Diary of a Wombat, by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley

Morning: Slept.
Afternoon: Slept.
Evening: Ate grass.
Night: Ate grass.

So begins the diary of Mothball a carrot-loving, doormat-destroying wombat – a picture book which has won hearts (and awards) around the world since its first release in 2002. Written from the first person (first wombat?) perspective of a wombat, the text gives us Mothball’s perspective of life, whilst the illustrations – by the talented Bruce Whatley – often show us a very different reality, with humorous results.

Previously published in hardcover and paperback format, this new release is in a delightful boxed set with a small format hardcover edition of the book and, for the first time, a small plush wombat – Mothball herself, complete with carrot.

This would make a gorgeous gift for a child of any age – this reviewer is way past her first childhood, but has souvenired the wombat for herself, much to the disgust of her children.

Diary of a Wombat, by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley
This edition Harper Collins, 2008

The Number One Aussie Counting Book, by Heath McKenzie

Australian animals push from the inside of this new counting book and jostle for space on the front cover. Numbers run down the other side of the front cover, and also spread out across the back cover. There is no doubt that what the reader is offered here is a counting book. But it’s also a public relations exercise for the animals being counted. Wombat, who can sometime suffers an image problem is presented as handsome, dashing, classy and more. As the pages fill with more and more animals, descriptions contract to well known Australianisms. There are ‘dinki-di’ Tasmanian devils and ‘fair dinkum’ fur seals. The final page, full of hatching crocodiles hints that there could more mischief afoot.

The numbers are large on each page. Text curls its way across the page. There is a sense of constant movement as kangaroos leapfrog, cockatoos call. Even the witchetty grubs have personality. The most well-known of Aussie animals are here but so too are bilbies, cuscus and lyrebirds. There is plenty of white space on the cover and on the pages. The Number One Aussie Counting Book is bright, colourful, zany. Young children will enjoy the counting and older children will enjoy reading the descriptions. All will enjoy the antics on each opening. Recommended for pre- and early school age children. Would also be a great gift to send overseas.

The Number One Aussie Counting Book, by Heath McKenzie
Black Dog Books 2007
ISBN: 9781742030098

Purinina – A Devil’s Tale, by Christina Booth

At the bottom of the world, on the edge of an island, through a deep valley lined with pines that point to the sky…

Purinina: A Devil’s Tale is the story of the life cycle of Purinina, a Tasmanian Devil. It begins and ends with a new life. In between, Christina Booth follows Purinina as she grows from infancy to maturity. When her mother fails to return from a hunting trip, Purinina and her brothers must learn to make their own way in a changing, shrinking and often hostile environment.

Tasmanian Devils have not always had good press. In some ways they are seen as the unsociable cousin of Australia’s cuter and cuddlier marsupials. But as all mothers love their offspring, no matter their appearance or behaviour, so the author shares her love of the devil. With gentle words and warm colours, Christina Booth brings us close to Purinina and her family.

There is very little colour on the striking front cover of Purinina: A Devil’s Tale. Only Purinina’s tail and paw-prints are there, but they tell the reader that this is not a story of a horned demon. Perhaps Purinina’s markings also hint that this is not an altogether happy story. But the internal spreads are filled with colour: celebrating the vibrancy of life. When Purinina’s mother fails to return after a night’s hunting, the spreads return to almost black and white. But life goes on and colour returns to the pages although the sadness of loss is not forgotten. Throughout the story, text colour changes, reinforcing particular words. Christina Booth tells a simple, cycle-of-life tale, with warmth and love. The illustrations are simply beautiful. The text is accompanied by notes about the life and habitat of this often misunderstood Australian animal. Blue-hued endpapers show the night countryside. Recommended for 4-7 year olds and anyone wanting to learn more about the Tasmanian Devil.

Purinina: A Devil's Tale

Purinina: A Devil’s Tale, Christina Booth
Lothian 2007

This book can be purchased online at Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

One Woolly Wombat, by Kerry Argent

One woolly wombat sunning by the sea
Two cuddly koalas sipping gumnut tea…

So begins this classic Australian counting book, which this years celebrates twenty five years of publication. First published in 1982, the book has been reprinted numerous times and continues to be one of the best counting books on offer.

From one to fourteen, author/illustrator Kerry Argent offers a quirky parade of Australian animals, including wombats, koalas, numbats, dingoes and more, with rhyming text and the use of coloured pencil and watercolour wash to bring the scenes to life.

This is an endearing offering which has a timeless appeal likely to see it in print for many more years to come.

One Woolly Wombat

One Woolly Wombat, by Kerry Argent
Omnibus Books , first published 1982, this edition 2007

You can buy this book online at Fishpond.

The Smallest Bilby and the Midnight Star, by Nette Hilton and Bruce Whatley

Every night the smallest bilby looks up at the midnight sky and searches for his favourite star – the smallest one that hangs close to the edge of the sky. Every night she shines down on him. But one night, fearful that she may go away and never come back, the smallest bilby decides to give her something that will make her remember him forever and always.

