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The Children's Bookshelf: Wombat Underground: A Wildfire Survival Story - January 31, 2022


Wombat Underground: A Wildfire Survival Story written in a lyrical style by Sarah L. Thomson and strikingly illustrated by Charles Santoso is a picture book look at how certain animals in Australia worked together to make it through the wildfires of 2019-2020.

As the story begins the reader meets the wombat, a curious but busy mammal that is digging a hole in the ground and building a long tunnel in which to live. The reader also meets three creatures, a skink, a wallaby and an echidna as they face hot sun and very little water which soon causes leaves and bark to dry and the earth to crack.

Then comes an electrical storm! “Flakes of fire sail on the wind. Ribbons of smoke snake through the grass. Fingers of flame claw up each tree.”

The three animals try to outrun the fire. When they arrive at wombat’s hole in the ground wanting to gain entrance to this safe place wombat is at first not sure but then backs away and allows them to shelter in his home beneath the ground. The illustration of them sleeping peacefully together is visually touching and beautiful as wombat keeps a kind eye on his exhausted guests including a baby wallaby tucked safely in its mother’s pouch.

Wombat Underground: A Wildfire Survival Story written by Sarah L. Thomson with an excellent Author’s Note about bush fires and illustrated in shades of hot yellow and orange by Charles Santoso is an excellent book for readers 4-8 years of age about helping one another in situations of grave difficulty (Little, Brown and Company Books for Young Readers, 2022).

The Children’s Bookshelf is a production of WCMU. Links to the podcast and Activity Questions can be found at Children’s Bookshelf dot org.

Activity Questions for Wombat Underground

The wombat is native to Australia and is built for digging---notice the wombat and its claws featured on the front cover of this book. The author of this book says a wombat is about the size of a golden retriever. Go online (with the help of parents if needed) and find photos of this amazing mammal and then draw your own picture of a wombat. You can give your wombat a funny or a serious name that refers to its ability to dig.

In this story lightning strikes and a fire starts. Have you ever heard a bad storm? Think back to how wind, rain and rolling thunder sounds. How would your thunderstorm sound? Create a soundscape by first making the sound of a wind that gets more and more wild, then adding the sound of a hard rain and finally adding the rolling and cracking of thunder. Family members can help. Have fun!

Older Readers: How do bushfires start and get out of control? How is global warming part of the problem? How are careless people part of the problem? Read the Author’s Note for the answers.

Sue Ann Martin is professor emerita of Communication and Dramatic Arts and the founding and past Dean of the College of Communication and Fine Arts at Central Michigan University, Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. She first became interested in children’s literature when she wrote her PhD thesis on the oral characteristics of the Caldecott Award-winning children’s books. Her PhD is in Speech and Interpretation with a cognate in Early Childhood Education. She went on to review children’s books for the Detroit Free Press, write three popular resource books for teachers regarding children’s books and the creative process. She also reviewed newly-published books for Arts Almanac specials on WCMU Public Radio. Her 2002 children’s books special for WCMU won a Merit Award in Special Interest Programming from the Michigan Association of Broadcasters.