Considering how frequently they’re given monikers like “furry masked bandits,” “trash pandas,” and “pests,” it seems no one has a kind word to spare for raccoons. Perhaps with good cause, as anyone who has tried to keep raccoons off their property can tell you just how hard it is.
In the opening pages of Vivek Shraya’s Revenge of the Raccoons, these nocturnal scavengers own up to their misdeeds. They admit to stealing our food, attacking our pets, climbing our rooftops, chewing our fences, and obliterating our trash. And they are not the least bit sorry. Rather, they take pride as they chant: “We’re furry, we scurry, / We’re cheeky … you worry!”
In her new picture book, Shraya champions the much-reviled raccoon – and, by extension, all the urban wildlife humans are in constant conflict with. Shraya’s sparse, repetitive, rhyming text creates a mesmerizing effect that is enhanced by Juliana Neufeld’s dazzling artwork.
As raccoons go about terrorizing the city at night, the lush illustrations – bright with neon colours – convey the energy and relentlessness of their marauding existence. And while humans look terrified and run for cover, the raccoons are thoroughly enjoying themselves. Their crimes and glee are exaggerated for comic effect as the fearless raccoons loot banks and drugstores and scale the CN Tower.
What starts as a manifesto for creating chaos contains a deeper message about the need to peacefully coexist with wildlife, challenging the common perception of raccoons as pests that must be feared, despised, and removed. Shraya’s unapologetic raccoons remind us that humans encroached on their habitats and displaced them with indiscriminate deforestation and urbanization.
Humans have destroyed the natural habitats of the wild animals that now live among us, and which we paint as troublemakers (be they raccoons, skunks, squirrels, opossums, or coyotes). We can’t ask raccoons to stop thieving and change their behaviour; we have to change ours. “We’ve come to make you share,” the raccoons declare.