This is one of the most wonderful picture books I’ve ever read.
But I didn’t actually READ it.
The story in this wordless picture book is told solely and seamlessly through its illustrations of remarkable tenderness.
On the first page, a girl of about 7 is cozy in bed with her favorite stuffed animal, a little fox. Though her room is very tidy, it reminds me of Eloise’s room at The Plaza—because it’s fun to pour over the page and look at all her stuff: two shelves of books, drawings of unicorns and leaves hanging on the walls, a fishing net drying at the foot of the bed, an easel with a painting of a fox carrying flowers.
The next page shows the girl getting ready for school and then meeting up with her friend, a little boy with glasses. Though no names are given, I’m convinced that this nerdy, sweet, and cool boy’s name is Simon. I just feel it.
Cohesively the illustrations convey that the next day is show-and-tell day at school. The girl goes home and gets her fox ready. She looks through old pictures: Her fox has been her constant companion since she was a baby.
Show-and-tell goes well, and then the girl and her friend stop at the park to play after school. A real fox spies them from behind the bushes.
And then he absconds with the girl’s fox!
The drawings of the real red fox’s flight are a deep delight. All of the drawings are bliss to behold, but this little fox dashing away with his coveted prize is heart-lifting. The girl chases after the red fox, and as they race through the forest and down the hill, you can feel how happy he is to have his own stuffed animal, and how frantic the girl is with worry for her beloved playmate.
The boy joins the girl in her pursuit. They meet a squirrel who has a little red door at the bottom of a tree, a mouse who lives beside a white-spotted red mushroom, and all kinds of creatures who evoke fairyland and magic.
They then enter “a wondrous and magical world,” and I won’t tell you the rest—except to say that when they find the furtive fox, there is, in his room, an intensely tender and beautiful portrayal of his emotion.
This book shows empathy through pictures. And how the young characters resolve their problem—on their own—has got to be enormously encouraging for young readers. What’s especially cool about the graphic novel format is that children and parents can narrate the story themselves, pointing to the pictures, figuring out what’s happening, strengthening their bond.
Stephanie Graegin’s Little Fox in the Forest is tactile and real, earth-grounding and soulful.
The best children’s books have deep emotional atmospheres where kids are safe to feel a range of emotions through the characters. And they have primal tones that immerse kids in coziness and warmth.
This book has all that.
And for some reason it smells fantastic, like Cray-Pas and art supplies. It smells like coloring when you were 6, and playing with toys, and reading books, and taking naps.
When I finished it I sat with it in silence for a while. Because the little fox’s forest is a place where words are not necessary.
PS. A cool thing about the little fox is that while I assume he’s a boy, it doesn’t matter. What he is is just a wonderful fox.