Eleanor Davis’ Stinky – Review

Eleanor Davis’ first book was Stinky, which was released in 2008 by Toon Books. It won a number of awards and deservedly so, because it’s brilliant on any number of levels. What’s interesting about her kids’ and YA books is that they are chock full of eye pops–little background details that add flavor to the story. Will Elder used to refer to this feature as “chicken fat”–inessential but delicious. Davis’ earlier work in general was denser looking than her beautifully pared-down line now, but I also think the choice to add so many eye pops was a deliberate one. Davis wanted to add additional layers to her relatively simple story, giving the young reader something new to see every time they returned to the book.

The titular character is an ugly, smelly monster who hates kids because he thinks they like baths, hate mud and especially hate monsters. The first chapter skillfully introduces him and his world, dropping numerous clues as to what might happen later in the story. Davis clearly wanted to give the reader a lot to chew on, introducing every key plot point in the book early on so the reader could refer back to it. When my daughter saw the book had a map of the local sights, she was absolutely gleeful about it. It gave the book a shorthand structure that made kids want to know more about it.

The second chapter is a classic “rule of three” set-up. Stinky is trying to scare the boy and uses three methods to do so: put a frog in his treehouse, hide his hammer in the swamp, and pretend to be a ghost. This is perfect young reader storytelling technique, as Davis escalated the action just enough to keep the reader invested in the story. Of course, all three plans go awry, as the boy likes the frog, likes the swamp and doesn’t think ghosts are real–but he does like monsters. The final panel sees the boy’s red cap fall into a “bottomless pit”. The third chapter finds Stinky missing the boy and realizing that the boy’s hat was missing. In an effort to get the hat, Stinky fell into the hole, only to be rescued by the boy. The monster realizes that they actually have a lot in common, and they wind up as friends.

Davis has an uncanny ability to get into the minds of kids and write them in a realistic fashion. Even in a book where the vocabulary is deliberately kept simple, Davis’ dialogue is funny and evocative. Her page design is superb, leading the eye all over the place but still keeping images relatively easy to swallow all at once. Its message of acceptance is clearly delivered, but it’s not shoved down the reader’s throat. Davis gets there honestly and clearly lays out how someone’s mind can change with the right amounts of reason and emotion. As per usual, Toon Books’ design quality is second to none, with every page integrated into part of the story, even the indicia. Though Davis did not continue down the kids’ or YA path full time, she demonstrated that she could be as good as anyone in those genres, just as she’s shown that she’s one of the best cartoonists working today, full stop.