Book Review: Riley and The Grumpy Wombat by Tania McCartney

I do need to be completely upfront with you about something before I begin the official review of Riley and The Grumpy Wombat-A Journey Around Melbourne; I was always going to love this book. I’m a Melbourne enthusiast after all.

Riley and the Grumpy Wombat thoroughly deserves my admiration though, and not just because it’s set in Melbourne.  It is fun, colourful and filled with adventure.

Riley and the Grumpy Wombat is the fourth book in the Riley the Little Aviator Series. Riley is in Melbourne visiting his Nanny. While playing in the backyard with his friends they discover a grumpy wombat living in a burrow, and she’s certainly not happy to have been bothered by them. Off she scurries, quite quickly in fact, to hide.

Riley is a typical child: curious, adventurous, helpful and imaginative. He heads out in his iconic red plane, with his friends and an endless supply of fandangled contraptions, in search of that wombat. They search the mountains, coastlines and city streets of Melbourne and Victoria, from Phillip Island to Lygon Street. They discover all sorts of burrows, but none inhabiting the grumpy wombat.

Riley and the Grumpy Wombat features gorgeous black and white photos of Melbourne and its surrounds, which Tania has sourced from a range of photographers (including herself). The photos are overlaid with Kieron Pratt’s adorable and humorous cartoon-like illustrations of Riley and his friends. The photographs show the geography of Melbourne but it’s the illustrations that show how Riley and his friends partake in Melbourne’s culture and lifestyle. They’ve certainly taken quite a liking to the coffee of Carlton (but haven’t we all?)

When Riley finally returns to his Nanny’s house, feeling a little unsuccessful, he finds that the grumpy wombat has built herself a magnificent mud villa in the backyard. It seems this wombat was just sick of living in a dark, dank burrow.

This book appeals to my two year old daughter, so it’s bound to entertain children of all ages. It will also challenge them. Tania has adopted some sophisticated language throughout the book, using words such as cantankerous, unfurled, hifalutin and desperation. The vocabulary is well supported by an accessible storyline and dynamic illustrations though, helping children add rich and creative words to their vocabularies. Tania has modelled a wide range of sentence structures in the story too (The teacher in me just loves that.  I love encouraging kids to break out with their writing and try something different like beginning a sentence with an adjective or a verb).

It’s relevant to share with you, because it relates to how we interact with this book, that I take my daughter into Melbourne as often as possible. She absolutely loves catching the train to Flinders Street Station and running amok through the open space of Federation Square. Needless to say, these are her two favourite pages. Our reading of Riley and the Grumpy Wombat is often put on hold so she can tell me all about our own visits to these places and what we did there. Instantly, through the thoughtful use of real places and actual photographs, my daughter shares something in common with the leading character. I do believe  Tania McCartney is trying to achieve  a personal connection between the reader and the story with the travelogue style of her Riley The Little Aviator Series.

In previous books, Riley also visits Beijing, Hong Kong and Sydney, and I’m sure he’ll be coming to your child’s city soon. If not, reading the Riley series is a novel way to visit the world without leaving the couch. Children get excited about Riley’s wonderful adventures but they also get to explore the world with him.

This really is a must for children of Melbourne, kids who love writing or those children who simply want to learn about new places. It is also a perfect souvenir of Melbourne. Funnily enough, Tania wrote her first Riley book as a souvenir for her children after their family post in Beijing.

If you do get your hands on a copy of this book, I  suggest visiting these pages:

  • Buzz Words- Tania McCartney shares some history and facts about the places featured in the book.
  • My Little Bookcase- We get to know Grumpy Wombat a little bit better in a very funny interview.

Book Details:

Title: Riley and the Grumpy Wombat- A Journey around Melbourne

Author: Tania McCartney

Illustrator: Kieron Pratt

ISBN: 978-1921665486

Format: Hardcover

Publisher: Ford Street Publishing

RRP: $22.95 (aud)

Suitable for ages: 5+

About Tania McCartney:

Tania McCartney is an author, editor, publisher and founder of well-respected children’s literature site, Kids Book Review. She is an experienced speaker, magazine and web writer, photographer and marshmallow gobbler. She is the author of the popular Riley the Little Aviator series of travelogue picture books, and is both published and self-published in children’s fiction and adult non-fiction. Tania lives in Canberra with a husband, two kidlets and a mountain of books.


Tania McCartney is currently on (blog) tour and there are many copies of Riley and the Grumpy Wombat up for grabs at:

Handmade Canberra, Alphabet Street, Her Canberra, Fat Mum Slim, Posie Patchwork, Australian Women Online and Tickle the Imagination.

Book Review: Riley and The Grumpy Wombat by Tania McCartney


  1. It’s quite probable that there is no one on the planet quite as thorough and creative and insightful and as generous as you, Jackie. This review is simply amazing and had me in tears! You pinned me. Thank you. x

  2. What a beautiful sounding book. Very clever idea of using photographs with the characters interposed onto them. Will definitely keep an eye out for this one

  3. Yes,I have seen this book before and read about the author, who looks very creative. A great looking story, will have to get this one!

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Book Review: Riley and The Grumpy Wombat by Tania McCartney

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