Wednesday, September 07, 2016

The Way Home: Faraway Fox by Jolene Thompson

Life was once good for a young fox with his family in their forest home.

We used to race through the undergrowth and rest under the great shade trees after playing all day.

It seems this little one has roamed a bridge too far. As he stares at his lonely reflection in a murky concrete-contained canal, he remembers the woodland stream where he and his sister fished for frogs. As he shelters from the rain under a parked car, he thinks of helping dig a bigger burrow with his family where all could be warm and dry. He recalls the lessons his mother and father taught him about how to live in the forest.

I miss my mother's advice.

But the landscape where the little fox now wanders is not the forest. It is a dreary urban scene, with signs that read KEEP OUT posted on chain-link fences and rows of look-alike houses and telephone poles, factories, and derelict cars in overgrown lots.

The fox kit thinks of his father and the time they found a deer fallen into a hole in the woods, unable to climb out.

The deer was trapped.

Like me.

The little fox looks sadly down at a busy six-lane freeway which seems to stand between him from his family and forest home.

Then he notices crews of men, absorbed in digging along the highway. They seem to be burrowing under the roadway and installing a long, concrete tunnel. It is the strangest burrow the young fox has ever seen. And when at last the men are done and it grows dark, the little fox is too curious not to investigate.

This new burrow is. . . empty.

He follows the concrete underpass to emerge on the other side.

Did they build this for me?

I'm home!

There is a story within a story in Jolene Thompson's forthcoming Faraway Fox (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016), the oft retold tale of the little wanderer who finds his way back home, with a happy ending when the fox kit is reunited with his family. The second story told here is a newer one, the story of how we humans are learning to live more successfully with our wild neighbors, some of whom, like rabbits, raccoons, bluebirds, falcons, and even deer, have learned to live among us tolerably well. But for those wild species--cougars, coyotes, bears... and foxes--who need wider habitats, people are just learning to provide bridges, underpasses, and strips of woodland to unite strayed animals with their native homes in the fields and forests near where we humans live.

Jolene Thompson's text lovingly and lyrically builds suspense as young readers will begin to notice that the young fox is longing for a place where he is not, his thoughts out of joint with the place where he finds himself, and they will delight at the surprise when the author reveals the purpose behind all those highway construction workers--a way for him to find his way back home.

Artist Justin K. Thompson's illustrations reflect the narration, juxtaposing a drab, gray, sharp-angled suburban landscape, one with just a suggestive touch of green and bright autumn leaves as the season of exile changes, against the leafy, daisy-strewn woodland where the little fox finally and joyfully finds his family. Thompson's painting of the young fox, slightly silhouetted in the opening of the tunnel tells the whole story. This is an enlightening and satisfying picture book for young readers, one that offers food for thought and discussion of ways all we creatures can share our world well.

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