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.
About Steven Engelfried
Steven Engelfried was the Library Services Manager at the Wilsonville Public Library in Oregon until he retired in 2022 after 35 years as a full-time librarian. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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