Book review: ‘Skunk and Badger’: A classic odd couple you’ll want to meet
Somewhere east of “Frog and Toad” and west of “The Odd Couple” live Skunk and Badger, as mismatched a pair of musteloids as you’ll ever find in North Twist.
Badger likes to hunker down with his hammers and safety glasses, doing important rock work with his quartzes and tourmaline pegmatites. The livelier Skunk bounces and skips, and invites all the neighborhood chickens over for storytime.
How did they become housemates? More importantly, will they stay housemates? Those questions are explored in Amy Timberlake’s “Skunk and Badger,” a sweetly entertaining new novel for 8- to 12-year-olds, as well as older people who might enjoy reading along with them.
A Hudson native who lives in Chicago, Timberlake is not a prolific writer, so her books are special events. Her previous book was “One Came Home” (2013), a historical novel for 9- to 12-year-olds set in Wisconsin in 1871 during the largest nesting of passenger pigeons ever recorded. Something of a “True Grit” for middle-grade readers, it won both a Newbery Honor and an Edgar Award for best juvenile mystery.
Timberlake modeled the gentler “Skunk and Badger” after A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh books. In particular, she wanted to make a book that would be fun for teachers and parents to read aloud with children. Jon Klassen’s full-color plates and spot black-and-white illustrations give “Skunk and Badger” an old-fashioned appearance in the right kind of way.
The comic conflicts here come from the high-spirited, unpredictable Skunk rubbing up against the fussbudget Badger, as happened the day Skunk invited a few friends over:
“Badger’s jaw went slack. The landscape had gone chicken. Under, over, behind - chickens. Across the street, in the park, near the mailbox - chickens. The wattles! The combs! The bright red faces! Oblongs, rounds, tiny, and shrub-sized. (‘Jersey Giant,’ said Skunk.) There were chickens strolling on stork legs. (‘Three Ko Shamos on the right!’ said Skunk.) Chickens wearing bell-bottoms, plumed berets, and flippers, all made of feathers. The chickens came in colors. A purple chicken? Some were mottled, some speckled, and some sparkled. Everywhere Badger looked, the earth moved with a chicken beat, syncopated in herks and jerks, and this eye, then that eye, then step-step-step, peer-PECK!”
This story has a Skunk, so of course it has a spraying scene, and that scene does not disappoint.
If you’re a Badger kind of person who thinks books should be important reading where you learn things, be at ease. You will learn a little about rocks and chickens while reading this book. More importantly, you will learn about the delicate art of working things out with the people you live with, a timely lesson for many of us cooped up together during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Contact Jim Higgins at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @jhiggy.