personality through posture and expression, given more emphasis by a simple white background. Wombats don’t do much during the day, as they’re nocturnal. They do scratch a lot and like to take dust baths. Oh, and dig. Lots of digging. Told from the womat’s point of view, this book is great read-aloud with a child or with a group.
Much more recently, in 2010, Diary of a Baby Wombat (Clarion, 2010) arrived. I was delighted when I saw a sequel and moments later, dubious. Could they really create something as charming and sweet and laugh out loud funny as the first? Happily, the answer is yes. In this story the baby wombat meets the newcomer to the human household . . . another baby. They play together quite well. Bruce Whatley’s pictures are once again practically perfect. I love the expressiveness of the wombats. Just the one open eye of the mother in a picture where they are supposed to be sleeping, but the baby is wakeful is so effective. The plain white background accentuates the poses and movement of the main characters of the baby wombat, mother wombat, and human baby. A delight.
Before you get too sentimental about wombats, or wonder how French knows so much about them, read the non-fiction companion to these books, How to Scratch a Wombat: Where to Find it . . . What to Feed it . . . Why it Sleeps All Day (Clarion, 2009), also illustrated by Whatley. French relates much of her knowledge about wombats, gained from years of living with them and serving as a rehabilitator for injured or orphaned wombats. You’ll get a clear sense of the delights, oddities, and nuisances of living with wombats. When adding on to their house, a wombat decided to use a neglected burrow slated to be under the front steps. French had to choose whether to change the plans of the house or to move the wombat. Knowing wombats, she decided to change the building plans! French’s philosophy is that “it is a privilege to live alongside wild animals.” (p. 85) The writing is factual, funny, engaging and personal all at the same time. And there is still much we don’t know about wombats. I enjoyed learning more about wombats, would love to get to see one (or even scratch one) in person, and I’m grateful there are people like French willing to share their environment with them, despite the challenges they sometimes poses. You can find out more about wombats, get updates from French’s garden, and see photos of the wombats at French’s website: www.jackiefrench.com