Skunk and Badger by Amy Timberlake, with pictures by Jon Klassen, 136 pp, RL 3
"tip-claw" and "hot paw-pie"
a "muffin tin barnacled with batter"
"pickaxe-and-dynamite" pajamas that are "nonrestrictive - sweat-wicking, too"
"a hedgehog wearing a tam o'shanter peeking out from behind the New York Times Book Review"
These are but a few examples of the absolutely unforgettable, image rich, laugh-out-loud gift Timberlake has delivered with her story of Badger, who resides in Aunt Lula's brownstone in North Twist, and Skunk, who has been invited by Aunt Lula to take up residence there as well. Klassen's illustrations bring this already vivid story to life with a palette that roots it in the natural world. I have a deep love for what I'll call the "opposites attract-animal buddy" story, and while comparisons to Arnold Lobel's inimitable Frog and Toad are inevitable here, Skunk and Badger, for me, evokes my all-time favorite opposites attract-animal buddies, Mole and Rat from The Wind in the Willows (you can read my reviews of recent adaptations of this classic here and here). With Frog and Toad and Mole and Rat, the friendships of these creatures and how they learn from each other and overcome their differences is almost as enchanting to me as the domestic lives they enjoy, together and apart. This is something that Timberlake brings to the page in a palpably cozy way. Although the main characters are animals (something Timberlake never strays too far from in her anthropomorphization) the comfort and joy they experience in their home, wether it is the solace Badger finds as he sinks into deep examination and contemplation during his "important rock work" in his carefully arranged rock room or the enthusiasm and artistry of Skunk as he cooks. The camaraderie of Skunk and Badger sharing a delicious meal (not to mention this important Law of Nature, one that has been followed in my home for decades - I cook, you clean) is the sunshiny calm before the inevitable storm.
Despite Skunk's best efforts - and the fact that Aunt Lula has written to assure Badger that sharing her home with the homeless Skunk (who reads Henry V on "Long Story Night" and wonders why, "if it were true that kindness and gentleness were the best way to win a kingdom - or win anything at all - wouldn't everyone do it?") is a kindness that will benefit them both - ultimately, Badger finds he cannot tolerate his new housemate, saying, "You're a skunk. I am a badger. We are not family. That's scientifically proven!"(be sure to read Timberlake's acknowledgements, which have sent me down a rabbit hole). Unkind words are spoken and suitcases are packed. And I haven't even mentioned Speedy Stoat Delivery, Quantum Leaping Chickens and "E Huli Māko"and the ukulele.
In a time when there is so much uncertainty, so much division among us, Skunk and Badger brings comfort, insight and the opportunity to empathize and learn. Skunk and Badger is an instant classic (the book design, from the matte texture of the dust jacket to the trim size and mix of black and white and color illustrations, is a delight) that is perfect for your own Long Story Night because you will want to read it cover-to-cover!