Perfect early Middle Grade, perfect length, perfect message(s) subtly placed within.
We start with Badger opening the door to find Skunk, then slamming the door on him. This is Badger in a nutshell: gruff and quick to make an instant decision based on some fixed thinking. Skunk has arrived at the invitation of Aunt Lula, whose brownstone Badger is currently occupying in order to do his Important Rock Work. Badger would know that she'd sent Skunk along to be his new roommate were it not for the fact that Badger hasn't read the last four or five letters Aunt Lula sent him. But he must not be interrupted! he has Important Rock Work!
Yeah, Badger is a stiff old codger, and he's not interested in a roommate, much less a Skunk, much less a Skunk with a secret whistle that can summon chickens across space (and maybe time?) through a vague something called The Quantum Leap. Not just a few chickens, but HUNDREDS of them. More and more Skunk edges his way into Badger's life -- flattening boxes, making breakfast, uh, chickens -- until he breaks and finally Skunk realizes its not going to work out, and leaves Badger.
And in the quiet that follows, Badger realizes he's made a mistake, and goes on a hunt for Skunk, in the process getting a different idea of how the outside world viewed Skunk and Badger, with Badger realizing there is much he might have been wrong about.
Two opposing factions meet, they fight, they separate... will they get back together and be friends? That's the surface message, but the thing I really love here is how Timberlake presents an opportunity for larger discussions. Is Badger someone who does not like others who are not exactly like him? Has Badger become so intrenched in his Work that he has lost sight of the world outside his front door?
An Aunt gives them her house to stay in (and what animal would be the aunt of a skunk AND a badger?), a job defined as Important Rock Work, a bad stoat come to steal some chickens in order to eat them. It's the logic of the young grafted to their view of the real world, but at a remove, with animals standing in.
I've been thinking about this book for well over a week, trying out ideas for what I wanted too say, clever lines i'd want to use later (but never wrote down, so pffft!) But I keep picking up this 220-page (perfect!) book, with it's occasional Jon Klassen illustrations (including a two-page color spread), and I feel both in the moment and transferred back in time. Back to when I was a young reader and found a book that had humor and heart, that had words that sounded fancy and quirky that would turn out to be real word, that was just plain fun from the first page, a book that felt, well, just...