By Eleanor Davis
40 pages, color
Published by Toon Books

The best kind of children’s book is one that adults can enjoy equally. Reading Eleanor Davis’s Stinky, the newest addition to the Toon Books line, I can’t help but feel that Davis would agree. When I was reading Stinky, my initial thought was how much I’d have loved this book as a child. My second thought was how much I was enjoying it as an adult.

Stinky Seymour and his pet toad Wartbelly live in the smelly, dirty swamp. There, not only can Stinky hang out with the other animals and creatures in the swamp, but he can stay away from children. Children like to take baths, eat cake and apples, and hate monsters, so Stinky needs to avoid them at all costs. When a young boy named Nick decides to build a tree house in the swamp, though, can Stinky chase Nick away in order to keep his happy home?

What I really loved about Stinky from the very beginning is how well Davis has mapped out the lay of the land. I’m not talking about just the map that is printed in the book’s endpapers, but how it really feels like a place you could visit. Stinky and Nick’s back-and-forth interactions aren’t confined to a single place, but different sections and locations of the swamp. Places like the Possum Tree and the Bottomless Pit are exactly the sort of thing I’d want to see in a book; I can see myself as a kid imagining all sorts of new adventures to take place around them.

Mind you, the story itself in Stinky is pretty darn good. Stinky’s attempts to scare off Nick are funny, but at the same time are also reasonable and easily-understandable tactics for Stinky to take. And while the conclusion may be a bit predictable, I really appreciated the way in which Davis told it. It has a lot of heart, and felt natural. Davis also doesn’t write down to her audience, automatically spelling everything out. I appreciated that if you read between the lines there’s a story about Nick’s family and recent changes in it that you can pick up on, by way of example.

Davis’s art is absolutely adorable. It’s impressive that Davis can draw characters like Wartbelly the toad in a way that makes her clearly smelly and slimy, but at the same time actually cute. (The little hearts around her head when Nick first meets her had me laughing for a couple of minutes.) The little details that she adds into each page couldn’t help but make me fall in love with her art, from the animals cheering on the sidelines as Stinky comes out of the pit, to the sleeping possums snoring away while Stinky stomps by. Each page has a nice little touch just waiting to be discovered, all drawn in Davis’s soft, warm style. If you can’t love her drawing of a little frog wearing reading glasses as he sits under a miniature umbrella and reads a book, well, I don’t know what else to tell you.

Stinky is another great addition to the Toon Books line. I’d read Davis’s mini-comics in the past, but this is an absolutely enchanting first major work. Hopefully Toon Books has already tapped her to create another book—or if not, it’s because she has another book at another publisher in the works. What can I say? I loved Stinky from start to finish; I’ve probably read it a dozen times and suspect I will keep doing so for some time to come. Books like this bring back all the excitement and wonder I had reading books when I was younger, and I love how well Davis was able to bring that back in a heartbeat.

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