Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, July 20, 2017

A Flash Of Red

In the past few years, more red fox crossed my path than all the previous years combined.  It would be nice to believe their population is increasing or perhaps my perception is more finely honed.  They seem to be on the move more during the day rather than strictly during the evening or night.

They are frequently seen vanishing into the undergrowth along a country road.  One in particular had a route which extended through my home property, even venturing close to me and my dog one night by the front door.  All thoughts of them being shy are gone.  With their repeated sightings, a curiosity is growing.  The Secret Life of the Red Fox (Boyd Mills Press, an imprint of Highlights, March 7, 2017) written by Laurence Pringle with illustrations by Kate Garchinsky is an outstanding exploration of the days in the life of a red fox through several seasons.

Vixen awakes from a nap.
She is surrounded by snow but feels cozy.

To hold in her body heat she is comfortable in a nook with her tail curled around her.  As she steps outside she lifts her nose into the air using her super sense of smell to look for a meal.  Moving through the snow her back feet are placed in the exact point her front feet land; one trail of tracks is visible.  Finally her extraordinary hearing tells her a meadow mouse is eating beneath a foot of snow.  She makes her jump and dive move, rewarded with a meal.

When she captures extra food, she puts it in a cache. Near daybreak she meets her mate greeting him by sniffing and touching.  At this point they don't necessarily spend all their time together.  Their territory is marked and messages are sent with urine.

Vixen's ability to elude dogs on her scent is an admirable feat.  Several days later she begins to scout out abandoned dens.  When she finds one with the options she desires, she digs to enlarge the area.

As winter blends into spring Vixen and her mate are together more often.  Eventually she does not leave the den.  He hunts and brings her food.  One day the red fox ventures out of the den.  Following her are four kits. Until the autumn when they strike out to create their own territories, both parents participate in the care of their babies.  Perhaps you will see a flash of red as one passes near you when you least expect it.  Enjoy the gift.

There is an undercurrent of respect for his subject in the narrative nonfiction penned by Laurence Pringle.  Woven into the story of this vixen's life is information about the physical characteristics and lifestyle of the red fox.  With each description you find your admiration for these beautiful animals growing in proportion to the increase in your knowledge.  It's as if you are shadowing her.  Here is a sample passage.

In the snow, her back feet usually land right in the marks made by her front feet, so she leaves a single line of footprints in the snow.  Fresh snowflakes dot her russet winter coat, and Vixen's white-tipped tail floats behind her like a banner.

Foxes are omnivores, which means they eat both animal and plant food.  But in winter Vixen finds no berries or other plant foods to eat.  Now she is mostly a predator, hunting animals.  She explores a thicket where rabbits often hide, but finds no prey.  She grows more and more hungry.

Opening the matching dust jacket and book case, you find yourself holding still barely able to breathe.  It's as if you are standing in the snow at the edge of a field watching Vixen move.  The illustration on the front moves over the spine to the left, covering the back with the light-dappled snowscape.  The blends of soft pastel colors depict the glory of the early morning sun.  Notice the title text for Red Fox.  It's tipped in white and textured to represent their tails.

The opening and closing endpapers are snow.  On the first is a line of red fox prints.  On the second another line stretches again from the lower left side to the upper right.  This time a fox is descending over a small hill with weeds framing it on the left and right.  Beneath the title text a red fox sits, leg lifted to scratch under its chin.  (Both of these snow scenes continue to first the title page and begin again at the close of the book after the dedication and publication information.)

Rendered in pastels and aqua crayons on sanded paper by Kate Garchinsky each illustration spans two pages.  They are as gorgeous as photographic images but far richer in their luminosity and texture.  Each one is worthy of framing, a study in intricate detail.

One of my many favorite pictures is of Vixen when she first steps out of her winter shelter.  It's a close-up of her upper body and head.  She is turned looking at a bird on a branch on the left as snow falls.  Her ears are alert.  Her breath clouds the air.  Her whiskers and eyebrow hairs are delicately displayed.  It's breathtaking.

The Secret Life of the Red Fox written by Laurence Pringle with illustrations by Kate Garchinsky is a stunning representation of this wondrous creature.  Each time you turn a page you will learn something new.  Each time you turn a page you will gasp at the loveliness of the pictures.  You will want to place this title on your professional and personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Laurence Pringle and Kate Garchinsky and their other work please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Kate Garchinsky has an extensive Pinterest board studying the red fox.

Please visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to enjoy the other titles selected this week by participants in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.


  1. Margie, This sounds like a gorgeous book. I'm looking forward to reading it. I have a fox character in one of the books that I've been working on so the timing of your post could not be better.

  2. Thanks for another wonderful review. I'm especially interested in red foxes since we've always had them living in our woods and feed them regularly. Must look for this book!