Have you ever felt like someone was following you? Did you ever feel like you could not get away? Didn’t you want to know why that person was following you? In The Skunk, by Mac Barnett, the questions above were proliferated as a man was relentlessly followed by a skunk. When he walked a few blocks, the skunk would follow him. The man took many sharp turns down the road, hailed a taxi downtown and hid behind shrubs just to get away from this skunk. However, the skunk was always two steps ahead of him. Every turn, every taxi, every bush, held a skunk relentlessly by his side. The man would ask the skunk, “What do you want?” However, the skunk being a skunk could not answer the poor man. When the man finally found himself alone at a party without the skunk by his side, he wondered, where the skunk was, was the skunk looking for him, was he following someone else? With his mind racing with all these questions, Mac Barnett reverses the roles between the man and the skunk. The man was now looking in the alley way, searching on top of Ferris Wheel’s and diving in the sewers just to find the skunk. When he finally found the skunk, he carefully followed his every step. The picture book ends with the man saying, “I think I will keep an eye on him and make sure he does not follow me again.”
Barnett’s clever and sly storytelling is simple in form however, the meaning behind the picture book is much more complex. The narration is considerably a dark comedy with features of silliness and suspense. For younger readers, they will appreciate the simple concept of a skunk following a man throughout the book. When the roles reverse, and the man starts to go against the norms of what they see in society, children may think this is comical. However, older children will appreciate the overall meaning of the narrative. The refusal of Barnett to wrap up the story with a cuddly harmony of results makes the ending seem a bit ambiguous. The reader is still left with the question to the man’s questions unanswered. The reader is instead forced to create his or her own understanding of the meaning of the text. One of the greatest pleasures with picture books is that it allows you to overanalyze everything. As readers we are not only just reading the text but we are also trying to find hints of the authors intentions in the illustrations. Is it about letting go? Curiosity? Passion? Obsession? The beauty of this narrative is the ability for the meaning to be taken in a variety of different directions.