Reviewed by Magdalena Ball
Wombat & Fox: Thrillseekers
By Terry Denton
Allen & Unwin
Paperback, 132 pages, $13.95aud, ISBN: 9781741751314, January 2009
For reluctant readers, there’s nothing quite like the mixture of cartoons and text. The cartoons provide a visual stimulus that draws the reader onward, and lightens the story, while the text works concurrently to move the plot. Even for readers who aren’t reluctant, Terry Denton books have something extra to offer. For one thing, they’re utterly irreverent. His characters are always getting up to crazy hijinks, sometimes due to their own stupidity and sometimes due to their own cunning. For another, he has an almost post-modern style where the reader is continually brought into the story, winked at, nodded to and encouraged — never mind third person objectivity. Finally, his books tend to be very funny, even if you’re an old and boring parent (maybe not if you’re really boring). Whether it’s one of the multi-plot stories in the Storymaze series, one of his many collaborations with Paul Jennings or Andy Griffiths, or the ridiculous come-uppance of Gasp!, Denton is a guaranteed laugh. The Wombat and Fox series is all Denton and all of the books involve a cast of regular characters. There is Wombat and Fox of course – two friends who get up to all sorts of trouble and fun. And also the Five Monkeys, who love to drive fox and Wombat (but especially fox) crazy, the rich bandicoot, the officious hungry Hippo sisters, and the overexcitable croc.
What makes these books work so well is that readers get to know the characters, and there is always some kind of trouble involved which is gotten through by a combination of luck, cunning and slapstick. The latest book, Thrillseekers has the added attraction of a list of 101 dangerous deeds which Wombat is working through, an amusement park full of fun rides like a rollercoaster, ferris wheel, flying teacups, and even a tunnel of love. There’s also a mysterious and rather helpful Tasmanian Devil — an animal that has traditionally been underused in fiction. Although the Wombat & Fox series is designed for a younger (7-10, according to the publishers) audience than some of Denton’s other books such as the Storymaze series, it doesn’t much matter whether your child is a preschooler being read to, a new reader encouraged to work through the fairly easy text by the extremely amusing cartoons, or an older reader just enjoying a little light fun, this book will be enjoyed. My 6 and 9 year old children both liked and were able to read the book easily and quickly (though neither of them are reluctant readers), while my 11 year old took a break from his his Terry Pratchett to have a read too, just to provide an example.
Denton’s accessible quirkiness comes through in both the story, which uses novel fonts, and the images, and children will become instant fans of the characters and will want to follow them from adventure to adventure. One thing I’ve found (to my financial detriment) is that children seem to really love collecting books in a series. The Wombat & Fox series is no exception. They’ll happily take the characters into their hearts, and look forward to helping them solve problems like the loss of the front door lock combination or how to make sure you live life the fullest and have lots of fun, without getting hurt. The camaraderie shown by Wombat, Fox and friends is actually very sweet. As for me, I’d happily buy these books solely for the monkeys, whose combination of Indian-like formality and sheer naughtiness is priceless.
About the reviewer: Magdalena Ball runs The Compulsive Reader. She is the author of Sleep Before Evening, The Art of Assessment, Quark Soup, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Cherished Pulse and She Wore Emerald Then. She runs a monthly radio program podcast www.blogtalkradio.com/compulsivereader, and Terry Denton is our current interviewee.