The Littlest Bilby and the Midnight Star is a delightful offering for young children about the beauty of a simple kiss. Created by the talented, award-winning team of author Nette Hilton and illustrator Bruce Whatley, it is sure to please both little Australians and their parents, and would make a perfect bedtime story.

Whatley has used pen and ink wash on watercolour paper to create subdued, gentle illustrations appropriate to the night time setting of the story. The huge ears and the pink-tipped noses of the bilbies are very cute.

This beautiful offering is the first in of a trilogy featuring the Smallest Bilby and dedicated to Rose-Marie Dusting, who is recognised as the creator of the Easter Bilby concept.

The Smallest Bilby and the Midnight Star, by Nette Hilton and Bruce Whatley
Working Title Press, 2006

The Little Book of Possum Magic

This little board book offers a taste of the beautiful illustrations from Possum Magic and is a delightful offering for babies. This is not a condensed version of the original picture book, but uses some of the illustrations, coupled with single word text on each page – possum, kangaroo, emu and so on, with the final page showing Hush and Grandma Poss curled together, with the text Good night!

Possum Magic has found a place in the homes and hearts of many, many Australian children for more than twenty years, and the brilliant illustrations by Julie Vivas are perfect for little readers. Coupled with the sturdy board book format, this makes an ideal gift offering for a new baby.

The Little Book of Possum Magic
Omnibus Books, 2006

Bobbie Dazzler, by Margaret Wild & Janine Dawson

Bobbie the wallaby can hop and skip and bounce. But she cannot do the splits. Her friends tell her not to mind, but she does mind – a lot. Then when Bobbie finally manages to do the splits, she gets stuck and her friends have to help her out. But Bobby doesn’t mind – because now she knows that she cando the splits.

Bobbie Dazzler is a beautiful new picture book from the talented pairing of author Margaret Wild and illustrator Janine Dawson. Wild’s text is simple and joyful, celebrating a small achievement and a lovely friendship, with humour and an innate understanding of the pride children take in developing new skills. The illustrations, in pen and ink and watercolour, are a delight, featuring four warm and lively Australian animal characters. While all the illustrations are gorgeous, a special favourite is the final one, without text, showing the four friends having a group hug, contented smiles on their faces. The endpapers, too, featuring Bobbie’s happy friends and pictures of Australian flora, are also superb.

This is a truly dazzling offering for young Australians.

Bobby Dazzler, by Margaret Wild & Janine Dawson
Working Title, 2006

Willow the Wombat, by Natalie Jane Parker

Willow decided to explore the basement…His eyes widened and a huge smile spread across his face as suddenly he realised the rusty old lock was gone.

Willow the Wombat is bored. It is another wet day and he knows his mother won’t let him play out in the rain. When he heads down to explore the basement, his boredom soon vanishes. His grandfather’s old trunk is unlocked and inside it are old journals and mementoes. Soon, Willow is reading the journals and reliving some of Grandpa’s adventures.

Willow the Wombat is a beautifully presented book, with illustrations sure to capture the hearts of young readers. It is a large book (30 centimetres square) and, with gold lettering and realistically detailed water and wildlife on the cover, stands out as a book children will want to explore.

Willow’s adventures are interesting and the subtle messages about judging the elderly and about using the imagination are good ones, but it is really Parker’s bright, detailed illustrations which are the making of this book. The details of Willow’s fur and the glint in his eyes make him realistic, even when he’s wearing clothes and each of the different settings is skilfully portrayed and differentiated, giving the various spreads a variety which children will love to explore.

A favourite illustration is the picture of Willow and his friend Eddie Echidna on a rock plateau at sunset. The characters are lit by the setting sun in front of darkened hills and a tiny blue wren observes.

Simply beautiful.

Willow The Wombat, written and illustrated by Natalie Jane Parker
Brolly Books, 2005

And Kangaroo Played His Didgeridoo, by Nigel Gray

You should have come to the Great Aussie Do,
The guest list read like an Aussie Who’s Who,
And Kangaroo played his didgeridoo.

With a possum in a pink tutu, a well-dressed cockatoo and a gecko sporting a tattoo, the guest-list at this Outback shindig is both impressive and funny. Author Nigel Gray manages to keep the same end-rhyme working throughout the story, which will amuse young readers and listeners and help them to predict the rhyming words as well. Adult readers will find it easy to capture the rhythm of the piece.

The comic-style illustrations of Glen Singleton are a perfect complement and the tease of having just the end of Kangaroo’s didgeridoo visible on all but the last two illustrations will keep youngsters turning pages and avoids repetitiveness in the illustrations.

First released in 1995, it is easy to see why this offering continues to be popular. There is no great conflict or puzzle to be solved – it is simply a fine rhyme detailing the guest list and happenings at the party. The interest is in the variety of attendees and in the already-mentioned end-rhyme.

And Kangaroo Played His Didgeridoo, by Nigel Gray, illustrated by Glen Singleton
Scholastic, 1995, this edition 2005