No one wants a skunk. They are unwelcome on front stoops. They should not linger in Rock Rooms. Skunks should never, ever be allowed to move in. But Skunk is Badger’s new roommate, and there is nothing Badger – who prefers a quiet Rock Room and the focus of Important Rock Work – can do about it. Skunk plows into Badger’s life, and everything is upended. Tails are flipped. The wrong animal is sprayed. And why-oh-why are there so many chickens?
I'm sat at my desk with a hot cup of coffee looking out at the drizzle on this dreary Saturday afternoon and I can't think of a more fitting backdrop for writing this Skunk & Badger book review - one of the cosiest and most heartwarming children's stories I've read in a very long time.
What's it about?
Badger lives in his Aunt Lula's brownstone where he keeps himself busy with Important Rock Work. Dedicated to his research, Badger lives a simple, quiet life - that is, until Skunk shows up with a suitcase and an invitation from Aunt Lula to come and stay. Badger can't believe it. Skunk is loud and excitable - not to mention he can summon hundreds of chickens at any one time with his nifty chicken flute! - not exactly great roommate material. Can Badger learn to put their differences aside and live peacefully with Skunk?
A Book to Cherish
Anyone who knows me will tell you I'm a huge fan of Jon Klassen so it goes without saying that this book was an auto-buy I've had on pre-order ever since it was first announced. And I'm relieved to say that it lived up to my every expectation. I've never read anything by Amy Timberlake before but after reading Skunk & Badger I plan to rectify that immediately. Timberlake's writing envelops you like a warm hug and her wit and humour makes Skunk & Badger the perfect book not just for younger readers but for grown ups too.
It's hard to believe Skunk & Badger was written in 2020 because it has all the hallmarks of a classic. Fans of Winnie-the-Pooh and The Wind in the Willows will love this refreshing take on the classic odd-couple friendship and I defy any reader not to fall in love with the charismatic Skunk and grumpy-yet-loveable Badger. As always, Klassen's artwork adds layers of depth to the storytelling and, just like his collaboration with Sara Pennypacker in Pax, his illustrations are sprinkled sparingly throughout the book in a way that enhances but never overpowers the narrative. Klassen's pen-and-ink drawings work really well here, creating mood and tone while emphasising the stripped back, modest lifestyle of Badger and his rustic brownstone home. Interspersed between pages of text and the occasional black and white illustration are a handful of full-colour glossy illustrations with earthy tones that create warmth while accentuating key scenes from the story. I love them all, though my favourite is a picture right at the start of the book depicting Badger sitting at his rock desk doing Important Rock Work. It's such a cosy drawing and it immediately draws you in: Who is this Badger? And what exactly is he doing?
"Gentle and kind is the way I would like the world to be. I hope it will be that way. But Badger [...] Not everyone is gentle and kind. Even I myself find it hard to be kind and gentle. Sometimes I get mad. Also, I am a small animal, and being small is difficult. Sometimes I wish I had a grizzly bear arm to swat, or an alligator mouth to clack. But instead, I am a skunk." He looked at his tail. "Even when no one is hurt, you get chased out of town."
A Beautiful Book
I love that the publishers decided to print Skunk & Badger in hardback. There's just something about hardbacks I love; they have so much character and they look beautiful on a shelf. I appreciate hardbacks aren't for everyone and certainly they carry a higher price point than most paperbacks so I can understand why it might put some readers off. But in my opinion the production value of this book makes it more than worth it. Aside from the handful of glossy illustrations, Skunk & Badger boasts beautiful endpapers, thick creamy pages, a linen-textured dust-jacket and a fully-illustrated cover printed directly onto the boards of the book. It really is a book to cherish. Sure, for some readers these little details won't mean much, but for children's book connoisseurs who love illustration and care as much about the physicality of the book as they do the story within, this attention to detail is certain to be appreciated. I guarantee once you've held it in your hands you'll want Skunk & Badger for your collection.
"Because breakfast is the nicest meal, you should have candlelight at breakfast. If at all possible. Sometimes it is not possible. Sometimes you are eating where this is not a candle. Or sometimes there is a candle shortage, and no one has candles. That is sad, particularly for breakfast."
The Perfect Bedtime Read
One of the things I love about Skunk & Badger is that the characters have such distinctive voices. I would often find myself reading passages aloud because this is a story that just needs to be performed and I can only imagine the fun parents will have reading this to their little ones at bedtime. (I gave Badger this gruff Mike-from-Breaking-Bad-type voice and it definitely fits his character!) In terms of plot, not a great deal actually happens, but that's not to the book's detriment; it's simply that Skunk & Badger is a character-driven story and it's the relationship between these two mis-matched characters (and the individual growth that stems from it) that captures the readers' hearts. While I'm not a fan of putting age brackets on books (after all I'm 25 and I loved this story!) I do think Skunk & Badger is a book that younger readers (around 6-9) will enjoy most. It's full of heart and humour (keep your eyes peeled for Rocket Potato and the quantum leap chickens!) and enough sophisticated vocabulary to really stretch literacy levels, but it lacks some of the danger and adventure that's so characteristic of older middle grade books.
"Sometimes I get excited and do things." He looked up. "Badger, I am sorry about your box room. I should have asked before I stomped on boxes. I did think I was helping, and empty boxes remind me of bubble wrap. I never thought that maybe you liked your boxes puffy. I am sorry."
Skunk & Badger is a charming story about the unlikeliest of friendships and the importance of compromise. It's a long time since I've read something this wholesome and I can already tell that this book is destined to become a classic. A perfect read for the whole family, I can't wait to return to North Twist for further adventures with Skunk and Badger - two of my new favourite fictional friends!
Have you read Skunk & Badger? What are your favourite children's classics?
Let me know in the comments.