cover image Gray Fox: 9

Gray Fox: 9

Jonathan London, Robert Sauber. Viking Children's Books, $13.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-670-84490-6

In this particularly deft coalescence of poetry and picturization, Gray Fox runs, hunts and leaps through shifting light and season. The artwork evokes disparate moods with unusual clarity: Gray Fox's neck fur reflects the reddish-gold of autumn leaves; his spring cubs chase butterflies and frisk in the wild mustard; under the winter moon, rabbit tracks shadow the crystalline snow. But one day Gray Fox follows one of the rabbits ``to the edge of what he doesn't know about'' and is paralyzed in the blaze of oncoming headlights. When a boy finds his dead body in the road, he carries him ``down to the river where no one goes'' and lays him where sleeping deer have matted the grass. But, as seasons spin, Gray Fox's spirit still runs with his cubs, and then with their cubs, who shine with the same reddish-gold. By holding fast to natural details (the cubs catch ``grasshoppers, careless mice, floppy frogs''; the fox's corpse ``looks alive, caught in the middle of a leap''), London neatly avoids any traps of sentimentality. Through a potent, indirect telling he allows the reader to become immersed in the story's truth. Sauber's dramatic, intensely hued watercolors respect the childlike reverence for life without sugarcoating or distorting a compelling experience. Ages 3-8. (Mar.)