I would like to share with you a favorite living book! A while back I picked up this book at a library sale because the title rang a bell. Had I seen this on a book list somewhere? I couldn’t remember, but I’m glad I paid the .50 for it. It was a splendid read-aloud for my children. Here’s what my late, book-loving friend Sandy said upon reading it after I recommended it to her:
So, I guess I was imagining that Family of Foxes would be just a sweet read. Now that I’ve read it I have to say that I think it’s an almost perfect book. The adventure. The glimpse into a different culture. The way the author so clearly remembers what it feels like to be a child. Humour. The foxes themselves. The surprise (spoiler alert) of the babies. The quiet, knowing teacher. Ahh. This is the kind of book that makes me want to be more ruthless about what’s on our shelves. Thank you.-Sandy Rusby Bell
The story is about the adventures of 4 boys who rescue 2 silver foxes that were en route to a zoo in Dublin when the boat they were on sank. How those boys hid the foxes (the Aran Island residents thought foxes were evil) and nurtured them is an exciting story. Natural history, geography, ethics – for such a short book, there is a lot here!
The author, Eilis Dillon, shares some delightful insights as to where the idea for this book came from:
When I was very small, we lived in a big house out in the country. A great long winding avenue led up to it, with old trees. Behind the house there was a farmyard where we kept a donkey and trap, a dog, several cats, some hens and ducks, as well as two goats. The cow lived in a paddock beyond the farmyard and only came in to be milked.
I was afraid of the cow and the donkey, not because they were fierce but because of their size. The goats were frightening too, because they were rough. They came prancing at you with their horned heads down and you had to skip out of the way. What I really liked were the hens and ducks. They were peaceful creatures, a reasonable size, reaching only up to my knees.
One evening I heard the servants in the kitchen talking about the fox that had come and taken away the hens. I was very shocked at the idea that an animal could take away such a big thing as a hen, and I remember the half-whispering way they talked about it, as if it were a very terrifying business. For a long time afterwards I was afraid of foxes, though I could not imagine what they looked like. They must be fierce and wicked and bloodthirsty. I remember skipping up the stairs in the dusk, afraid of feeling a fox snapping at my ankles.
Then at last I saw a real fox. He looked so small and neat and he moved so elegantly that I had to change all my ideas about foxes. His slanted eyes were very intelligent, so that later still, when I found that the island people around Galway Bay believed that foxes had powers of witch-craft, I could understand why they gave them this reputation. There were many such beliefs, some of which I described in A FAMILY OF FOXES. It seemed a shame to think so ill of such delightful creatures. I think this is why I wrote the story, in defence of foxes. I hope you will enjoy it. It was the first book that I really enjoyed writing, from beginning to end.(http://www.eilisdillon.net/02YY1b.FoxesExtra.html)
I read that Disney once considered making a movie of the book. I’m not sure how I feel about that! I encourage you put this book in your home library and cuddle up with everyone for a wonderful read aloud.
Teaching from Peace,
Gena Wiersma says
So fun! We miss Sandy so much over here, and to read her words along with yours makes such a powerful recommendation! I’m going to try get my hands on this one.
I miss her terribly, too. Let me know what you think of the book when you read it!
Sandra Zuidema says
Nancy, it’s been so long since Sandy recommended a book for me. Thank you. Not only is it tear-jerking and wonderful to “hear” her voice through your post, but also perfect timing as we are about to study the foxes at the back of our school. So grateful.
Thank you for sharing this, Sandra. I hesitated at first, but then thought that she would like nothing more than to continue to be part of our book discussions! Yes, perfect timing! You’ll have to let me know what your students (and you!) think of it.