Follow This Blog: RSS feed
Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Heavy Medal Mock Newbery Finalist: SKUNK AND BADGER by Amy Timberlake

Introduced by Heavy Medal Award Committee Member Meredith Burton

Amy Timberlake’s SKUNK AND BADGER is a hilarious and poignant tale about compromise.  Timberlake tackles the themes of compromise and tolerance in a fun and unique way.  This book has distinct characterization and a humorous writing style which makes it stand out.

Badger lives for solitude and devotes all his time to Important Rock Work.  He is a rock scientist and a loner, who has been given a home by Aunt Lula, a pine marten.  He is set in his ways and abhors upheaval.  But Badger doesn’t know that Aunt Lula has given permission to Skunk to share her brownstone.  Badger’s peaceful existence is about to change.  However, perhaps a little change is good.

Amy Timberlake cleverly tells this story strictly from Badger’s perspective.  Badger is set in his ways, and Skunk’s disruption of his orderly life provides much humor and poignancy.  Badger eats “cold cereal in a cold bowl with cold milk,” yet he must admit that “breakfast hot chocolate, eggs with fire peppers and strawberry muffins” is a welcome change from his routine.  Skunk is flamboyant and fun, and he forces Badger to break from his comfort zone.  A profound example occurs when Skunk rearranges Badger’s “box” room into the “Moon” room.  Skunk has made a place for himself but generously leaves some boxes behind for Badger to use.  Another example of Skunk’s changing of routine occurs when Skunk and Badger discuss Shakespeare’s Henry V.  They both talk about the merits of kindness.  Skunk laments that he wishes all things could be resolved with kindness, but he knows that not everyone is kind.  In this way, Skunk challenges Badger to contemplate the world beyond his Rock Room. 

We later learn that Skunk has been driven from many places because “not everyone wants a skunk”.  He shows Badger a scar from when he was once attacked.  When a stoat threatens the many chicken friends that Skunk cares for, he lashes out defensively in the only way a skunk can.  Badger is caught in the crossfire, resulting in a hilarious misunderstanding.  Badger’s rigid lifestyle is thrown into chaos with Skunk’s arrival, but the two characters sorely need each other.  Badger needs to be challenged and to find a friend, and Skunk needs a home.  Aunt Lula’s providing refuge for both Badger and Skunk in her brownstone is a poignant aspect of the story.  Both Skunk and Badger need each other, and Aunt Lula, although she never appears in the story except when her letters are delivered, is a strong character.  Timberlake’s characterization is profound.

SKUNK AND BADGER is told in a fun writing style that uses many instances of onomatopoeia and alliteration.  The text is liberally sprinkled with sound effects and hilarious puns that make reading fun.  Children will delight in the way Timberlake describes how Badger eats cereal: “CLINK SLIDE SLURP.”  Skunk describes the sounds of Badger’s cereal eating as a polka.  Badger’s rock tumbler, which polishes rocks, is presented in all its teeth-rattling glory.  We learn of Badger’s secret talent for playing the ukulele, and Timberlake describes the sounds which emanate from the instrument. 

After the misunderstanding that results from Skunk’s defensive actions to protect the chickens, Skunk leaves.  Badger is finally able to admit how much he needs Skunk’s friendship.  He embarks on a fruitless search for Skunk so that he can apologize for his behavior.  It is only when Badger admits his loneliness and plays his ukulele to alleviate his sadness that Skunk reappears.

SKUNK AND BADGER is a fun read that addresses the themes of compromise and tolerance.  Only through finding a way to work together can Skunk and Badger find a happy home.  Timberlake has written a fun read with a poignant message, one with which children of all ages can relate.

Share
Steven Engelfried About Steven Engelfried

Steven Engelfried is the Library Services Manager at the Wilsonville Public Library in Oregon. He served on the 2010 Newbery committee, chaired the 2013 Newbery Committee, and also served on the 2002 Caldecott committee. You can reach him at sengelfried@yahoo.com.

Comments

  1. I have to admit I was surprised by the complexity and sophistication of this book. It is one of my favorites, and perhaps more surprising still, one of the favorites of my now 14yo son. We have laughed and talked about Skunk and Badger regularly in the weeks since we both read it. Full Disclosure: my son now calls what I do Important Rock Work, and I cannot deny the similarities between myself and Badger!

    This one warrants a close look, in part because of characterization as Meredith wrote. In might be worth going one step deeper in that characterization to look closely at voice, which I think is the ultimate strength of this book. The artistry and skill required to make this characters’ voices so alive, so unique, and so consistent is truly a mark of distinction. I mean, even the chickens are easily identifiable, and for the most part ALL THEY SAY IS BOCK!

    • Amanda Bishop says:

      I was too! This was the first book I read this year and it was impossible to put down. I laughed so much. I also felt so many other emotions while reading this book and that is a true testament to the writing of the characters. I thought the moments Badger talked about the potato were pure comedic genius.

