Little Fox catches air during his pursuit of two purple butterflies, and then the earth rushes up to meet him with a THUMP! As he lies, dazed, he starts to dream as he has never dreamt before. He dreams of good things like his mommy’s milk, the sights and smells of little animals and flowers, and the sensation of his fur blowing in the wind. He also dreams of bad things, such as the time his snout got trapped in a glass jar, when he is reminded of his father’s words of warning: “Too nosy is dead nosy”.
Aimed at children aged 4 and above, Little Fox holds genuine appeal for a younger readership with its apparently simple storyline and accessible language, deftly translated from the Dutch by David Colmer. Then there is the book’s likeable main character/narrator, vivid illustrations of the natural world, plus a happy ending, which involves a young boy’s timely intervention and more butterflies.
But at some point for the more experienced reader comes the realization that this story is more than a dream; it is a series of flashbacks experienced by Little Fox as he hovers in that strange space between life and death. The layered approach and the special way in which the words and illustrations complement each other contribute to the understated brilliance of this 88-page picturebook.
A series of wordless spreads frames the story, with illustrator Marije Tolman using blue/green risograph prints of Dutch dunes and woods to introduce Little Fox, the little boy and the other animals that live there. Meanwhile, Little Fox’s dreamworld is depicted against a cream-colored backdrop. It’s a subtle technique that distinguishes past from present, and dream from reality. Author Edward van de Vendel’s simple words take on deeper significance when paired with the visual narrative. In one particularly moving episode, Little Fox wonders “is that Little Fox going to wake up again?” A subsequent illustration shows him and the young boy followed by a crowd of animals and birds, their heads bowed as if in a funeral procession.
Dig quietly with Little Fox and you will be rewarded. This is fresh, engaging and deceptively simple storytelling at its best.
Little Fox was originally published in Dutch under the title Vosje by Querido, 2018.
Awards: White Raven 2019 (Dutch edition)
Laura Taylor is the founder of world children’s literature blog Planet Picture Book. She is a small business copywriter, NAATI-certified translator of French into English and member of AUSIT and IBBY Australia. When she is not writing, she is reading, and chasing after her two young children. She tweets regularly @plapibo and posts at www.planetpicturebook.com