Skunk and Badger: Cover Reveal and Q&A with Amy Timberlake
Warning: Important rock work may ensue.
When I am asked to go the usual interview/cover reveal route, I’ll do so if I feel that the book has some kind of a hook worth noting. What might such a hook entail? Oh, I dunno. It could be that the plot strikes me as intriguing. It could be that I admire the work of the author (like, say, Newbery Honor winner Amy Timberlake) or the illustrator (who could be, just as an example, Caldecott Award winner Jon Klassen). But I’m not a complicated person. Who judges books by their covers? I do. So what happens when I encounter a book with what absolutely has to be the best jacket I’ve seen all year?
You’re about to find out.
But ah, ah, ah! No skipping to the end of this post, my pretties. First, you need to take a step back and acknowledge that while pairing Amy Timberlake with Jon Klassen is head spinning, how did it even happen? And what is this book, Skunk and Badger, of which I speak? For that, you’re gonna need to read an interview. And it’s gonna be an interview with Ms. Timberlake herself.
Let’s go all in.
Betsy Bird: So let’s just get to the meat of the matter. Since the appearance of the COVID-19 pandemic I’ve been sheltering at home with my family. My son, who is in Kindergarten, connects with his classroom by listening every school day, at noon via Zoom, to his teacher reaching a chapter book aloud. She prefers the classics, so it’s a lot of My Father’s Dragon and Boxcar Children. Eavesdropping from the other room, it got me to thinking about the chapter books that we read aloud to groups of young kids. SKUNK AND BADGER seems very much in the same vein. Where did you get the impetus to write a book of this sort?
Amy Timberlake: Cool! YES! With SKUNK AND BADGER I was trying to write a read aloud! So yay! Yeah, I wanted to write something for teachers or librarians reading to groups of kids, or parents reading a chapter of a story out loud before bed. And I wanted the reading aloud to be fun for both adults and kids at the same time.
I have such fond memories of my parents reading to me before bed. My dad, in particular, loved a good funny story and he’d start laughing and then I’d laugh too. He had this great laugh! So everybody gets to have fun reading SKUNK AND BADGER aloud. Or that’s what I’m aiming for. Also, there are some very fun sound effects!
How did this come about? While doing research for another book, I ended up reading a bunch of children’s classics: Winnie-the Pooh, Paddington Bear, Beatrix Potter’s stories, etc. And this started me wondering what kind of story I’d write if I wrote something similar to say, Winnie-the-Pooh. To be clear, I wasn’t thinking of writing something imitative. I was simply curious about what would happen if I wrote a story using the constraints of a certain type of classic children’s story. My story would form out of my own writing psyche. There’d be my sense of humor and sense of play. There’d be a love of language. And yeah, the animals would talk. (I’ve avoided talking animals for years, but that was part of the game — so I went there. Now I’m a fan! Ha!)
SKUNK AND BADGER is the result. And I’m glad this project happened when it did. This is the project I want to be working on at this particular moment in time. It’s joyful and I need that now.
BB: Your illustrator is Jon Klassen. And so, the question on the lips of all the inquiring minds (mixed metaphor much, Betsy?) is quite simple. Mainly, how did you GET him?
AT: I know! Right?
Steve Malk, my agent at Writers House, suggested Jon Klassen after he saw the manuscript. I thought it would be a good match too. Steve sent the manuscript to Jon. And Jon Klassen said YES. (And thus commenced much rejoicing!)
Let me say, I am STILL shaking my head in wonder at this. Jon’s art is perfect. Everything is working together for good. Thank you Jon!
BB: That’s awesome! Let’s take a look at two of the interiors right now:
BB: Beautiful. Now, to what extent do you imagine the physicality of your characters when you’re writing them? And then, how do you rectify that image with whatever it is the artist comes up with? I know you’ve done picture books, so how did an illustrated novel compare?
AT: It’s funny. I’ve never had any trouble with this, but I should say that this is only my second illustrated book. Still, I try to write my characters as specifically as possible. They are who they are, and I am aiming to make them live in the readers’ mind by text alone.
Also, Adam Rex illustrated my picture book, THE DIRTY COWBOY, and he landed it. Adam is masterful and THE DIRTY COWBOY reflects his skill. It’s beautiful. SKUNK AND BADGER is my second experience with having something I’ve written being illustrated, and it’s Jon Klassen – another master artist! Jon has done gorgeous, rich and textured art for SKUNK AND BADGER. The emotional life of Skunk and Badger lives on the page in front of you. I cannot wait until everyone can see this book! Your jaw will drop.
I can’t figure out how to compare the two experiences. It’s apples and oranges. All I can say is that I love having text I’ve written illustrated. It is the ultimate compliment.
BB: The skunk is a much maligned creature. To be frank, aside from Flower in Bambi I can’t think of a famous one in pop culture. Why redeem them in this manner?
Let’s say you were being a nuisance to an animal. In response, a buffalo might run you down. A bear would bat a whomping big, clawed paw at you. And let’s not talk about that mountain lion! So that said, doesn’t it strike you as unfair that that a small animal that leaves you stinky but unharmed gets so much bad press? There’s a generosity to the skunk that goes unnoticed.
Also, black and white stripes!
BB: You got me there. Would you characterize yourself as more of a Skunk or more of a Badger in personality and habits?
I am both Badger and Skunk absolutely. I am full of enthusiasms (like Skunk). Also, all homesickness can be cured by making muffins (Skunk-ish). But I am a writer. So spending hours pouring over Important Rock Work in my rock room, and telling myself to focus, focus, focus? Yup, do that every day. Am I grumpy? Do I growl like Badger? You’d have to ask Phil (my husband). We’re riding the pandemic out together in a one bedroom apartment, so the answer should be forthcoming. But so far, so good…
BB: The million dollar question: What are you working on next?
SKUNK AND BADGER is the first in a three book series. I’m finishing Book Two now. And then, I’ve got to get right to work on Book Three. (They’re going to be fun, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise by telling you more!)
Thank you Betsy! This was so enjoyable! Thanks for everything you do for kids books — I appreciate you and your work!
Well a big THANK YOU to Amy Timberlake for patiently answering my questions with such big-hearted aplomb.
And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for, my favorite cover of 2020 so far . . . . SKUNK AND BADGER!!
Not even kidding you. I aspire to be this skunk someday.
Additional thanks to Michael McKenzie and the good folks over at Algonquin Young Readers for putting this all together.
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
SLJ Blog Network