Don’t Pat the Wombat by Elizabeth Honey
As a child, I read and reread Elizabeth Honey’s novels. I wanted to visit Bean’s hidden library in What Do You Think, Feezal?, and I wished Henni of the Stella Street stories was my sister. But my absolute favourite book of hers was Don’t Pat the Wombat, the story of a Grade 6 school camp. The book’s narrator is Mark Ryder (‘Nickname: Exclamation Mark. No prizes for guessing why!!!!!!!!’) and he’s determined to tell the whole story, even the rude, naughty and hard parts. There’s an epic showdown with a bullying teacher, a plague of bloodthirsty leeches, and, of course, a wombat. Revisiting this novel as an adult, I appreciate the gentle way Honey promotes bigger messages, such as protection for native species, and the value of difference.
Don’t Pat the Wombat perfectly encapsulates the feverish excitement of school camp. Honey herself attended five camps as a volunteer parent, and weaves in plenty of real life experiences. (You can read an interesting piece about the book’s background on her website.) The short chapters are dialogue heavy and peppered with photographs and illustrations, making this an ideal pick for reluctant readers ages 8 and up.
While Honey usually illustrates her own books (including several award-winning picture books), her son William provided the art for Don’t Pat the Wombat and it’s a brilliant decision. Their rough, expressive quality enhances Mark’s voice, and as a child, they encouraged me to make my own drawings. There’s one in particular that I love which shows a shower head spraying in every direction – except towards the person under it. Yep, sounds like school camp to me.
Bronte Coates is the digital content coordinator and the Readings Prizes manager.