In the empathic and edifying Wombat Underground, written by prolific fiction and nonfiction author Sarah L. Thomson and illustrated by Charles Santoso (I Don't Like Koala; The Bookstore Cat), the eponymous marsupial proves to be a hero by opening his cozy home to other animals in need of sanctuary.
A lightning strike and dry conditions cause a terrible wildfire to burn through the Australian bush. "Flakes of fire sail on the wind. Ribbons of smoke snake through the grass. Fingers of flame claw up each tree." What will happen to the animals? Skink, Echidna and Wallaby, her young one tucked in her pouch, flee from the fire. They find a hole in a hill--Wombat's hole--and try to gain entry. Wombat, who initially blocks the entrance, finally realizes that his home is large enough to share: "There is room for one more, for two more, for three.../ room for us all deep in the dirt under the hill."
Thomson's dramatic, terse language quickly communicates the serious situation. Santoso's digital illustrations are striking and tense, making the life-or-death situation the animals face painfully clear. The reds and yellows of the fire and the dry Australian bush contrast with the rich, wet brown soil of Wombat's underground home. Wombat Underground will likely engender discussion about animals in such precarious situations, but also about how people can protect others (human and animal) in times of danger. The author's note is particularly helpful in this picture book--it enhances the story with facts about bushfires and the Australian animals affected by their annual occurrence, as well as discussion of the 2019-2020 fire season and how global climate changes affect us all. --Melinda Greenblatt, freelance book reviewer