TitleWurrtoo: The Wombat Who Fell in Love with the Sky

Author: Tylissa Elisara

Illustrator: Dylan Finney

PublisherHachette Australia

Publication date: March 2024

Themes: First Nations culture and storytelling, wombats, wishes, bravery, diversity, friendship, environment

Comprehensive Teachers’ resources are available on the Hachette Australia website here

Two new characters that have weaved their way into my heart are from a captivating new middle grade story, Wurrtoo: The Wombat Who Fell in Love with the Sky by debut author Tylissa Elisara, illustrated by Dylan Finney and published by Hachette Australia. Tylissa’s sources of inspiration shine in this story. In the author’s note, Tylissa explains that she read her favourite childhood classics to her son, stories that have stood the test of time such as The Faraway Tree series, Winnie the Pooh and The Wind in the Willows. While she and her son took great comfort in these classics they did not represent their culture. Tylissa descends from the Narungga, Kaurna and Adnyamathanha people of South Australia and was born and raised on Mamu Country in Innisfail, Queensland. Seeing this gap in Australian children’s literature motivated Tylissa to write her own story for her son and this is how Wurrtoo’s story began. The fusion of classic Australian children’s literature with stories from Tylissa’s own Narungga, Kaurna and Adnyamathanha heritage, make for a beautiful tale about the power of friendship, courage, leaning into fears to overcome them, bravery, community and connection to Country. This tale seamlessly weaves First Nations storytelling and culture into the adventure, for example, family which reflects cultural values is beautifully explained (p.30), Country is eloquently described (pp. 38-40), the Yamuti legend is included as is the Dreaming story, the Seven Sisters. The inclusion of bush foods, with a twist for the gorgeous marsupials, in the story are delightful and include foods such as lemon-myrtle-ade, wattleseed damper and muntrie jam.  This story would make a fantastic read aloud book and could be linked to numerous curriculum areas as it explores endangered and endemic animals, bushfires, the effects of pollution on the environment and different ecosystems, First Nations culture and storytelling.

The story begins at the fifty-fifth burrow of charming Bushland Avenue, Kangaroo Island. It is here, that Wurrtoo, a timid hairy-nosed wombat, resides in an enormous and elaborate burrow. Wurrtoo is orphaned, as his parents left the burrow and never returned after a bushfire ravaged the area. He spends his days expanding his burrow and reading his much loved books. Wurrtoo develops a great fear about another bushfire occurring, this fear prevents him from wanting to leave his burrow. After living a solitary life for so long, Wurrtoo loses his confidence to socialise and goes to great lengths to avoid mingling with the other animals. There is one reason he does leave the burrow and then only when he is sure the nocturnal animals are asleep. He, despite being a nocturnal animal himself, stays awake during the day and ventures out for his true love, the sky. His favourite story, the one his Mum had read to him when he was a joey contains a map of the Forest of the Dreaming, a magical place with the tallest ancient tree. Wurrtoo decides that he would need to find this tree to climb and propose to his beloved, the sky, to make him the happiest hairy-nosed wombat. This is not a love story at all, it is a story of self-discovery and learning about Country.

While venturing out to spend time admiring the sky, Wurrtoo’s worst fears are realised as he witnesses a fire. In this moment of sheer panic, he reacts with courage and bravery as he springs to action and extinguishes the fire. Unbeknownst to Wurrtoo, Kuula, a vivacious koala with a sense of adventure witnesses this heroic act and pays Wurrtoo a visit.

Wurrtoo explains to Kuula his quest, to cross the island and sail to the Forest of Dreaming on the mainland to make his dream come true, to marry the sky. Kuulu’s reaction was not the one Wurrtoo expected. She thought he was “gumnuts”. After some reflection, Kuula asks if she can accompany him. She wants to see her Aunty who lives at the Cygnet River which Wurrtoo would encounter on his mission.

Feeling courageous, Wurrtoo accepts Kuula’s offer and their adventure and friendship begins. This quest is filled with stunning scenic moments, fun, Australian animal helpers as well as animals that deceive them. Danger is sometimes imminent and they find themselves in a few life threatening situations and natural disasters.

Peppered throughout the story are delightful black and white illustrations by Dylan Finney that bring the endearing characters and their adventure to life. Dylan deftly captures the emotions of the characters and mood of the situation in the illustrations.

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