Written and Illustrated by Nonny Hogrogian
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 1971
Awards: Caldecott Medal
One fine day a fox traveled through a great forest.
The plot in a nutshell: A fox steals some milk and has to go through a journey to repay it
After coming out of the forest, the thirsty fox drinks some milk from a pail belonging to a woman who is gathering wood. When she sees that he has taken her milk, she gets so angry that she chops off his tail. He asks her to sew it back on and she says she will, when he replaces her milk. So he finds a cow and asks it for milk, which she tells him she will gladly give him, if he brings her some grass. He talks to the field, who is happy to exchange grass for water. The stream will give up water for a jug. A nearby girl will trade her jug for a blue bead. A peddler is willing to give him a blue bead for an egg. The chicken asks for some grain in exchange for her egg. The miller takes pity on the fox and gives the grain to him. The fox travels back home, trading all the items along the way. The woman sews his tail back on and the fox runs off to join his friends.
Author/illustrator Nonny Hogrogrian cites an Armenian folktale as the inspiration for this story (which in turn seems to have inspired an improvisation game, for those of my friends who remember it). The fox’s main motivation for wanting his tail back is that he’s afraid that the other foxes will laugh at him if he shows up without a tail, which adds an interesting wrinkle when you look at the tremendous lengths he went to in order to avoid being laughed at. And you have to respect the miller for being the only person kind enough to give something to the fox without asking for anything in return.
The artwork won Ms. Hogrogian her second Caldecott Medal. I really like her use of color in this book, having the boldly colored orange fox set against the darker colors of most of the forest and people around him. You can see the brush strokes in the pictures, which are broad in some places and very delicate in others, adding texture and depth to the illustrations. There is a lot of repetition in this book and the plot, though it winds through several characters, is easy to follow and would likely be enjoyable for young kids.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that everyone has something of value to someone.