Fox Characters in Stories

 

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!

Photograph of a red fox cub hiding in long green grass.

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.

 

Fox Stereotypes

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 vulpine stories.

Photograph of the face of a red fox.

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:

 

Rosie’s Walk

 

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.

 

Fox Characters in Children’s Imaginative Play

Finding these examples of how foxes are portrayed in a positive light also fits in to how I view my costumes and imaginative play.

With this in mind, I purposely avoided teeth with the fox so they didn’t come across as being scary and always ‘type cast’ in these negative roles.

Whilst in one story, the fox character may be the villain, in another story they may be the hero.

I see my costumes as being a tool for children’s imagination and perfect for play and storytelling.

I also see imaginative play as a time for children to explore and express themselves freely, discover, empathise and work out their own ideas and stories.

Sewing work in progress. Orange and white fox face with appliqued eyes and nose. Pins , scissors and tailor's ham surrounding it on white table surface.

My Fox Dressing Up Costume

My mission is to create costumes which are as adaptable as possible. I want to put children in charge of their own story.

I purposely do not put teeth on my animal costumes (particularly thinking about the fox, wolf and bear) so that children can decide how their animal character is feeling, rather than portraying them in a certain stereotyped light.

With my animal designs, I wanted to achieve a balance of simplicity and realism.

I start off by researching what the animal looks like and then decide which of their features best capture their essence. These are the elements I feel make the animal instantly recognizable, for example, a bushy tail or distinct pattern of their fur.

For the fox, I focused on the big tail and the large white bib. I also created a band of black around the lower edge of the tabard to represent the fox’s black legs so that the colour combination was a good reflection of the animal.

I researched the eye shapes and made them as accurate as I could in keeping with the overall design.

Did you know that foxes have vertical elongated pupils during the day which become fully dilated at night? This is because they are small ambush predators which usually hunt at night (apart from city foxes!!)

I wanted to make their eyes look realistic but in a child-friendly way. Adding white stitching makes them appear sparkly and give them an energy and brings them to life.

And creating a beautiful costume which children use as a tool for their imagination, whatever fox character they wish to conjure up, is what it’s all about!

 

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