The Wombats at the Zoo by Roland Harvey
Allen & Unwin, 2014. ISBN: 9781743319048
(Age: 6-9) Highly recommended. Picture books. 2013 marked the 30th anniversary of Roland Harvey's first published book and sixty years since he created his first book! Many lucky folk were able to attend his exhibition 'Roland Harvey: a Retrospective'. Roland has long been one of Australia's favourite illustrators and his long list of published works includes so many popular titles that one would be hard-pressed to ignore their impact on the children and adults with whom they have been shared.
The Wombats at the Zoo is the second in a series created by Roland about a class of quirky children and their teacher. The class is off to the zoo with each child charged with obtaining information about a specific topic and also writing a poem about an animal seen during the outing. Beginning with the wonderful endpapers on which each child is pictured with details about their favourite animal, scariest animal and other little titbits, the reader is immediately drawn into the action and becomes part of the class for the duration.
With very recognisable RH flair, the illustrations are seemingly simple but actually filled with minute details which beg close examination. One can already see the heads bent over, picking out the details such a miniscule pram underwater, baby fish a micro-copy of its parent floating along for a daily 'walk' or the orang-utans and meerkats holding up a sign 'Don't buy palm oil'. I particularly love the Aussie animal enclosure with the myriad native birds from spoonbills to brolgas (dancing of course!), herons to (very delightful) pelicans.
As usual there is lots of wordplay '. . . the longest snake, the Monty python, grows nearly nine metres long. . . . ' which could easily lead into an activity with your class collecting or inventing collective nouns, creating descriptions of a slightly whacky nature and more. And of course, both written and visual humour, so typical of Roland's work, is abundant.
Each 'Wombat' has a double page spread featuring their special report and poem with the final double spread a 'seek' page to find all the children as it's time to go home, with the endpage showing each child with their 'show-and-tell' to follow up the excursion.
All in all, like all Roland's books it is great fun both for independent reading and read-aloud, as well as a very useful springboard to language activities with vigour and humour.