Review: The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night

Autumn is a snug time; a time for pleasant reminiscence. If you need a classic picture book to go with your cocoa, The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night by Peter Spier is just the thing.

IMG_6399.JPG

The words of this story belong to an American folk song, here lovingly brought to life with Spier’s gorgeous illustrations. A fox sets out one evening by the light of a hunter’s moon to gather food for his family. He courses through prosperous farmland, past startled cows and stooks of corn, until he reaches the outskirts of a small town. He snatches a duck and a goose from the henhouse, and makes off with his haul amid a fabulous flurry of feathers; but not before arousing the suspicions of the old lady, who sends her hapless husband John after the thief. The reader cannot help but hope that the quick fox will return safely to his den with a feast for his adorable family.

My children love Peter Spier’s creations. The illustrations are packed with detail, and we can page through and hunt for interesting scenarios without even reading the words. In these scenes the fox sneaks through a mid-nineteenth-century New England countryside that is vibrant with the hues of autumn and rich with historical accuracies. However the number of illustrations produced in color depends on the edition you have.

This book was originally published in 1961, with the illustrations alternating page by page between black-and-white drawings and full-color watercolors. The drawings allowed a reader’s imagination to focus on the intricacies of each depiction, while the paintings were awash in the hues of autumn and created a sense of instant warmth. In 2013 Spier released an updated edition in which all of the original drawings are reprised in watercolor. The drawings are the same, but now they are all presented in that beloved riot of color. Both versions are excellent, and the tone and quality of the full-color work completed by the author fifty years later is every bit as charming as the original.

At the end of the story the full words are printed along with the music. If you are not familiar with the tune, this version is fun to sing with children. The lyrics do not precisely match up with those printed in the book, but that’s part of the fun with folk music. The words are simple and catchy so children can sing along. It would be a rollicking start to a family game night, harvest celebration, or children’s dance party.

This is an altogether enjoyable book to share with your family, although it might need to be explained to little listeners that foxes do in fact eat ducks and geese (alas, that wonderfully expressive goose does not survive the tale). In an unassuming way, it encourages contentment with the simple necessities of a warm home, a loving family, and a good meal. May your own hearth be a joyful place this season.

If you liked this book you might also enjoy: Frog Went A-Courtin’ by John Langstaff and Feodor Rojankovsky

IMG_6400.JPG

Advertisements

Series Review: Pleasant Valley Farm

The beautiful month of May is here, and it seems only right that we should find a nice spot to enjoy it. Allow me to suggest a literary visit to Pleasant Valley Farm with Helga Moser and Nadia (Brover) Gura.

IMG_5764

The Pleasant Valley Farm series is a collection of four (so far) stories that follow the animals who live on the farm. Each volume features a different main character, with other favorites forming a lovable supporting cast. We meet Danny the Workhorse, Snoopy the Sheep, Chester the Rooster, and Shadow the Barn Cat; all under the gentle and joyful care of Farmer Don and Missus Dora. The animals are described and illustrated in charming detail as they learn the lessons that help them to take their places in the busy life of the farm.

On the title page of each book is a short Bible verse and a note to parents about the theme presented in that story. This provides a helpful and formative resource, but the stories stand on their own. They are beautifully written, and skillfully convey their lessons about hard work, contentment, humility, and diligence in a way that is realistic and engaging. Didactic stories are not popular just now, but this series does it right. The animals learn much as our children will; they make mistakes, but with patient care in a nurturing environment they develop into members of a community where integrity and mutual respect brings productivity and peace.

For children familiar with farming, these books are a heartfelt tribute to their way of life. For children who have never seen a farm, they are a detailed glimpse of the green and quiet places where their food is raised, and the relationships that thrive no matter where you live. (And lest anyone think these books excessively nostalgic, I know quite a few families who grow much of their own food or choose to farm with horses; what is depicted here may be rare but it is authentic.) Each story grows at a rhythmic pace amid lush illustrations, with lots of fun tidbits about the farm and the animals. Delightful to read aloud with toddlers; independent readers will also be seeking these out to read on their own. I only hope Dolly the Milk Cow gets her own book soon.

If you liked this series you might also enjoy: Cynthia Coppersmith’s Violet Comes to Stay and Violet Goes to the Country, written by Melanie Cecka and illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully

IMG_5765.JPG

Please note: these two books, based on the work of a fictional character from Jan Karon’s bestselling Mitford series, are unfortunately out of print. However if you can find a used copy for sale or at the library, they are well worth picking up.