Young monster Stinky lives in a cave located deep in the murky swamp just outside of town, eating pickled onions and hanging out with his pet frog Wartbelly. Life seems good for Stinky until one day something terrible happens: A boy enters the swamp and begins building a treehouse. Stinky is afraid of children and would rather they stayed away. After all, they like taking baths and eating things like apples and cake. Disgusting! What choice does Stinky have, then, but to scare away his unwelcome guest? But when Stinky’s efforts only seem to have the opposite effect than he intends, he starts to realize that perhaps this new boy isn’t quite so scary after all.
Stinky is the mainstream debut from artist and author Eleanor Davis, and it is a slam dunk. Sure, there have been plenty of books written for young readers that cover the topics of making new friends and looking past people’s differences, but Stinky possesses a distinct style that stands from its peers. The manner in which the classic kids-afraid-of-monsters motif is turned on its head is clever and makes the book feel fresh. In addition, Davis’s richly organic illustrations, which are filled with so many delicious details that one can’t help but linger before turning each page, is unlike most other short chapter books. In fact, the artwork is more vibrant and meticulous than what is found in many graphic novels aimed at adults, yet the book never becomes too hectic or overwhelming for little readers. And I love the map of the swamp Davis includes on the back inside cover that will help kids better imagine the world Stinky lives in.
Sometimes graphic novels aimed at children skimp on dialogue, instead relying heavily on the images to carry the story. While I am a fan of books that can smartly let the visuals tell the tale, I also appreciate when an author can expertly balance vocabulary with illustrations, which is just what Eleanor Davis does with Stinky. Young readers will have their work cut out for them in terms of the amount of dialogue present in Stinky, but it is never exhausting or frustrating. And, while readers will likely be introduced to some unfamiliar words along the way, Davis is gentle about it, sometimes going so far as to provide small pictures next to tricky words in order to ease understanding and help improve recognition. There is an abundance of alliteration interspersed throughout the text, but it never crosses the line into becoming the least bit obnoxious. Thus, Stinky is as much of a pleasure to actually read as it is to look at.
Of all the Toon Books releases my family regularly enjoys reading at bedtime, Stinky runs neck and neck with Jeff Smith’s Little Mouse Gets Ready as our favorite. And, on a personal level, I think it’s pretty safe to say Stinky wins the top spot. No matter if Stinky is enjoyed alone or with an adult, it is a book young readers will request time and time again. The fun storyline, lush visuals, and appropriate vocabulary work together to make the book an absolute pleasure worthy of a place in any collection of short-chapter books. As evidenced by being awarded the Theodore Seuss Geisel Honor for Stinky in 2009, Eleanor Davis is a huge talent and definitely someone to keep an eye on.
by Eleanor Davis
Toon Books, 2008
Publisher Age Rating: 6