How Willie Wombat Won the Race
by Sandra Swain
book review by Kat Kennedy
"'I have a secret for you,' said Willie's mom as she leaned over and whispered in his ear."
In this second Willie Wombat book, Willie and his friends face bullying from the Badger Brothers. When Willie goes to his mother for advice, she tells him to find something in which to invest his time. Though Willie, being a wombat, would be great on a digging team, his school doesn't have one. Willie decides to join the track team. The Badger Brothers are also on the team, and Willie is concerned they will embarrass him by calling him names during the big race. Though everyone would love to see the bullies defeated, they have little hope that Willie can beat them. But Willie has a secret that may just carry him to victory. When he shows up for the race, his friends see a different attitude in him. He is more confident and relaxed, almost as if he knows he will win. Earlier that day, his mother had whispered something in his ear that gave him the confidence to win the race and embrace who he really is. That secret changes everything.
This book offers valuable advice for children on how to handle bullies. When the animal characters face bullying by the Badger Brothers, Willie finds a way to gain respect from his peers when he wins the race. The writing and characters are appropriate for young readers, and the story fosters discussion of one of the problems facing many young people today. The accompanying illustrations bring the story to life and help very young readers understand the book's theme. Parents and teachers will find it a useful tool in discussing bullying and presenting solutions to the problem. There is also information about wombats that fosters interest in the species, leading to discovering the many problems they face from wildfires and diseases that threaten the wombat population.
Much as in Swain's first book, Willie Wombat's Walk, which deals with children being excluded from an event, there is a lesson to be learned about how to deal with problems and disappointments. The series presents readers with pertinent and timely situations and gives them alternative ways to deal with the emotional turmoil these situations may bring. The author has hit upon an important element in the life of today's children. Not all they meet will be nice. As in Swain's first book, there will be times they feel they are excluded and must find a way to deal with the disappointment. They will encounter bullies as Willie does in this book and will have to find a way to handle those who are intent on making fun of others or even worse. For parents seeking an impetus to discuss these devastating events in life, this book is a great starting point. The book is a wonderful resource with excellent storytelling and lovable characters, such as Aidan Alligator, Natalie Gnat, and Coach Bengal. Swain seems to have hit upon a worthwhile thematic angle in the Willie Wombat series as it offers themes relevant to today's children. Poignant and engaging, the book is a boon for parents and an intriguing story for kids. Willie Wombat and his friends are delightful additions to children's literature.
Swain's Willie Wombat's Walk was a 2021 Eric Hoffer Book Award Category Finalist.