Did you know the fox is one of the most common animals in children’s books?
It’s fascinating to think about why certain animals much more than others feature so often in our stories, whether that’s thousands of years ago or now!
Why does a particular animal lend itself to becoming an intriguing character and creating a great story?
I think the fox is one of these animals.
Foxes in my Garden
Since moving to London some time ago, foxes are a familiar sight.
As I look out of my window I can spot a couple of this year’s young foxes playing in the garden.
Flashes of burnt orange dart amongst the shrubs and bushes.
They are agile and leap about across shed roofs and over our garden fences.
They curl up and sleep on the garden shed roof, pounce on unsuspecting vegetables in our neighbour’s raised beds and dig large holes everywhere!
Having grown up on the edge of the countryside, I rarely saw a fox and certainly not during the daytime.
Country foxes still seem to be largely nocturnal. I now live in a city and here urban foxes are around all the time!
Another thing struck me was how, as a child, I was afraid of the thought of a fox.
I think, perhaps, my perceptions were based on its reputation given I’d not actually seen any, that of being mysterious, cunning and cruel.
Needless to say, they certainly weren’t popular with our neighbours who kept hens and rabbits.
Now that I see them regularly (and yes, I do prefer them to keep their distance as we have had the young foxes venture into our house and chew up computer cables and eat the cat food!), I see a different side to them.
They are caring parents, the youngsters are playful and, in general, they keep themselves to themselves.
Oh and they are useful on the allotment as they frighten away the pigeons who would otherwise eat the ripe fruit, sweet corn and brassicas!
Fox Characters in Folklore
Foxes live everywhere apart from Antarctica so perhaps this is why they feature heavily in folklore all over the world as we have all experienced living alongside them.
They appear in abundance in Aesop’s Fables and in a number of traditional fairytales and continue to do so in modern children’s books.
I’ve also written a blog about Animals in Children’s Books and the role they play in storytelling.
Animals in Aesop’s Fables and traditional fairytales are usually one-dimensional and stereotyped.
The fox is no different and, put simply, they get a bad press – usually sly, cunning and full of trickery as shown in the following fables:
The Fox and the Goat
The Fox falls into a well and is unable to get out by itself.
It then tricks the Goat into joining it, by telling the thirsty Goat that the water in the well is delicious to drink.
Once the Goat has jumped into the well, the Fox jumps onto the Goat’s back and leaps out of the well.
The Fox and the Stork
In the Fox and the Stork, the Fox plays a trick on the Stork by inviting them for dinner and serving soup in a shallow dish from which it was impossible for the Stork to eat with its long bill!
In return, the Stork invites the Fox for dinner and serves the meal in a tall, narrow-necked jar.
The jar was perfect for the Stork’s bill but the Fox was went hungry!
The Fox and the Pheasants
On seeing a number of pheasants sitting in a tree, the Fox thinks they look tasty and devises a plan to get them to come down.
It decides to position itself where the Pheasants can see it and starts to dance.
The Fox whirls around and around and the Pheasants become giddy watching for they dare not take their eyes of it in case the Fox tries to climb the tree.
Eventually the Pheasants become so giddy from watching the Fox whirling around so much that they fall out of the tree.
The Fox gets its meal!
The Gingerbread Man
In this traditional tale, an old woman bakes a gingerbread man. When her back is turned, the gingerbread man leaps from the oven and runs away.
The old woman and her husband try to catch him but to no avail! The gingerbread man outruns any person and animal who tries to catch him, taunting them with the phrase:
‘Run, run as fast as you can!
You can’t catch me. I’m the Gingerbread Man!’
At the riverside, the gingerbread man needs to cross the river to escape his followers. A fox befriends the gingerbread man and offers to help him over the water by offering him a ride on his back.
Unfortunately for the gingerbread man, as we all know, the fox was only pretending to be his friend. On reaching the other side of the river, the fox tosses the gingerbread man in the air and eats him!
In these examples, the fox has no redeeming features and negatively type cast!
Given that foxes remain one of the most common animals in children’s literature, I decided to see if this narrative continued in more recent fox stories.
Fox Characters in Modern Children’s Literature
After looking at lots of older stories in which foxes are generally seen as villains, I set about trying to find more of a balance and looked at books which portrayed foxes in a more benevolent light.
Here are some of my favourite books with foxes which show a different side to these animals:
5 of my Favourite Books with Fox Characters:
Written and illustrated by Pat Hutchins, published by Red Fox, part of Penguin Random House
Rosie’s Walk is the story of Rosie the hen and her walk across the farm, closely followed by a fox.
On the surface, this appears to be a simple story. The words describe an uneventful farmyard stroll but when paired with the beautiful stylistic illustrations and the clever use of the double page spread, it makes brilliant storytelling.
Rosie is oblivious to the danger and chaos left behind her but the reader sees everything!
Funny and slapstick, little ones will love ‘reading’ the illustrations and enjoy seeing Rosie outwit the fox without her knowing it!
The Homesick Fox
Written by David Greaves, illustrated by Danielle Callahan, published by Stanage Press
The Homesick Fox tells the story of a fox who feels lonely in the urban environment in which he finds himself, having strayed into the city from the countryside.
He become more and more unhappy until he finally realizes something must change and musters the courage to set off and try and find his way back to his true home in the countryside.
Written in beautiful rhyme and exquisitely illustrated, it’s a moving, heartfelt, and uplifting story.
I first came across this whilst following Hexham Book Festival and listened to a reading of ‘The Homesick Fox’ by Carole Malia.
Waiting for Wolf
Written and illustrated by Sandra Dieckmann, published by Hodder Children’s Books
Fox and Wolf are great friends and spend all their time together.
They talk, laugh, swim and watch the stars together. But one day, Wolf is gone.
It deals with loss, the pain of grief and coping with death. It’s both beautifully and sensitively written with incredible illustrations.
There’s also a wonderful recording of Sandra reading ‘Waiting for Wolf’ on Youtube.
Fox and the Star
Written and illustrated by Coralie Bickford-Smith, published by Penguin Books
The story is about a fox who lives in a forest and is kept company by his friend, Star, who lights the dark forest paths for fox to find his way around.
One night, however, Star fails to appear and Fox begins a journey in search of his friend.
It’s a beautiful story of friendship, loss and courage. I love the author’s portrayal of Fox,
‘In fables, foxes are characterised as cunning and calculating creatures. My Fox was none of these. He is a naïve innocent soul who is finding his place in the world’. Coralie Bickford-Smith
The pattern-based illustrations and the interwoven text are incredible. It a stunning book and a joy to experience!
Fantastic Mr Fox
Written by Roald Dahl
This was one of my favourite Roald Dahl books when I was a child.
Fantastic Mr Fox lives with Mrs Fox and their 4 Small Foxes in a hole under a huge tree in a wood.
Every evening Mr Fox goes out hunting for the family meal – either chicken, goose, duck or turkey from the nearby poultry farmers, Boggis, Bounce and Bean.
As you can imagine, the farmers are far from happy with this! Despite Fantastic Mr Fox possessing stereotypical characteristics – being a clever and cunning trickster, he is also a caring husband and good dad (male and female foxes do actually bring up their cubs together!).
It is this balance of traits which endear him to us. We find ourselves on his side and immensely dislike the three the odious farmers who try and kill him and his family.
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