Lately I’ve been on a bit of a “fox” kick, so while hunting for library books for my daughter, I stumbled on a 1961 Caldecott honoree, “The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night.”
The book tells the simple story of a fox who goes hunting through a New England town in what appears to be the 1800s. In that sense, it’s nothing all too fascinating:
The fox runs out of its den … dashes across the countryside … into the city … kills a goose … takes it back home and eats feeds it to its kids.
As well as being a bit boring, it’s also kind of brutal for a kid’s book, isn’t it? Just think about that poor goose!
Well, that’s just what happens on the surface of our Peter Spier’s little tale.
You see the storybook is based on an old folk song, and the words of the story are the actual lyrics.
In the back is the sheet music to the song. Cool, huh?
… Except I can’t sing.
… And I can’t read music.
… And I’m about as musically un-inclined as you can get.
But through the power of the Internet, I can hear it via folk singer of the gods, Burl Ives:
But even beyond the excellence of the song, artist Peter Spier goes one step further. If you look at the pictures, and take your time to do so, you get an amazingly detailed look into what farm life was like for New Englanders in the 1800s.
You can learn about tree tapping, furniture, agricultural practices, crop storage techniques, 1800s decor, livestock management and so much more. You just have to look and puzzle together “what’s this device for?” and “Why is that post there?” and so on. Further, Spier alternates color and black and white on each page. The color pages are truly gorgeous as he shows off autumn at its finest. And on the black and white pages, it’s fun to study them and pick out carefully hidden details.
So if you do pick up “The Fox,” read it through with your child once really fast to understand the pace, then go back and explain what’s going on in all those interesting pictures.
PUBLISHER: Dell Dragonfly
AUTHOR: Based on an Old Folk song
ARTIST: Peter Spier
TOUGHEST WORDS: Dangling, grease, shrill
DENSITY OF TEXT: Light, almost too light. in fact I’d love to see a footnoted version to show readers Spier’s attention details.
COMIC BOOK-NESS: Plenty of pen-and-ink drawing, but no speech balloons.
WOULD IT BE A GOOD MOVIE? No, but it would be a lovely cartoon short.
THEMES: Fox behaviors, rural New England, 1800s
WEBSITE: Peter Spier at Wikipedia