The fox has long fascinated story-tellers. Think of Master Reynard, Br’er Fox, Japan’s magical, shapeshifting kitsune, Aesop’s fables. The Little Prince loves and learns from a fox. We’ve got a Fox in Socks, and of course a Fantastic Mr. Fox. Often portrayed as a cunning trickster, the fox is sometimes deceitful, always smart. Eight or nine years ago, when my MG novel in progress needed an animal both elusive and beautiful, with a touch of magic about it, I knew it had to be a fox.
Here’s a sampling of some recent MG novels featuring this evocative creature:
Maybe A Fox, by Kathi Appelt and Alison McGwee
From Indiebound: Sylvie and Jules, Jules and Sylvie. Better than just sisters, better than best friends, they d be identical twins if only they d been born in the same year. And if only Sylvie wasn’t such a faster than fast runner. But Sylvie is too fast, and when she runs to the river they’re not supposed to go anywhere near, just before the school bus comes on a snowy morning, she runs so fast that no one sees what happens and no one ever sees her again. Jules is devastated, but she refuses to believe what all the others believe, that like their mother her sister is gone forever.
At the very same time, in the shadow world, a fox is born. She too is fast faster than fast and she senses danger. She’s too young to know exactly what she senses, but she knows something is very wrong. When Jules believes one last wish rock for Sylvie needs to be thrown into the river, the human and shadow worlds collide.
Writing in alternate voices, one Jules’s, the other the fox’s, Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee tell the searingly beautiful tale of one small family’s moment of heartbreak.
Pax, by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Jon Klassen
From Indiebound: A beautifully wrought, utterly compelling novel about the powerful relationship between a boy and his fox.
Pax and Peter have been inseparable ever since Peter rescued him as a kit. But one day, the unimaginable happens: Peter’s dad enlists in the military and makes him return the fox to the wild.
At his grandfather’s house, three hundred miles away from home, Peter knows he isn’t where he should be– with Pax. He strikes out on his own despite the encroaching war, spurred by love, loyalty, and grief, hoping to be reunited with his fox.
Meanwhile Pax, steadfastly waiting for his boy, embarks on adventures and discoveries of his own. . . .
Pax is a New York Times best seller and was long-listed for the National Book Award.
Foxheart, by Claire Legrand
From Indiebound: Orphan. Thief. Witch. Twelve-year-old Quicksilver lives in the sleepy town of Willow-on-the-River. Her only companions are her faithful dog and partner in crime, Fox and Sly Boots, the shy boy who lets her live in his attic when it’s too cold to sleep on the rooftops. It’s a lonesome life, but Quicksilver is used to being alone. When you are alone, no one can hurt you. No one can abandon you. Then one day Quicksilver discovers that she can perform magic. Real magic. The kind that isn’t supposed to exist anymore. Magic is forbidden, but Quicksilver nevertheless wants to learn more. With real magic, she could become the greatest thief who ever lived. She could maybe even find her parents. What she does find, however, is much more complicated and surprising. . . .
The Second Life of Abigail Walker, by Frances O’Roark Dowell
From the NY Times: Forced to escape her menacing classmate Kristen and eager to avoid her own distracted parents, who concentrate on her mainly to deliver unsubtle messages that she needs to eat less, Abby ventures into a new part of her neighborhood. There, she meets a younger boy named Anders. He lives on his grandmother’s horse farm with his father, who acts strangely — something horrible happened to him while he fought in the Iraq war, and he believes he must finish the research for a long poem about animals or he cannot get well. While spending time at the farm and learning to ride a horse is liberating for Abby, it’s even more empowering to mobilize a group of new, more intellectually oriented friends to help with the research project.
All the while a proud fox, whom Abby crosses paths with at the beginning of the novel, roams near her house. She seems to have extraordinary — perhaps even time-traveling — abilities, and has been watching and guiding Abby. Is she somehow part of the Iraq story of Anders’s dad, too? Dowell suggests as much with a poetic logic that forms a nice antidote to the novel’s all-too-realistic mean girl plot.
That MG novel I was working on all those years ago became What Happened on Fox Street. I’d never seen a fox. While writing, I watched lots of videos to see how they moved, what they sounded like. So light, so quick, so elegant and graceful and playful all at once.
When I finished the book, but before it had been accepted anywhere, my husband and I went on a vacation in the Adirondacks. One night, driving after dark on a wooded, winding road, he suddenly cried, “Did you see that?” Slowly he backed up. On the side of the road sat a serene fox. She and I gazed at each other a long moment before, with a flick of her dipped-in-cream tail, she disappeared among the trees.
Tricia’s most recent middle grade novels are Every Single Second and Cody and the Mysteries of the Universe.