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Don't Pat the Wombat! by Elizabeth…

Don't Pat the Wombat!

by Elizabeth Honey

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Quick fun read, esp. for MG make reluctant readers but really for anyone willing to let their inner child come play & learn.

I love the sketches that look like they may have been actually done by the child narrator (a la' Diary of a Wimpy Kid) and the photos that make this seem like a real memoir. I assume it's a novel, but it may actually be expanded from a real school camp event.

For a moment at the beginning, as Mark is introducing his friends, I wondered if someone was going to turn out to be autistic. But the characters with the blatantly 'heavy' issues were actually certain of the adults. Mostly the book reads like a simple fun adventure.

Otoh, if the child reader owns the book, and reads it both when s/he is 8 and again at age 11, nuances & depths will become evident. Different themes will become more interesting, and the reader's reactions to, say, the wisdom of some of the choices the kids make, may change.

Bonus, esp for non-Aussie readers, is the ubiety. It's very Australian, and though the casual reader will be amused by the wombats and Oz slang, a careful reader will get even more references to make it special - for example, knowing who John Marsden is makes one character have more depth.

So, the bit at the beginning that might resonate with autistic readers was cute:

In math we were doing prime numbers, and I was thinking if Jonah was a number, he'd be a prime number for sure.... Now, Wormz, he'd be a number everything could be divided into. He'd be an easygoing number 12. Me, I take the simple way, I'm 10. Mitch is definitely number 1."

I think this paragraph clearly reinforces what we already know about the boys. Mitch thinks he's the top dog, apex & primary. Wormz is friends with everybody. Jonah is the new kid - not aloof, not weird, but not into jabbering idly or spilling his guts to try to fit in. And the narrator is more defined by his role than his rather colorless personality." ( )
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Jun 6, 2016 |
Take a group of guys known affectionately as the Coconuts, including Mark, who got an old camera for his birthday. Take Jonah, who suddenly arrived in Mark’s class, and didn’t get along with Mr Cromwell (who “became a teacher so he could be bossy and mean”). Take Bulldozer the wombat, who “when he’s older he’s going back to the bush.” Now, mix these ingredients together with the rest of class 5/6C at Gumbinya Pioneer Camp, and read all about it!

This is basically the very funny yet somehow completely realistic account of a school camp. Experienced school campers will recognise many familiar elements: numbering off; the accidental mud fight; the parent helpers with unpronounceable names; and the camp helpers from overseas in funny clothes. Being a ‘pioneering’ camp, the students also experience living without luxuries for a week. Plumbing is questionable (so is cutlery), and daytime activities tend to incorporate having to ‘think for themselves’.

In addition, there are the numerous teachers supervising the camp, each with their different personalities, carefully detailed by the narrator Mark in the first few chapters. Most significant to this story is Mr Brian Cromwell – “Crom the Bomb” – a hideous caricature of a teacher who embodies every loathsome characteristic a single educational professional could possibly have. That’s Mark’s impression of him on the cover of the book. Even the other teachers find him difficult to get along with.

Mark succeeds in convincing his mother that he should be able to take his camera to camp. She even provides him, at his request, with a roll of black-and-white film, because she decides she wants to see some photos of his experiences. “Thirty-six chances!” In fact only about half that number is included in the book, but they cover such diverse subject matter as the wildlife; fellow students; stuff they found in the bush; and Meatloaf, the giant… well, maybe you’d better read the story for yourself.

Besides the photos, which Mark is saving for special occasions, the book is also widely ornamented with drawings and doodles of the other things he’s describing. Some of my favourites include his impression of “everything absolutely crawling with ants in his sticky lolly dribble”, and the additions to each chapter number.

Not everything about the book is light-hearted: Jonah has a mysterious past, and some resolution is needed in his ongoing battle with The Bomb. On the whole, though, I would recommend this book as an easy read with short chapters for anybody in the mood either for a laugh or to reminiscence about camp. Similarly, this story is a great favourite to read aloud to classes preparing for camps.
  mybookshelf | Jul 30, 2010 |
Richie's Picks: DON'T PAT THE WOMBAT by Elizabeth Honey, Knopf, June 2000

Last week we traveled to Yosemite for a few days. The kids wanted to play in the snow, so each day we'd travel by shuttle bus up to Badger Pass. During the 40 minute rides up and down the mountain I read aloud this absolutely wonderful book, previously published in Australia where it won several awards. It will be released in paperback this summer.

DON'T PAT THE WOMBAT is the story of a boy named Jonah who moves from his family's failed farm out in the bush country into town. There, he joins up with the group of 6th grade boys including Mark, who is the book's narrator. They are a fun, easygoing bunch except for having to deal with an unpleasant, alcoholic teacher who they refer to as The Bomb. When the boys travel to camp for a week in a school sanctioned trip and a teacher suddenly gets sick, the stage is set for a climactic confrontation between the boys and The Bomb.

The book is a winner. Not only did my own kids demand that I read nonstop on those shuttle trips, but a pair of somebody else's kids would board the bus and ask me shyly whether I was going to read more of the book. ( )
  richiespicks | May 26, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0440416523, Paperback)

Mark, Jonah, Nicko, Azza, and Mitch, a.k.a. the Coconuts, a.k.a. the Convicts, are set to have the time of their lives at pioneer camp. Wattle and daub building, great food, blood-sucking leeches, mud fights, nose-biting horses, half-wild wombats, pirate plays... it's everything they dreamed of. Until the Bomb shows up. Mr. Cromwell is the dourest, cruelest, most unfair teacher at school--and is now a camp chaperon. Crom the Bomb has a particular sour spot in his evil heart for Jonah, and takes every opportunity to make his life miserable. The feud reaches a fever pitch when the Bomb and Jonah inadvertently are paired in a canoe trip, and disappear around the river bend. Can all the Coconuts survive this camping trip uncracked?

Mark's voice as narrator in this story is flawless. He is, through and through, a sixth-grade boy, complete with delight in the grossest things and hilarity over goofball practical jokes and muddy exploits. William Clarke's kidlike drawings of ant-covered boys and baby wombats combine nicely with Elizabeth Honey's photographs of rowdy campers to create a totally boyish document of a week at camp. (Ages 8 to 12) --Emilie Coulter

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:48 -0400)

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Wormz, Nicko, and their friends fear that their experience at a school camp in the Australian bush will be ruined by the presence of the dreaded Mr. Cromwell as a substitute chaperon.

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