Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee. 261 p. A Caitlyn Blouhy Book/ Atheneum Books for Young Readers/ Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, March 8, 2016. 9781442482425. (Review from arc courtesy of Blue Slip Media)
Any school or children's librarian worth his or her salt takes Reader's Advisory very seriously. When you do, you read many, many books for children and young adults. If a book is quite exceptional, you start to make a mental list of the patrons you will share the book with. At least I do. I knew exactly who was getting Maybe a Fox. This is a lovely, lyrical story of loss.
When you share books with a community of readers, there is, invariably, a portion of your reading community who love sad books; who gleefully share how much they cried and enthusiastically recommend their favorite weepies to you and their friends. Their devotion to the saddest of the sad books may dismay their parents. It might even cause some parents to apologize to you when they introduce themselves to you.
If you are lucky enough to have such children in your life, give them this book.
Where to begin? Sylvie, Jules and her father were a tight triad of love and support since the girls' mother died suddenly many years earlier. Ever protective Sylvie supplied Jules' memories of their mother. She also was the fastest runner in their Vermont school. Jules was a rock hound who was always on the lookout for the perfect wishing rocks. The girls, and their best friend, Sam, would bestow a wish on such a rock and fling it into the Slip, a rather treacherous spot in a nearby river - a place their father told them to avoid.
One snowy morning, Sylvie ran off. Jules built a snow family that, inexplicably, included a fox while she waited. And waited. And waited. She finally followed Sylvie's tracks in the snow until they end abruptly at a root at the bank of the Slip.
Not only is Sylvie gone, but her body was never recovered. Jules and her father, reeling with the loss, draw closer together. But their's is not the only story of loss in their rural town. Even though Sam's brother, Elk, has returned from Afghanistan, his best friend, Zeke did not. Elk mourns his loss and Sam mourns his brother's change. Sam also longs to spot a catamount, an eastern cougar, in the woods.
Heavy material for middle grade, no? The two authors have a light hand as they weave a dual narrative - Jules' first-person story and a third person story of a vixen and her kits, one of whom is a girl. This little fox is no ordinary fox kit, but chosen to be a kennon, whose life and destiny will be inextricably bound to one human girl. While there is tremendous loss, there is slow, sure healing among this close-knit community.
While the characters in Maybe a Fox are vividly real, there is so much to savor. The cover is absolutely gorgeous. The evocative rural Vermont setting may make readers long for a walk in the woods, possibly searching for Sam's mysterious totem, the catamount. The power of wishes, the hope for the return of a possibly extinct animal, the lore of magical foxes act as counterweights to the tragedy and help in the healing.
There will be tears, many tears.
Maybe a Fox, has garnered multiple starred reviews. Kirkus called it "Intriguing as a story of connections with the animal world and, for perceptive readers, filled with solace." It is certainly on my list of 2017 Newbery contenders.
Click on this link to view a gorgeous trailer for that book created by Kathi Appelt's talented son and daughter-in-law.
Here are the stops on the blog tour:
Fri, Mar 4
Mon, Mar 7
Tues, Mar 8
Wed, Mar 9
Thurs, Mar 10
Fri, Mar 11
Mon, Mar 14
Tues, Mar 15
Wed, Mar 16
Thurs, Mar 17
Fri, Mar 18
About the authors:
Alison McGhee is the New York Times best-selling author of Someday, as well as Firefly Hollow and the Bink and Gollie books. Visit her at alisonmcghee.com.
Thanks to Barb from Blue Slip for allowing me to share this memorable book.