March 15, 2016

Skunk on a String

by Thao Lam
Owlkids Books
40 pp.
Ages 4-7
March 2016

Wordless picture books have a nuance that takes them beyond texted children’s books.  It’s the distinction of stories told without the clues of text, stories told in whatever way the visual reader chooses to see the tale.  The possibilities are endless.  In this review, I will endeavour to share my own take on Skunk on a String.  It may not be what others see but it’s mine.

Amongst a colourful parade of costumed walkers clinging to massive balloons floats a skunk with a relatively plain red polka-dot balloon string wrapped around its back leg. How he got into this predicament is unknown.  What he sees and the reactions he generates are the basis for Thao Lam’s illustrations, both full page and panelled pages with multiple scenes.

From Skunk on a String by Thao Lam
From the city blocks of apartments with their multitude of residents–cooking, watching TV, doing laundry, reading–to the construction workers on top of unfinished buildings and the animals at the zoo, the skunk sees much, all the while trying to catch something to help bring him down.  Hope seems imminent with a foray on a garbage truck but our little guy is again set aloft and cruising over, and in, an ocean, a desert and finally an amusement park, where a ferris wheel gives him the opportunity to become unstrung.  But, with this new freedom, the little skunk gets a new perspective on his adventure and finds a way to get back the truly free experience of seeing the world.

Thao Lam uses collages of brightly coloured and textured papers to create the amazing worlds that our little skunk visits.  Both minimalist in some scenes (e.g., the zoo) and incredibly detailed in others (e.g., the apartment building), she fashions clever illustrations that depict a full range of landscapes, each with their own touches of life: fish, cacti, elephants, trees, plants, humans.  There’s both a depth and a lightness to her illustrations, not unlike the world that Skunk on a String gets to visit, ultimately cherishing the opportunity for adventure he’s been given.

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