Room for More
Room for More
Two wombats, Dig and Scratch, peered out from the tunnel of their burrow. Their noses twitched.
“I smell smoke,” said Dig.
“It’s a bushfire!” cried Scratch.
“Don’t worry,” said Dig. “We’ll be safe in here.”
Society works a little better when we give each other a helping hand, doesn’t it? That’s the lesson in Room For More, by Canadian-Australian writer Michelle Kadarusman whose story has echoes of Jan Brett’s The Mitten and The Hat but with a more serious setting.
Room For More is the first picture book for the author of award-winning and nominated middle grade novels, Music for Tigers, The Theory of Hummingbirds and Girl of the Southern Sea.
The story is set during the catastrophic bushfires that devastated parts of southeastern Australia between October 2019 and February 2020. The fires were noted for the breadth of area they covered, the intensity of the heat and the damage they did. Millions of hectares of land were scorched, and several billion animals - mammals, reptiles, birds and frogs, were killed or displaced, making it one of the worst wildlife disasters in recorded history.
How did some animals survive? In Kadarusman’s imagining, one animal helps another. Through the narrative, children learn specific information about the different animals. Further information is provided in a glossary at the end of the book. A pair of wombats, appropriately named Dig and Scratch, hunker down in their cool, damp tunnel. Dig sees a wallaby and her little joey in trouble and invites them in, much to Scratch’s consternation (No!” said Scratch. “There is no more room.” “We have plenty of room,” said Dig).
Then Dig sees a koala whose paws are being burned as it clings to a tree. It becomes their next guest, again over Scratch’s objection. The climax comes when the little community invites a tiger snake in, despite its venomous fangs.
All the animals respect each other’s space (or lack of it) and hold off on their instinctual habits until the danger passes. When it begins to rain, the animals start to leave, but the wombat burrow is now threatened with flooding. The refugees return the kindness and build a berm around the burrow to save their benefactors’ home. “‘We’ll help you,’ said the mother wallaby. ‘You save us, so now it’s our turn.’ The koala and the tiger snake nodded.”
The animals learn a lesson about putting worries aside (especially Scratch), and they are all able to begin their lives anew.
We’ve seen many examples of kindness, sharing and togetherness in climate disasters all over the world. Wouldn’t it have been nice if we’d all used that approach to our neighbours consistently during the Covid-19 pandemic?
Montreal artist Maggie Zeng has drawn anthropomorphic representations of the animals to match Kadarusman’s sympathetic characters. The wombats are chubby and vulnerable-looking; even the snake has expressions on its face. Zeng uses the earth-tone browns, golds and soft mauves as well as also the reds and oranges to indicate the dangerous fires raging above the burrow. The outlines of the animals are soft, indicating their rough, undefined furry coats.
Room for More can supplement a unit about inclusiveness and friendship and is a good read-aloud.
Harriet Zaidman is a children’s and freelance writer in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Her latest novel, Second Chances, is set in the polio epidemics of the 1950s.