Wombat Divine, by Mem Fox, illustrated by Kerry Argent (1995)
I had to pick this up since the juxtaposition of “wombat” and “divine” was too sharp to ignore! My family went to Australia when I was ten, and I recognized many of the animals in this book from that trip!
Wombat loves everything about Christmas, especially the nativity play, and he is finally old enough to audition. He finds that his physical attributes and sleepy tendencies make it impossible for him to take any of the parts he so willingly volunteers to try. Each time he proves to be a vital mismatch somehow, the animal who is chosen instead comforts him with a gentle touch and kind words and encouragement: “Don’t lose heart! Why not try for a different part?” When all the parts have been given out, Wombat struggles not to cry in disappointment, and all his friends look on with concern. Then Bilby (one of BoyChild’s new favorite animals from the Plum Landing game on pbskids.org) has a sudden inspiration: Wombat is perfectly suited to play Baby Jesus! After his convincing performance on the night of the play, his friends congratulate him on the “best Nativity ever,” and Emu, the director, says, “You were divine, Wombat!” And Wombat is suitably pleased.
The illustrations are semi-realistic (for a book about anthropomorphic Australian animals auditioning for a Christmas play!) and expressive. You can see how bad Wombat’s friends feel that he isn’t able to participate the way he wants to, and they aren’t as happy about their own parts because of how unhappy their friend is. There are no bad friends or meanies or ungracious winners or sore losers in this book, so there are no bad behaviors to discuss away. Wombat Divine is simply a sweet book about a hopeful wombat with theatrical aspirations and his strong, caring support system! A very cute read-aloud or independent reading book for preschool to middle elementary, particularly those with a Wild Kratts-level of love for Australian animals! (Oddly enough, there is another book about a wombat and Christmas by a different author (of Diary of a Wombat fame) and with a very different focus: Christmas Wombat, by Jackie French. I’ve not read this one!)