Spotted skunk in a hollow log

What Happens… If You Wake a Skunk?

That depends on what you do next!

Should you bolt? Quietly back away? Or do you stand your ground, hold your breath, and hope he doesn’t spray? Kids will laugh as they consider the options in my picture book, If You Wake A Skunk, to be released by Sleeping Bear Press in spring 2023.

The story is a silly, rhyming cautionary tale about the signals spotted skunks send before launching their stench defense. I wrote it in the second-person point of view, similar to an old favorite, The Monster at the End of this Book, where lovable Grover dares you not to turn each page.

Here’s how I described the book when I submitted it to the publisher:

You inched ahead and took a peek. But if he sprays you… you will reek. Tension and humor build as you tempt fate and dismiss a skunk’s warnings. Don’t you see that icy stare? Three times warned. Get out of there! The skunk waves his tail, hisses, stares, and stomps. He even does a handstand. But you don’t budge until he points his rear at you. That’s when you scram—only to discover that skunks can be fakers.

Did you notice I said the book is about a spotted skunk? They’re less well-known than striped skunks. About the size of a squirrel, the spotted skunk is smaller and less abundant than its striped cousin. The common name comes from the animal’s spots, which are really broken stripes. There are several species of spotted skunks, including eastern, western, plains, and Yucatan. Their names correlate roughly with their North American ranges, although spotted skunks don’t live in every state and province.

Here’s an eastern spotted skunk doing its signature handstand. The photos on this page are not mine (we don’t have spotted skunks in Michigan) but used under license.

Eastern Spotted Skunk doing handstand before spraying.

That fabulous handstand is why I chose the spotted skunk to star in my book.

Baby striped skunks sometimes do handstands, too. You can see that in this video by wildlife rehabilitator Mary Cummins. Those baby skunks are cute, but they don’t come close to the style and acrobatic finesse of spotted skunks.

The spotted skunk sends almost all of its warning signals—tail waving, charging back and forth, and more—while balanced on its two front feet. If you watch the spotted skunk’s handstand, caught on trail cam video at Sauguaro National Park, you’ll see why the Discovery Channel calls spotted skunks ‘the acrobats of the skunk world.’

That handstand is pretty darn adorable if you ask me. If you Google ‘spotted skunk handstand video,’ you’ll find more clips to chuckle at.

So, what prompted me to write a book about a skunk?

I have vivid memories of seeing early-morning striped-skunk surfeits on my front lawn when I lived in Mentor, Ohio. (‘Surfeit’ is the collective noun for skunks. It also means an excessive quantity of something, which strikes me as unfair, given how cute the animals are.)

It was not unusual to see six to twelve skunks digging for grubs when I raised my garage door to leave for work. The noise put them in alert mode, sending their tails waving high in the air. I did not tempt fate by walking on the grass. Pulling out in my car never provoked a group stench-fest.

These encounters more than twenty years ago eventually inspired my picture book about skunks’ warning signals. When research led me to the spotted skunk’s acrobatics, I couldn’t resist making it about that skunk and its adorable handstand.

If You Wake a Skunk is illustrated by Florence Weiser. Sleeping Bear Press chose her to add the special layers of story that make any picture book a delight to read by, for, and with young kids. I have been delighted to work with the Sleeping Bear team. It’s a highly regarded press known for publishing beautiful, scientifically sound books that are also great fun to read. I’m honored they published my manuscript!

The book will be released on April 15, 2022. It’s available for pre-order now, online and at any bookseller.

Image Credits: Kcapaldo-Adobe Stock Photos, Stan Tekiela, Getty Images.