A review of Riley & the Grumpy Wombat—A journey around Melbourne by Tania McCartney & Kieron Pratt

Reviewed by Jenny Mounfield

Riley & the Grumpy Wombat—A journey around Melbourne
by Tania McCartney & Kieron Pratt
Publisher: Ford Street Publishing
Format: Paperback PB
Age guide: 6-10
Price: AUD $16.95
ISBN: 9781921665493

One day when Riley is making mud pies he finds a hole. Sticking his head inside, he is confronted by one rather cantankerous wombat.

‘Without warning, the grouchy creature charged out of her burrow and disappeared into the garden in a blur of brown fur.’

And so, with his little red biplane fired up and his collection of toys clinging on for dear life, Riley goes in search of the AWOL wombat. His journey takes him through the Bourke Street mall, Federation Square, St Kilda Beach and beyond. How could such a roly-poly critter flee so far? Never fear; our grumpy friend knows how to take care of herself. She is destined for the life of Riley (pardon the pun).

McCartney’s language is vivid. Her use of alliteration and word play will thrill young readers:

‘In desperation, Riley buzzed out over the countryside to the goldfields of Sovereign Hill. There were plenty of enormous, dark, dank holes…but no grumpy wombat.’

What really sets this simple story apart from the rest is the illustrative style. Pratt has overlayed black and white photographs of Victorian landmarks with eye-catching coloured depictions of Riley and his menagerie. At each location Riley reveals yet another masterful invention to help with his search—everything from: automated whiz-bang ground-hugging projectiles to fandangled hifalutin patented doodads. Each of these wonderfully humorous illustrations reveals something extra, which is certain to delight. On one page Riley is slurping spaghetti as he rockets up Lygon Street with Panda, Koala, Lion and Dragon propped on the wings sipping cups of tea (or is that coffee?).

Without a doubt, children of all ages will love this book. The story is brief enough, and the illustrations bright enough to engage a toddler’s short attention span, while Riley’s complex inventions and the humour of both language and pictures will keep older kids enthralled. I can see this book selling well through tourist outlets. Riley & the Grumpy Wombat is the perfect souvenir for a child to take home after a trip to Melbourne.

Kieron Pratt is a Canberra based illustrator and cartoonist. He has worked for an animation company and illustrated several children’s books. Recently he was commissioned to redesign the maps for the National Zoo.

Tania McCartney is an Aussie author, editor, publisher and photographer. She writes fiction and non-fiction for both kids and adults. Other books in the Riley series include: Riley and the Sleeping Dragon, Riley and the Dancing Lion and Riley and the Curious Koala. Find out more at: www.taniamccartney.com or www.fordstreetpublishing.com.

Jenny Mounfield is the author of three novels for children and YAs In addition, several of her short stories and articles have appeared both in print and online. She has regularly reviewed children’s books for e-zine Buzz Words since 2006 and is currently working on her first adult novel.