      I think it takes a lot to write such a touching story in under 150 pages. Timberlake has a wonderful talent and this book is a stand out this year for sure.

      I agree with Meredith about all of the fun language that is included that really brings the story to life. You can imagine Badger getting super irritated by Skunk just by the descriptions of his thoughts.

  2. As an introvert, I am often wary of plot lines that throw another introvert unwillingly into the company of an extrovert. In my experience, in many of those books, all of the “compromise” is done by the introvert, as though introversion is something that needs to be “cured.” So I was actually apprehensive about this title. I’m quite pleased and relieved that this is not what happens. Badger is honestly unpleasant to Skunk at the beginning, and his character development revolves around learning how to be kinder, more open-minded, and more patient, which all of us need. In return, in the second to last chapter, Skunk and Badger come to a set of compromises about how to share their space, which is realistic and shows good boundary-setting skills. Altogether, it’s really well done.

    Also, I agree with Sara Beth West: I love the chickens.

  3. Yes, and that the chickens wear multi-colored bell-bottoms is wonderful! There is definitely distinct characterization. Even badger’s aunt comes alive, especially in how quickly she talks. While I read it a few weeks ago and can’t remember the immediate setting, I do remember the town being remarkably believable for a made-up-animal town, partly because of the way the real world is mimicked with details such as business cards and The New Yak Times Book Review. Also, my family (some of us being lactose intolerant) has had a very similar conversation about milk (the You are not a baby cow one), so I found that especially amusing.

    And while I don’t want to take away from the conversation, I would like to say that Skunk And Badger was a huge relief from all the other emotional books of 2020. This year I got to all the great books around mid-November to December. Because I’m a homeschooled teenager and usually have the time to read a book a day if I want to, I was reading these very emotional books (King, Della, Ellie, etc.), one after another and found myself crying over books sometimes days in a row, and although I love emotional novels, I need a break sometimes! Last night I refused to cry in the book I was reading because I just didn’t want to cry AGAIN. So reading Skunk and Badger was a perfect contrast.

    • Aud Hogan says:

      You’re not taking away from the conversation! I think it’s a great reminder that a book doesn’t have to be Deep and Heavy and Serious and Emotional to be distinguished. I think we can sometimes overlook more humorous things and forget that they can be just as hard to write, and can have excellent presentation of themes, plot, character development, and all that other stuff that makes great literature. (Not that the other books didn’t have the occasional humorous elements in them – Della’s voice in particular made me snort-laugh a couple of times.) People deserve and need to have a cannon of books that represent all aspects of the human condition, including the lighter bits (even if it takes Skunks and Badgers to do it).

  4. Courtney Hague says:

    Yes! I loved the characterization in this book. That a novel this short can make such distinctive characters is really impressive. The humor is also just spot on. The rocket potato and the chickens who only say “bock!” but can be understood by Skunk. It’s funny without trying too hard.

  5. Meredith Burton says:

    I agree with you, Anonymous. 2020 had so many emotional books, and Skunk and Badger was a nice relief to read. Great point.

  6. Tamara DePasquale says:

    Yes to everything above and more! There are so many good things to highlight in Timberlake’s “Skunk and Badger.” Let’s start with the writing. It’s sophisticated, lyrical, and supremely animated. And the vocabulary is just lovely. When was the last time you read a book for children where you heard the words civet, stoat or lenity? And let’s not forget the “newell post!” These are tough words for the intended audience, yet the sophistication of the story lends itself well to such great word choices. A doorbell doesn’t just ring here; it “rang-rang-RAAAAANG again.” Aunt Lulu’s run-together sentences perfectly demonstrate her snappy tongue. I hope I someday overhear a child muttering “sludge and slurry” or that something is “problematic!” Both Badger’s and Skunk’s personalities shine through in their conversations. The dialogue is smart and playful.

    The character development is well-constructed. These opposing personalities are clearly defined through their actions, their words, their interactions with other minor characters and even in the setting. We know so much about each animal through Badger’s simple observations. For example, Skunk’s “red suitcase tied up with twine” is an absolute mystery to the orderly Badger. He gazes upon it often in the beginning and then makes note of it again when Skunk moves out. Skunk and Badger cannot be more different, yet they grow to accept and understand each other and welcome the best of what they bring to a friendship. Skunk and Badger’s friendship is reminiscent of “Frog and Toad,” “Mouse and Mole,” and even “Elephant and Piggie,” yet it is fresh and nuanced.

    The setting, too, is clearly drawn. From the interior of Badger’s brownstone to downtown North Twist, the setting is vivid and just as animated as the characters and the language. I so enjoyed Badger’s offering of the Harry Potter-like closet. The Box Room, the Rock Room and even the Moon Room are welcoming and equally fun. I bet every young reader would delight in a room filled with rocks to explore, boxes to play with, and a reading room that invites the moon and the stars to listen in.

