The Book Party

Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a roomy wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.

It was the middle of summer and it was too hot to do anything. Benson kept complaining that it was too hot to go outside, it was too hot to dig, it was too hot to sleep, it was even too hot to think.

“Why don’t you sit somewhere cool and read a book?” his mother suggested.

“There isn’t anywhere cool to sit!” Benson said. “Besides, I’ve read everything, and it’s too hot to go to the library.”

“I’ve got a great idea,” said his mother. “Why don’t we have a book party? Everyone can bring their favourite book, and we can talk about why they’re our favourites and maybe even borrow each other’s books. How does that sound?”

“It’s too hot,” Benson.

“I’ll make some iced jellies and we’ll have some nice cold apple juice and lots of watermelon,” his mother said. “Then afterwards it might be cool enough to go down to the creek and have a swim.”

Benson thought that was a good idea.

They asked Benson’s friend Mick and his sister Bonnie-Lou, and Uncle Elton and cousin Elmer.

Aunt Lillibet said she didn’t want to come. “I go to my Book Club every week and Gordon always chooses the books we have to read and they’re always extremely dull.”

“This is different,” said Benson’s mother. “Everyone gets to bring their favourite book.”

“Their favourite?” Aunt Lillibet said.

“Their own favourite,” said Benson. “Their very favouritest favourite.” So Aunt Lillibet said she would come.

Benson helped his mother make the jellies and they cut up piles and piles of watermelon.

After lunch, everyone came. Everyone brought a book except Mick. “I don’t like reading,” he said, “so I brought my snorkel and some grapes.”

Benson’s mother said thank you, everyone liked grapes but he should leave his snorkel outside until it was time to go down to the creek because it was so hot that his face mask kept getting fogged up and he kept bumping into people.

Aunt Lillibet said, “I’ll go first. This is my very favourite book of all time. It’s called ‘Common Pests and Diseases in your Back Yard.'”

Mick rolled his eyes and whispered to Benson, “I knew this was going to be boring!”

Aunt Lillibet looked hard at Mick over her glasses. She said, “It has excellent illustrations to help you identify the pests. Like this African black beetle.” She showed everyone a picture of an insect with an armour-plated body, and legs like saw blades. Mick was enthralled. “And the plague locust,” she said, turning the page. There was a huge close-up of a grasshopper with shiny evil eyes and giant jagged mouth parts. Mick climbed onto Aunt Lillibet’s chair to get a better look.

Uncle Elton said, “We don’t have any books like that, do we, Elmer? We don’t have many books at all. But this is my favourite book.” He showed everyone a thick black book with the name written on the front in gold letters that were so faded that you couldn’t read them any more.

Uncle Elton said, “It’s called, ‘Engineering Principles for Hydraulic Systems.’ I don’t know what that means, but it belonged to my grandfather. He gave it to my father, and my father gave it to me. One day I’ll give it to my son.” He smiled at Elmer fondly, and Elmer smiled back. “I’ve never read it,” said Elton, “and I don’t expect Elmer will read it either, but it’s part of our family.”

Aunt Moss said, “That’s exactly how I feel about my favourite book.” She brought out a very old, tattered book with handmade paper falling off the cover and ‘My Diary’ written across the front.

“This was my mother’s diary,” she said. “I love to read the little things she wrote every day, about the weather, and the garden and the children. Listen to this: ‘Lionel was very naughty today. He climbed onto the roof of the neighbours’ hen house and pelted poor little Moss with eggs until Lillibet climbed up after him and hit him with her little trowel. She takes it everywhere with her, and it’s a good thing she does.’ She even made little drawings on some of the pages.”

“That’s wonderful!” Benson’s mother said. She started to read every page out loud until Aunt Lillibet asked loudly, “Whose turn is it next?”

Benson’s mother said, “My favourite book isn’t a reading book at all, it’s a photograph album. It’s got photos of Benson when he was a tiny baby, and all sorts of other things, like Nanna in her costume for the Sound of Music, and Aunt Lillibet with her prize for Biggest Pumpkin Ever. Here’s Benson wearing the little frog jumper Aunt Moss made for him.”

Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss thought it was lovely, but Uncle Elton was going to sleep in his chair, and Mick had taken Aunt Lillibet’s book about pests and he and Elmer were frightening Bonnie Lou with pictures of giant spiders. Benson’s mother closed her book and said, “Bonnie Lou, did you bring your favourite book?”

Bonnie Lou heaved a great big thick book onto the floor in front of her.

Mick said, “What did you bring that for? You know you can’t even read!”

Bonnie Lou sniffed, “I can too read! I can read ‘a’ and ‘cat’ and ‘Bonnie’ and ‘Lou’. Anyway, we were supposed to bring our favourite book and this is my favourite.”

Benson’s mother said, “Why is it your favourite, Bonnie Lou?”

Bonnie Lou said, “Because when I can’t reach something or if I need to climb up somewhere, I can stand on this book and it makes me taller. And if I get tired, it’s just the right size for me to sit on.” She sat down on the book, and her legs just reached the ground. “See?” she said. “It’s perfect.”

“You’re right, it is perfect,” Benson’s mother said. “Benson, did you bring your favourite book?”

Benson shook his head. “I thought we were supposed to bring our favourite story,” he said, “and I have so many favourite stories, I couldn’t decide.” He started to bring out book after book. “There’s the one about the princess and the vacuum-cleaner, the one about the bunyip, the one with the princess on the glass mountain, and the bushranger one, and the one with the magician and the whirlpool, and the Selfish Giant, and Piglet and Roo…”

Everyone started grabbing the books and they all talked at once.

“I love this story!” Aunt Moss said,

“I haven’t read this one for years,” Aunt Lillibet said.

“Elmer, listen to this part,” Uncle Elton said, starting to read out loud from one book.

“Which one is the bushranger one?” Mick asked.

“Read me the princess one!” shouted Bonnie Lou over the top of everyone else.

Benson’s mother clapped her hands. “I’m sorry, everyone, but we haven’t got time for any more. The jellies are melting, and the watermelon is getting warm.”

Aunt Moss said, “Next time, why don’t we have a Story Party?”

Everyone thought that was a brilliant idea. They all ate watermelon and drank apple juice and talked about their favourite story that they were going to bring next time, until it was time to go down to the creek.

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