Review: The Christmas Wombat by Jackie French

christmas wombat

The Christmas Wombat by Jackie French, illustrated by Bruce Whatley

The original Diary of a Wombat returns in all of his carrot-munching glory with a Christmas title.  The book starts in a familiar way with a day spent sleeping, scratching, sleeping again, and eating.  But then, a Christmas ornament bops him on the nose.  The wombat gets rid of them.  Then the wombat meets Santa’s reindeer who also like carrots.  They fight a great battle and the wombat wins and after munching more carrots, curls up on the back of Santa’s sleigh. The wombat meets Santa, discovers snowmen with carrot noses, and continues to eat carrots across the world.  The book ends with the same simplicity as the beginning, and with a well-deserved nap.

French has an exquisite sense of timing in her text.  When I read the first book to my son, it quickly became one of his all-time favorites.  Finding a Christmas book with that same feel and humor to it was a highlight of our holiday season so far.  I enjoy reading the books with an Australian accent, since that’s how a wombat would talk, right?  And they are a delight to share aloud.  The timing of the humor is naturally conveyed in the writing.

Whatley’s illustrations are great.  They show the pride of the wombat, his unwavering courage even when facing much larger animals, and plenty of humor themselves.  With their larger format and white backgrounds, this picture book can merrily be shared with groups of children.

A great pick for a twist on the regular holiday picture books, this one may call for carrots to be shared afterwards.  Carrots…  Carrots… Carrots… Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Unwholly by Neal Shusterman


Unwholly by Neal Shusterman

Unwind by Shusterman was a single book with an amazing premise: an American society where teens who were too unruly or too burdensome were unwound into parts for others to use.  Fans of the first book will be delighted that Shusterman is turning that single book into a trilogy.  Book two picks up soon after the first.  All your favorite characters who survived the first book are here.  Connor is running the Graveyard, a place of safety for over 700 teens who escaped being unwound.  Risa is at his side, working to keep the teens all healthy.  She’s in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the waist down.  Lev is working with teens to try to keep them from being unwound by their parents, forced by the courts to do this.  But wait, there are new characters too.  There is Starkey, a boy who knows that he is destined for greatness and is sure he could lead better than Connor.  There is Cam, a boy who was manmade from unwound teens, who is sure he is human though others doubt it.  There is Miracolina, raised knowing she is a tithe and will be unwound.  There is Nelson, the cop who was shamed when Connor escaped and who has not stopped chasing him.  There is rewritten history that keeps teens victims.  There is a large corporation working against them.  And that’s just the beginning.

Shusterman does an amazing job here of juggling all sorts of different perspectives while keeping each personality distinct and fascinating.  All of the characters, even the villains, have clear motivations and reasons that they see the world the way that they do.  Some are blinded by faith, others by obsession, and still others by their own view of the world itself.  His character building is well done, especially for such a large cast.

Shusterman continues to point out throughout the book how his concept is not far-fetched.  By using actual newspaper articles that point to teens being vilified, he firmly ties his fantasy world to our own.  The entire premise of the series is fraught with gray areas, ethics on both sides, and straight humanitarianism.  It is in this gray area that Shusterman does his most powerful work.

There are moments where the momentum flags and the pace drags a bit.  But that is a minor complaint and one that would never prevent me from finding out how the entire series ends.  Here’s hoping for another complex and complicated book to complete the set!  Appropriate for ages 15-17.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.