CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 22 . . . . June 22, 2007
Wombat Smith is back for another adventure. The first book in this series found the furry little marsupial as a lone traveler in Tasmania in search of animals just like him. This time, he and his adoptive family are off to Beijing, China, to an international soccer camp with his friend, Joshua. Wombat Smith met Joshua in Tasmania while he was trying to find his way home. The young boy and his father, a local farmer, were planning to turn Wombat over to the zoo so they could profit from their unusual find – a wild animal with a knitted sweater and a knapsack. Instead of ending up at the zoo and being traded for a panda from China, the resourceful animal escaped and flew home to his adopted family, the Smiths. The kindhearted young fellow, realizing that Joshua would be disappointed that he would not profit from the reward money, arranged through his father to get the young Australian boy onto a soccer team. The team was now traveling to China for a big meet and were missing a player. Joshua wrote Wombat a letter inviting him to come and be on the team. This time, all the Smiths – Mom, Dad, and sister, Mary – go to China, too.
Wombat Smith once again finds himself on an adventure. This time, ironically, it is with the very animal be was to be traded for, a red Chinese panda. The endangered panda, Hong Lu, is missing from the Beijing zoo, and Wombat discovers him on one of the many field trips that the teammates take while they break away from soccer. The heroic marsupial is turned over to the police, and he disguises himself to make for a daring escape with a little help from his friend, Joshua. All along, Wombat feels that he will have good luck from finding the red panda and that this will help the team win the big soccer game. With his luck running dry, Wombat ends up scoring the winning goal through determination and perseverance.
Not only is this book about China, animals, and soccer, but it also contains themes of belonging and friendship. Wombat Smith, born in Tasmania and adopted by the Smith family, struggles with a sense of belonging. Even though his parents and sister are loving and caring and he knows he is a true member of the family, he still struggles with the uneasiness of being different. In Vol. 1, Wombat Takes on Tasmania, Wombat is too civilized to be able to fit in with the other marsupials in Tasmania. In this volume, Wombat learns through the help of his new teammates that friendship and differences go together.
This second volume in the “Wombat Smith” series has 11 short, yet action-packed suspenseful chapters. Each chapter has black-and-white shaded illustrations by Scott Stewart. The front and back covers are bright and colourful and will entice young readers. Beijing Breakaway! was simultaneously published both in English and French in the spring of 2007. There is some foreshadowing at the end of Wombat's adventures in China regarding the next installment which will see him off to England.
As a Grade ½ teacher at a Winnipeg school, I felt that the children might be excited about this character, and I was right---they love Wombat Smith! I had read aloud Wombat Takes on Tasmania, and they were thrilled when I brought in Beijing Breakaway! The children in my class, some of whom are learning about series books in their own independent reading, enjoy the obvious connections between the two books. They are learning about text-to-text connections and recognize that there are many connections in series books. In the second book, they liked that Wombat received a letter from Joshua in Tasmania and that he liked to take the bus to the library to conduct research. The children can also identify with the small, human-like marsupial and also recognize many text-to-self connections. Wombat’s favourite foods are chocolate and cookies, he needs to listen to his parents, he is learning how to play soccer, and he also worries about belonging and fitting in.
This book was a perfect fit because we have been studying animals and their habitats. In the first book, they learned about different marsupials, such as wombats, kangaroos, pademelons, and koalas, and Tasmanian devils. In the second, they learned about red pandas and other interesting information about China, such as a rickshaw, an abacus, and different foods. To help the children visualize and solidify their learning, I printed out images of the various animals and put them in a duo-tang. While we read the book aloud, they pass the booklet around to look at the pictures.
I also pointed out a text-to-world connection and explained that the 2008 Summer Olympics are in Beijing, China. The children have also learned some world geography when we look at the globe to locate Canada, Tasmania and Australia, and China.
These books were a perfect fit for our class---they are fast-paced, action-packed adventures full of suspense and interesting facts about different parts of the world. The author has created a loveable character who is curious and a motivated learner. Wombat researches information in the library, asks questions, and whenever he discovers that he is lacking knowledge, "He decide[s] right then that" he will learn whatever it is that he doesn't know "just as soon as he has the time." The children just love it when Wombat thinks this aloud throughout the books, and they begin to say it with me in unison. I know sometime in the near future, one of the curious beings will come up to me and say, "I am deciding right now that I am going to learn...just as soon as I have the time!"
Stacie Edgar recently graduated from the University of Winnipeg and currently teaches in the Winnipeg School Division.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.