No, it isn’t wombat day, or marsupial day, or Australian animal day. I just like wombats. They’re adorable and cuddly-looking but to be completely honest, I think what I love most about wombats is Douglas Adams’ description of them:
The creature that kills the most people each year is the common wombat. It is nearly as ridiculous as its name, and spends its life digging holes in the ground, in which it hides. During the night it comes out to eat worms and grubs.
The wombat kills people in two ways: First, the animal is indestructible. Digging holes in the hard Australian clay builds muscles that outclass Olympic weight lifters. At night, they often wander the roads. Semi-trailers (road trains) have hit them at high speed, with all nine wheels on one side, and this merely makes them very annoyed. They express this by snorting, glaring, and walking away. Alas, to smaller cars, the wombat becomes a symmetrical launching pad, with results that can be imagined, but not adequately described.
The second way the wombat kills people relates to its burrowing behaviour. If a person happens to put their hand down a Wombat hole, the Wombat will feel the disturbance and think, ‘Ho! My hole is collapsing!’ at which it will brace its muscled legs and push up against the roof of its burrow with incredible force, to prevent its collapse. Any unfortunate hand will be crushed, and attempts to withdraw will cause the Wombat to simply bear down harder. The unfortunate will then bleed to death through their crushed hand as the wombat prevents him from seeking assistance. This is considered the third most embarrassing known way to die, and Australians don’t talk about it much.
So what’s not to love? They’re wonderful creatures! And in celebration of the fine wombat, here are five picture books featuring a wombat as the hero.
Wombat Stew by Marcia K. Vaughan, illustrated by Pamela Lofts. Dingo has grand plans to cook Wombat in a delicious stew. But alas, his dinner plans are foiled when all the bush animals pitch in to save Wombat. This Australian classic is a fantastic book for reading aloud.
Diary of a Wombat by Jackie French, illustrated by Bruce Whatley. Exactly what the title suggests: this is the diary of a wombat. Slept. Ate carrots. Fought a doormat. Trained humans to do her bidding. This is a hilarious and charming book that I think I appreciate more than my eighteen-month-old. She doesn’t get the humour yet.
Wombat Divine by Mem Fox, illustrated by Kerry Argent. Wombat loves Christmas and all he wants is to be in the nativity play, but none of the parts he tries out for are right for him. Too heavy to be Archangel Gabriel, too big to be Mary, too short to be one of the Three Kings… Poor, sad, Wombat. (There is a happy ending, and there is a part for him in the nativity play after all).
The Wild Wombat by Udo Weigelt, illustrated by Melanie Freund. A wombat is coming to the zoo, and none of the other animals know what it is. So rumours fly and imaginations run wild and they’re all convinced that the new animal is going to be a terrifying beast (I suppose not far off what Douglas Adams was saying). But it turns out the wombat really isn’t so bad after all.
One Very Tired Wombat by Renee Treml. A fun rhyming and counting book featuring a cast of Australian birds and one very tired wombat. I loved the birds in this, and this is another fun read-aloud book.