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Smelly Socks

Reviewed: May 14, 2004
By: Robert Munsch / illustrations by Michael Martchenko
Publisher: Scholastic Books
32 pages, $6.99

Robert Munsch has an interesting way of coming up with new stories. When he travels on book and reading tours, he meets lots of kids, learns a bit about their lives, and makesĀ  up stories about them. Then he tells them over and over again in different places until he's sure he's got the flavour of the piece just right before he turns it into a book.

The central character of Smelly Socks is a girl named Tina, who lives on the Hay River Dene reserve in the NWT. Munsch and his primary illustrator, Michael Martchenko, have made what seems to be an effort to capture some of the ambience of that region, just as they did nearly two decades ago in Fifty Below, a winter story that was inspired by a visit to Watson Lake.

Tina lives in a small village across a big lake from a larger town, so a trip to town to buy socks is a big deal for her. The trip could almost have made a book in itself - and I do wonder about the story behind the sunken skidoo that can be seen on page 6.

However, this story is about the new socks, a special, colourful pair which Tina vows she will never, NeVeR, NEVER take off.

You know what smelly socks can be like. After ten days her friends were complaining. After 20, Canada geese were falling out of the sky. After 30, a passing skunk collapsed.

Tina's friends finally grabbed her, took her to the river, and washed those socks, thus creating a downstream biohazard much worse than Dawson's waste water discharge, but making the world safe for breathing once again.

This has all the Munsch touches: a realistic situation taken to fantastic extremes, repetition of certain chantable phrases and a happy ever after ending with just a hint of a sequel. As for Martchenko, he clearly had a lot of fun with the animals and the rural setting.

I hadn't noticed that Munsch had changed publishers. From the information on the cover, this looks to be his fourth book for Scholastic. He's written over forty, so I'm sure there will be more.

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