I can’t take credit for declaring 2016 the year of the fox. (In terms of children’s literature, that is.) I know I’ve seen that phrase floating around on Goodreads and on various blogs, but I have no idea who said it first. Or maybe, we all noticed at the same time that there have been an awful lot of fox books this year and started commenting about it simultaneously. Really, Pax is the most noteworthy fox book of the year, and I think it’s the reason that children’s lit readers are particularly attuned to fox books this year. Nonetheless, as the year approaches its end, I think now would be a good time to take a look back at all the 2016 fox books I’ve read and enjoyed (or not).
Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee
I read this novel all at once late one night last spring, and it was a whirlwind of words and vicarious emotions. Twelve-year-old Sylvie and eleven-year-old Jules are sisters and best of friends. Tragedy strikes one morning when Sylvie runs off to throw a wish rock in the river and never comes back. Jules can’t believe that Sylvie is gone, and she struggles to cope with the loss. The narrative switches back and forth between Jules and a young fox who has been born a kennen, (An animal whose purpose is to help a human) and evidently either has Sylvie’s spirit or has some kind of connection to her. As a significant subplot, Jules gradually begins communicating with her friend’s older brother who fought in Afghanistan and lost his best friend. In addition to the emotion, the beautifully written prose, and the pacing that is just perfect for keeping the reader engrossed, this book can also claim a lot of literary value for its use of recurring themes and motifs. (The significance of stones, the need to run fast, etc.)
The Fox Who Ate Books by Franziska Biermann, translated by Shelley Tanaka
For the sake of variety, I’m including this recently published translation of a 2015 German book. But I have to admit that I don’t find it a particularly noteworthy book. The plot is complicated and feels disorganized, and the humor of the basic premise isn’t quite entertaining enough to keep the reader engaged throughout this fairly wordy story. The bright, simple, two-dimensional illustrations seem to be targeted at a completely different age level than the text. And the end is not satisfying, surprising, or funny.
The Christmas Fox by Anik McGrory
This holiday-themed picture book may not be making headlines, but its playful take on the nativity scene and its loveable, frisky protagonist still give it some pretty significant appeal factors. The text is brief enough that the soft illustrations are the real focus of the book. My favorite page is the one where the fox is splashing in the stream. Personally, I have some theological qualms about portraying baby Jesus as the recipient of Christmas gifts rather than the gift Himself, but we’ll give this book a pass on that. Its basic message is no different than that of The Little Drummer Boy, which is widely considered a classic Christmas song and movie.
Pax by Sara Pennypacker
One of the most popular middle-grade novels of 2016, this book has achieved multiple starred reviews and was on the National Book Award longlist, as well as accumulating many, many glowing reviews on amazon, goodreads, and blogs. Some have speculated that it is likely to win the Newbery medal. I actually didn’t love it. At least not quite as much as I loved certain other 2016 middle-grade books. You can read my initial Pax post here. I also wrote about it in my post about the National Book Award contenders. This is a book that I will be revisiting as I compile my annual best-of-the-year list.
Fox and the Jumping Contest by Corey R. Tabor
This is another picture book that hasn’t received much attention, and is unlikely to become a beloved favorite or a time-tested classic, but it’s silly and entertaining and a good choice for the occasional preschool storytime. The title more or less sums up the plot— I suppose Fox Uses a Jetpack in the Jumping Contest would be a bit more descriptive—but if you really want to know how the story ends, let’s just say that everyone’s happy and there’s no moral. No moral, but plenty of fun.
Faraway Fox by Jolene Thompson, illustrated by Justin K. Thompson
I included this title in my latest list of picture books. It’s one of thirty-four picture books that I’m considering for my list of the best books of 2016, and while I don’t know whether it’ll actually make my list, it’s a book well worth reading if you or your child is interested in foxes, animal habitats, ecology, or cute woodland creatures in general. Both the almost-but-not-quite realistic artwork and the concise text are beautiful and have a surprising degree of emotional depth considering the simplicity of the story.