The Skunk by Mac Barnett

cover image

Ill. by Patrick McDonnell. The Five Mile Press, 2015. ISBN 9781760067823
(Age: 4+) Recommended. An American author and illustrator have created this slightly absurd tale, best suited to a read-aloud and robust discussion. The sentences are short and the book has an old-fashioned film noir or detective story feel to it. Because of their comic strip quality, and the simple nature of the story, the pictures tell the story perfectly without the text.
It begins with a man opening his door to find a skunk on his doorstep staring at him. From there, the skunk follows him everywhere and the man starts to become paranoid - what does this skunk want? He tries offering him things - an apple, milk, his pocket watch. The skunk is not interested. It keeps following him. The man becomes so panicked by the constant presence of the skunk that when he finally manages to lose him he buys a new house in a new part of the city. In an attempt to move on with his life he throws himself a party with dinner and dancing. However, he cannot help but wonder where the skunk is and he leaves his own party to find him. The followed then becomes the follower.
There is a restrained colour palette of red, black and white except for a couple of pages with blues and yellows when the skunk is no longer around. The black and white tuxedo and red bow-tie of the main character mirror the black and white colouring and red nose of the skunk. The illustration style is perfect for showing the expressive body language and exasperated actions of the man. Humourously, the skunk remains nonplussed and maintains a similar expression throughout the entire book. Interestingly, nobody but the man appears to notice the skunk.
This seems to be a children's book unashamedly written to please audiences of all ages and it should succeed.
Even older students will enjoy the challenges it poses to their reasoning. Perhaps it is about only realising how great something was when it is no longer there. Perhaps there isn't an answer! Teachers may not be able to explain this to children but that is what makes it wonderful for sparking rich discussion-why was the skunk following him? What did the skunk want? Why did the man try to get away from him? Why wasn't the man happy when the skunk stopped following him? Why did the man start following the skunk? Children will come up with lots of interesting reasoning and different interpretations, and in addition, they will probably find it wacky, humourous and fun.
Nicole Nelson