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.


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


Review: Rechenka’s Eggs

Few author-illustrators can render folk tales with as much love as Patricia Polacco. I could go on and on about her wonderful tributes to heritage and family, but with Easter coming it is her classic Rechenka’s Eggs that I would particularly like to recommend.


This tale about a kind old lady who takes in a wounded goose is told and illustrated in Polacco’s trademark style. The old lady is also a master painter of traditional Russian Easter eggs, which are brilliantly replicated on the pages amid the babushka’s humble home. When the curious goose breaks the eggs one day not long before the Easter Festival, what is Babushka to do? The resolution is both sweet and magical.

 The genius of this book is not just in the beautiful story and bright folk art, but also how skillfully the messages are conveyed. This is a story of faith, of kindness and mercy, of respect for wild creatures and for the wisdom of age. But these features – values, if you will – are crafted in so subtly that a reader of any age can breathe them in without feeling strangled. This is a morality that is natural and universal.

Babushka’s world is plainly Christian, with icons in her home and onion-domed churches on the horizon, and of course her observance of the traditional Easter customs. One feels that her generosity must be drawn from her faith, but that her door is open to everyone. A reader of a different faith or none at all will easily feel at home with Babushka and her special goose.

I should note that the goose, Rechenka, has been injured by hunters; it is briefly and tastefully mentioned but be prepared to explain should a younger listener ask how that came about.

Rechenka’s Eggs is, like most of this author’s work, a gorgeous story to read aloud. Foreign names are easily navigated and add a special flavor to the story. This is storytelling at its best and as Easter approaches I highly recommend it for all ages – and that means you grown-ups too.

If you liked this book you might also enjoy: Jamie O’Rourke and the Big Potato  by Tomie dePaola