Fox: A Circle of Life Story

h1 December 7th, 2021 by jules


One of my favorite nonfiction picture books in recent years is Isabel Thomas’s Moth: An Evolution Story, illustrated by Daniel Egnéus and published in 2019. I’m so pleased to see that these two have collaborated on a new book. This one is called Fox: A Circle of Life Story (Bloomsbury, November 2021), and it is a remarkably eloquent book about life, death, and what happens after death.

The book is framed by a trio of humans walking in a forest. An unseen narrator asks readers to “look closely. Listen carefully. Life is stirring in the shadows.” At the page-turn, we see a fox, its copper fur popping off a page that features the woods on a snowy day. Fox searches for food and attempts, but fails, to catch a rabbit. “Fox pads on.”

We follow Fox back to her den, where gray cubs wait for food. The mother fox delivers; she had found food “that doesn’t move” (a dead bird). A few weeks later, we see the cubs, now the bright orange hues of their mother, tumble and play. We read (delightfully) that they are “gekkering as they go.” The mother fox leads them out to “test their skills.” They hunt, and they succeed in finding food.

Suddenly, cars appear nearby. The mother fox successfully leads her cubs across the road, but in a striking set of spreads we see that she doesn’t make it. In one of the spreads pictured below, you see her silhouetted against the bright beams of a car. On the next spread, she is hit and “thrown … into tangled grass.” There is no sugar-coating of her death here: We don’t see blood, but we see her twisted body fly through the air, the nearly blinding lights of the car shedding light on her demise. We read that her “last breath hangs in the air” as we see her lifeless on the ground. The cubs head back home.

Here marks a tonal shift in the book. We read that summer turns to autumn, and we see and read that “fox begins to fade away.” We see her body covered in leaves, and on the next spread we read that the particles that were once fox return to the earth. We read that animals feed on her body and that new life grows in her (flies and beetles). The fox is giving life, feeding life. “Death is not just an end,” the book closes, “but a beginning.”

The plainspoken, yet lyrical, text is a pleasure to read aloud. It’s a compassionate, even moving, book for sharing with children who wonder about the cycle of life — and closes with backmatter about the “building blocks of life,” about death, and about decomposition. There is a candor that sings from these pages (including a lack of anthropomorphism). Egnéus’s illustrations are beguiling — in particular, the palette: The vivid red and orange shades of autumn are especially striking. His use of shadows and perspective amp up the drama and engage us as readers, inviting and compelling us to respond to what we see.

As the Booklist review notes, it’s a book that “demystifies death.” And it is one of the most beautiful picture books I’ve seen this year. Here are some spreads. …


“Follow fox under the fence, across the garden, and into her dark den —
where fuzzy gray cubs wait for their feast. From bird, from plants, from water, from air flow the things foxes need to live and grow.”

(Click spread to enlarge; note that the font color varies from final version)


“In a few weeks, the cubs are bigger, bolder. They are ready to play.
Near their den, where it’s safe, they somersault, chase, and stumble,
tug of war, rought and tumble. Head over tail, geKKering as they go.”

(Click spread to enlarge)


“Follow fox. Run back home. Three cubs dash across the road to safety on the other side. But fox gets caught in dazzling lights. The car brakes. Too late.”
(Click spread to enlarge; note that the font color varies from final version)


“Just as winter turns to spring, new life flows from old.
As every particle that once was fox finds a new place in the world …”

(Click spread to enlarge)


* * * * * * *

FOX: A CIRCLE OF LIFE STORY. Text copyright © 2020 by Isabel Thomas. Illustrations copyright © 2020 by Daniel Egnéus and reproduced by permission of the publisher, Bloomsbury Children’s Books, New York.

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