While serving on award committees, we took notice of books published in 2017 that feature foxes as characters. Throughout January, we looked at a few of these books to see how, or if, authors and illustrators reflect some of the more traditional and cultural views of foxes or if this is a new generation of perceptions of foxes. This week we give our takes on one final book. We started with The Fox and the Wild, then looked at The Fox Wish, also discussed Pandora and last week we give our takes on The Secret Life of the Red Fox. This week we discuss Little Fox in the Forest by Stephanie Graegin.
SUSAN: Little Fox in the Forest is a wordless book that chronicles an adventure that moves back and forth between a little girl’s real world of home, school and friends and an imaginary world full of animals who live in a thriving forest village. Becker uses a blue/gray palette to depict the main character’s daily life as she wakes up, cares for her beloved stuffed fox, heads to school and plans how she can share in Show and Tell about the stuffed fox she has had since she was a baby.
When her stuffed fox is stolen by a fox, she gives chase, follows the thief and enters the bright colorful world of clothed animals in a forest village. The village is complete with shops, homes with thatched roofs and bungling or sly characters. Along the way the girl meets animals who foreshadow the world she is about to enter. The two that grab my attention are the Poirot-like weasel and the bungling good-hearted bear, both representing the stereotypical images of those animals. Weasels are portrayed in various tales as sly, and this detective weasel fits the role as he spies on the action. In his attempt to help, he is stopped by the good-hearted bungling bear who tries to help but keeps messing up.
MEGAN: This story has a different representation of a fox than the traditional sly and tricky fox I remember from my childhood. A child and a fox together in the deep forest does not lead to a dark tale in this story. This tale is an endearing story that culminates in the little fox and girl exchanging hugs and stuffed animals, and then the girl returns home. The girl is given the fox’s polka dot unicorn and the fox keeps the girl’s stuffed fox. Nothing upsetting or grim occurs. To the contrary, this story is charming and sweet.
This is another story that offsets the way many of us remember foxes, and by association wolves, from childhood stories. This group of books works in the same way as many of the retold fairy tales. The text set works to repaint the image of foxes. These books work collectively to provide another perspective of foxes. These foxes are sweet, charming, inquisitive and polite. A far cry from what we remember from the past.
As a society, we work to correct errors from our past, though we probably never think about the way animals are given distinct characteristics in children’s literature. I do not know if I have ever taken the time to think about how animals are portrayed or to challenge any I have come across. If nothing else, these texts provide a different perspective for children to view foxes from older published texts.
MARIA: Little Fox in the Forest is a Charlotte Huck Award Honor Book. Described as an outstanding fiction book for young children, this story shares similarities with The Fox Wish. In both stories, the girls lose artifacts due to a little fox. In Little Fox in the Forest, the red fox seems to approach and take the artifact (a stuffed toy), carefully and mischievously, while in The Fox Wish, the fox believes the artifact (jump rope) to be for her, so she simply takes it. Also, in both stories, the girls show empathy for the foxes and serve as role models of kindness and compassion for the animals. In both stories, the girls have a way of communicating, understanding, interacting and caring for red foxes, which is unusual in the history of foxes and humans in children’s literature.
In these representations, girls are in a higher power hierarchy than the foxes, which becomes evident when the foxes learn about social interactions and fairness from the humans. While the girls could also be developing these dispositions, the foxes seem to be at a stage of emergence. Both foxes seem younger than the girls, which might influence in the development of dispositions. However, I wonder if the human-animal distinction played a larger role in attributing certain qualities.
DESIREE: This book is at the top of my list of good reads. It is absolutely magical! I had the opportunity to share this book with a group of third graders. After reading and re-reading the illustrations and finding new details each time, the students came to the conclusion that the book is about friendship.
Each of the books in our text set extended an invitation to explore life through the eyes of a fox. Whether realistic fiction, non-fiction or fantasy, the books challenge our long-standing beliefs about these animals. They caused us to believe that… perhaps… someday, humans and foxes may actually be friends.
Title: Little Fox in the Forest
Author: Stephanie Graegin
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Date Published: February 28, 2017