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Sunday, June 5, 2016

Maybe A Fox, wirtten by Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Simon & Schuster. 2016. $22.99 ages 10 and up

"She felt a strong tug right in the middle of her stomach, as if she had her own invisible line pulling her from the porch to the woods. It caught her off guard. She thought that if she stood up, she might lose her balance. She gripped the step she was sitting on, thinking that if she let go, she might fly away. Was this how a burning wish felt? None of her other wishes ever felt like this."

Jules is 11, and loves rocks. Her sister Sylvie is 12, and loves running. They live with their father in the woods of rural Vermont. Their mother died when the girls were very young. The girls were alone when their mother collapsed and Sylvie had to run for help. Nothing could be done to help her.

The girls have clear instructions from their protective father about being ready to catch their school bus on time and staying safe when he is not with them.

"Do not get out of earshot of the house.
Do not mess with wild animals.
Do not miss the bus.
Do not, under any circumstances, go near the Slip."

One early morning, following a snowfall, the girls go outside in their pajamas (a do not that is not on Dad's list) to build a new tiny snow family. Sylvie decides that the beginning of the trail to the Slip is the best place for it. Once their task is complete, Sylvie sets off to run an errand. Jules knows she cannot stop her. The audience learns something more about the two:

"Jules and Sylvie had never, not once, missed the
bus, but what their dad didn't know was that they
had gone to the Slip dozens of times, hundreds
of times, too many times to count. It wasn't that
far from their house, not far at all, just down the
trail through the woods. They knew the trail, they
knew the sound of the Whippoorwill River's
tumbling water, and mostly, they knew just how
close they could get to the water's edge."

On that morning when Sylvie takes off running, she doesn't come back. Those who love her are left to believe that she must have tripped and fallen into the Slip and washed down into the river. On that same day a fox kit named Senna is born. As we follow her, we learn that her instincts have her watching out for Jules and doing her best to keep Jules safe. A sign of good luck to Jules, she is always happy to catch even a glimpse of the tiny vixen.

This convincing tale will leave an indelible mark on your heart. It is a picture of grief, and the comfort that comes from family, friendship, and nature. It introduces strong characters who are grieving as Jules and her father are - Sam, Elk, Zeke, Mrs. Harless. In an alternating voice we come to know the fox family and Senna, a spirit animal whose thoughts and actions are shared seamlessly as they intersect with what is happening to Jules. Although incredibly sad, it is also hopeful as longed-for events happen and are captured in memorable scenes meant to help readers understand and accept the journeys people must make in the face of great loss, and the connections we have through a love of nature.

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