Kate Banks, , illus. by Georg Hallensleben. . FSG/Foster, $16 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-374-39967-2
Frequent collaborators Banks and Hallensleben compose an appealing, idealized story of a young fox eager for independence. As the seasons shift, the kit's watchful parents teach him how to survive in the wild. Although this is a forest tale, anthropomorphism creeps in. The fox is an only offspring, not one of a litter, and his parents instruct him according to traditional gender roles: "The little fox is hungry./ His mama shows him how to find blackberries./ His father shows him how to catch rodents and birds." (The spread shows a blackberry bush; readers never see the foxes killing or eating animals.) Each time the kit learns something new, he asks, "Am I ready?" and his parents reply, "Not yet" or "Soon." These questions lend suspense, yet the narrative avoids threats. When the fox hears baying hounds, his knowing father calls him "deeper into the forest,/ far from danger," and readers sense that the woods may be more hazardous than the book demonstrates. This tidy wilderness portrait is nonetheless seductive: Hallensleben handles outdoor scenes with finesse, and his signature scuffled layers of brushwork mesh with Banks's evocative prose. The foxes' flame-orange coats, described as "the color of burnished leaves," complement mossy greens and sky blues. In beautiful pictures and prose, Banks and Hallensleben provide a safe story, maintaining the illusion that the "little fox" can be cuddly and self-sufficient. Ages 3-6.
Reviewed on: 02/12/2007