Samantha Wheeler’s latest novel for younger readers, Wombat Warriors, follows on from the conservation theme she introduced in her last book Mister Cassowary. Set in regional South Australia, Mouse is a reserved girl from Brisbane who comes to stay with her Aunt Evie when a family emergency forces her parents to take an unexpected trip overseas. Life down south is a change for Mouse who must not only contend with the colder climate but with her somewhat eccentric Aunt whose household includes a duck and a wombat! While she is initially threatened by the idea of sharing her home with a wombat, the pair form a special bond that challenges Mouse to find her voice.
As a proud South Aussie, I was somewhat horrified (and a little confronted) to read about the plight wombats in this part of the country. I must confess that prior to reading this story I had no idea about the environmental challenges facing our state emblem. Indeed, particularly for children in this part of the country, this story has a wonderful relevance that will make it a valuable addition to the classroom environment. With accessible language, children in the lower to middle years of primary school will enjoy reading this story independently. Similarly, it could be shared with a class group as part of the HASS curriculum. I did feel that the immaturity of the protagonist may alienate a few slightly older readers who might have otherwise appreciated the conservation theme of the book.
Wombat Warriors will sit neatly alongside Mister Cassowary as an engaging story that will inspire children across to find their voice and work actively for the conservation of threatened species.
Tanya Grech Welden
A year after his Grandad’s death, Flynn travels with his father to Mission Beach on an assignment to prepare the family banana plantation for sale. Understandably, Flynn anticipates that the trip will be dominated by the mundane chores of cleaning and repairing. Understandably, he is taken aback when things get a lot more interesting when he happens across a pair of cassowary chicks and meets local girl Abby. As Flynn quickly learns, the discovery of the cassowaries raises more questions than answers with the young boy keen to unravel the mystery of his Grandad’s death, his father’s anxiety and how this is all related to these unusual prehistoric birds.
With environmental studies top of the National Curriculum agenda, this text is a perfect choice for complementing or introducing the topic of endangered species. With a manageable length and short snappy chapters, Mister Cassowary would be ideal as a shared class text for close analysis, or add on filler when read by the teacher. The text itself provides a valuable segue-way into discussing general issues related to endangered species, whilst acting as a tangible case study, or model, for older students to undertake their own research on this or other animals at risk. I was also pleased to note the inclusion of supplementary facts at the end of the task, along with websites and organisations to support extension activities.
Mister Cassowary is written in clear language and should be easily accessible and engaging by students ready to move on to more challenging chapter books. Flynn and Abby are appealingly drawn characters with a wonderful natural inquisitiveness that mirrors many of the children in this age group. I was less taken by the adult characters, some of whom I felt were a little one dimensional with dialogue that felt somewhat stilted.
Perfect for children in the Primary Years and edging into the lower end of the Middle Years, Mister Cassowary is a Heaven-sent gift for teachers wanting to teach across a range of curriculum areas and inspire the next generation to embrace an active role as stewards of this planet. A wonderful novel that will surely become a favourite in schools by teachers, students and animal advocates alike.
Tanya Grech Welden