Book Reviews

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The Skunk by Mac Barnett

This is the story of a man and a skunk. There was the man, leading a regular life, doing the regular, everyday things. Life. Until one day….a skunk arrives, right on his doorstep. Oh oh. The man opens the door to step out and there, sitting on the doorstep is a skunk, sitting patiently, as though waiting for the door to open.

The door opens. The skunk looks up, the man looks down surprised. Almost nose-to-nose. The story is told in first person.

"I kept very still. I did not want to startle him. But the skunk did not seem scared." And thus begins the glorious adventure.

Slowly and carefully the man backs away from the skunk. Backing away slowly and carefully from a chance encounter with a skunk is a strategy also recommended in real life. Skunks are docile animals, very nearsighted. They can't really see you, so as long as you do not make any threatening sounds they will not activate their stink-producing defense mechanism.

Down the street goes the narrator. Down the street goes the skunk. "I thought it was funny that the skunk and I could be going in the same direction," he says, till he realizes the skunk is following him! The very starkness of the illustrations enhances the story. Patrick McDonnell (the creator of the Mutt and Jeff cartoon) uses a constrained palette—black and white with touches of red, on paper that seems a shade of platinum.

Round and about goes the narrator. Round and about follows the skunk. Wild turns, coffee shop, even a cab ride; nothing shakes him off. Skunks can ride cabs too. Only when he enters the opera house does he succeed. "But then of course skunks can’t buy tickets to the opera." Or can they?

"Excuse me, madam but there seems to be a skunk on your head." The chase is on again. By this time we have quite grown to like this red-nosed skunk (a perfect match to the narrator's red tie.) And, in an interesting twist to the tale, so also has the narrator, who leaves his celebratory party to go looking for the skunk. The illustration on the last page is just perfect. The narrator hiding behind a tree. Two spots of red. Two tails, one real one coat. Perfect parallelism.

"I think I will keep an eye on him and make sure he does not follow me again."

Title: The Skunk

Author: Mac Burnett

Illustrator: Patrick McDonnell

Publisher: Roaring Brook Press

Hardback: 30 pages

ISBN: 978-1-59643-966-5