cover image Wombat Goes Walkabout

Wombat Goes Walkabout

Michael Morpurgo. Candlewick Press (MA), $16.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-7636-1168-2

Pencil sketches and naturalistic color art transport readers to the Australian outback in this affecting tale of a wombat who has lost his mother. As he searches for her, he encounters a variety of other creatures, from a kookaburra to a boy. Each asks, ""What can you do, Wombat?"" His neighbors dismiss his answer (""Not much. I dig a lot and I think a lot"") and show off their own skills. But it's Wombat who saves the day when a forest fire threatensDhe digs a hole large enough to shelter them all. In return, his new friends help him find his mother. Morpurgo (previously paired with Birmingham for The Wreck of the Zanzibar) bolsters his story with pleasing repetitions, and his message about the importance of valuing the contributions of each individual in a community comes through clearly but gently. Birmingham's artwork is no less than sublime. Nimbly sketched animal studies adorn the margins of the pages containing text, and alternate with full-page vistas of the bush and its creatures, their softly smudged outlines gilded with light. Avoiding anthropomorphism, Birmingham nevertheless presents the wombat as an altogether winning creature, small and sturdy and determined. Oversize in format (9""x121/2"") and suffused with warmth, this picture book opens a window on wildlife Down Under. Ages 4-8. (Apr.)