    Another great element of the story is its humor, and humor can be found in the physical comedy, the naming of objects, and hints of adult humor. I laughed when Badger dove for Skunk just as Skunk was preparing to spray the Stoat. I couldn’t help but smirk at the “Naked Neck” chickens from Transylvania, and I appreciated the many little add-ins (“ten steps to improving my life) and the scene of the hedgehog with the tam o’shanter reading the New Yak Times Book Review! These were delightful and never felt intrusive or forced.

    Lastly, the themes of friendship, forgiveness, and kindness are well-woven throughout the book. The kindnesses that are shown are tender and at times tear-worthy. I especially appreciated skunk’s perspective on kindness: “Yes, ‘hope’ seems right to me. Gentle and kind is the way I would like the world to be. I hope it will be that way.” The description of the proper way to give an apology felt spot-on, much-needed, and timely as well — not preachy.

    I could go on and on about the strengths of “Skunk and Badger.” I haven’t even mentioned the illustrations! There is no doubt, in my opinion that this one stands out among the pack and demonstrates that it is truly “distinguished.” The writing, language, characters, settings and themes work together effortlessly and elevate the book’s distinction. It’s deserving of the foil sticker on its jacket cover. Aunt Lulu sums up my feelings quite well: “It makes me smile to think of you and Skunk together. I look forward to news of your adventures!” Fingers crossed for future adventures!

  7. Meredith, you capture what is unusual about this book with the phrase, “hilarious and poignant.” Thank you!

  8. Carrie Bruner says:

    I am definitely the lone voice of dissent here, but in all honesty, this was probably my least favorite of all of the books we’ve read for these discussions. While it does have its charms (like the rocket potato, which made me giggle), I felt like the story had been told before a million times and was pretty predictable. And while I agree that a Newbery winner doesn’t always have to be “heavy”, this, to me, seemed a little too cutesy to be a real contender. Or, since everyone else who commented seemed to love it, maybe I was just grumpy when I read it!

  9. Anonymous says:

    Actually, I agree. It was my least favorite too. That’s not to say I didn’t like it — a lot — but for me it was one of those books there were shinning moments that stuck in my memory, but then there were whole chapters, the first few in particular, and paragraphs within the chapters that I really enjoyed that didn’t stand out. I don’t want to seem hypercritical, but I was, to be honest, often reading on for the next interesting/funny moment and not the story itself. (a little like reading Brown Girl Dreaming, a book that had poems I adored but so many others I didn’t, that reading it was a little like going on a treasure hunt.) I think it’s a delightful quirky little book, and amazing as far as quirky little animal books go, but that it just isn’t as memorable or (frankly) beautiful as say, King and the Dragonflies or Echo Mountain. And, while this might be faulty logic, I think it’s more or less reasonable to think that if a person can’t imagine a book actually winning, that book’s unlikely to receive an honor. After all, Other Words for Home and Genesis Begins Again are books that I can imagine having actually won, although they were honor books. Personally I can’t imagine Skunk and Badger winning, either. But I do hope that it’s considered a bit of a classic in years to come and — though this would obviously be not allowed in the real committee, – I think it definitely tops a past animal-story winner, Rabbit Hill!

  10. Brenda Martin says:

    I enjoyed this book overall, and laughed many times, but I did find something a little odd in Badger’s characterization. I understood his need to focus on Important Rock Work, but the way he was depicted as being so fastidious made him not reading his mail from his aunt feel like an awkward plot device. A pair of siblings (8 & 10) pointed this out to me and said it made them unsure of what kind of character Badger was supposed to be.

  11. I tried really hard to have an affinity for SKUNK AND BADGER. I tried really hard to give this title a fair chance. But this book, I absolutely could not relate to or connect with. For what it is, I think it’s a quirky, off beat odd-couple story. With some interesting moments. But I didn’t find it as humorous. While I think it’s important to consider lighter stories and give them a fair chance, I don’t think I would recommend this as a Newbery contender. I think this definitely would be an interesting read for kids, the language is age appropriate, written well, and beautifully illustrated by Jon Klassen. However, I didn’t really feel a part of the world as I read. Great use of language and introduction of high level words. It’s definitely an interesting ‘escape’ sort of story, but I think considering the state of the world right now, it’s important for kids to have books with MCs that they can identify with, are experiencing what they are experiencing, and offering them hope or an opportunity to see themselves in a book.

  12. Emily Mroczek says:

    I agree with most of what was said especially Tamaras points. My only real issue was with the conclusion. I thought the whole scene of Badger looking for Skunk all day and not finding him was drawn out and just did not flow.

Speak Your Mind

*