cover image The Skunk

The Skunk

Mac Barnett, illus. by Patrick McDonnell. Roaring Brook, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-59643-966-5

An impassive, red-nosed skunk%E2%80%94another inimitable McDonnell (A Perfectly Messed-Up Story) critter%E2%80%94appears on a man's doorstep. Why is it there? What does it want? And why does it keep following him no matter where he goes%E2%80%94even into the opera house and onto the head of an adjacent opera buff? No answer is forthcoming, so the man does what anyone in his desperate situation would do: he starts a new life in a different part of the city. And all is merry and bright (in fact, McDonnell's palette turns from almost monochromatic to kindergarten primary) until... well, let's just say it's possible to be emotionally as well as literally skunked. Barnett's (Battle Bunny) pokerfaced narration gives off a deliciously Hitchcockian air of high style and deep-seated dread ("I'll admit that I began to panic. I ran past the wharf and turned down an alley. It was a dead end"), and the collaborators' refusal to wrap up with a cuddly reconciliation results in a story that speaks to the urbane existentialist/absurdist lurking in the heart of every reader. Ages 4%E2%80%938. Author's agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. Illustrator's agent: Henry Dunow, Dunow, Carlson & Lerner. (Apr.)