A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
OCTOBER 8:

  • Happy birthday Barthe DeClements (Nothing’s Fair in the Fifth Grade), Edward Ormondroyd (David and the Phoenix), R. L. Stine (Goosebumps series), Faith Ringgold (Tar Beach), and Mike Thaler (Black Lagoon Adventure series).
  • In 1775 officers bar slaves and free blacks from the Continental Army. Read Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson and The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing by M. T. Anderson.
  • In 1971, former Beatle John Lennon releases “Imagine.” Read John’s Secret Dream by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Bryan Collier.
  • It’s American Touch Tag Day. Read Tag! by Ann Bryant, illustrated by Kirsteen H. Jones, and Jamaica Tag-Along by Juanita Havill, illustrated by Anne Sibley O’Brien.
  • It’s World Egg Day. Read Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss, Chickens Aren’t the Only Ones by Ruth Heller, First the Egg by Laura Vaccaro Seeger, and Eggs by Jerry Spinelli.

For our last book for Great Books Week, I will look at a classic by Betsy Byars, published in 1968, The Midnight Fox. In her career, Betsy wrote picture books, easy readers, historical fiction, and fantasies; she won the Newbery Award for The Summer of the Swans. But The Midnight Fox, a book about a young city boy who finds himself in the country for the summer, stands as her most enduring work.

While Tom’s parents are taking a vacation in Europe, he is sent to live with his aunt and uncle for a month on their farm. He likes nothing about this idea, as he wants to spend summer with his friend Petie. At first, everything seems boring. “The first three days were the longest, slowest days of my life.” Then, after writing Petie a letter, Tom looks up to see a black fox, tinged with some white, moving through the grass. A wild creature in her habitat, the fox mesmerizes him.

Suddenly, Tom has a cause and a mission: to follow the fox, find her den, and see her as often as he can. He manages to spot her fifteen times, and he locates her single cub in the den. But then Tom’s world, in which he and this creature of nature stand in harmony, and the harsh reality of the farm life come in sharp conflict. When one of Aunt Millie’s turkeys gets taken by the fox, Tom’s uncle goes out hunting for him.

Now as I have often said on the Almanac, I am not a big fan of dead dog or dead animal books. It has always seemed to me that the author has other choices for the plot. Hence I admire the way Betsy Byars pulls this novel together. While keeping her characters true to themselves, she manages to find a plausible ending without killing any living creature. Throughout most of the book, Tom has been basically a victim of circumstance. But, finally, when his beloved creature is threatened, he takes decisive action that makes a difference.

Betsy Byars great strength as a writer is in creating young people that the reader cares about. For eight- to twelve-year-olds, Tom makes a wonderful companion. It is easy to relate first to his boredom and then to his fascination with life on a farm. One of those books that children often remember with fondness well into their adult years, The Midnight Fox demonstrates how an author can take simple elements—a boy and a wild animal—and create a spellbinding, page-turning story.

Here’s a passage from The Midnight Fox:

I did not believe it for a minute. It was like my eyes were playing a trick or something, because I was just sort of staring across this field, thinking about my letter, and then in the distance, where the grass was very green, I saw a fox leaping over the crest of the field. The grass moved and the fox sprang towards the movement, and then, seeing that it was just the wind that had cause the grass to move, she ran straight for the grove of trees where I was sitting.

It was so great that I wanted it to start over again, like you can turn movie film back and see yourself repeat some fine thing you have done, and I wanted to see the fox leaping over the grass again. In all my life I have never been so excited.

I did not move at all, but I could hear the paper in my hand shaking, and my heart seemed to have moved up in my body and got stuck in my throat.

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Originally posted October 8, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Animals, Foxes, Seasons, Summer
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for The Midnight Fox
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COMMENTS

  1. Gabby says:

    My third grade teacher read this book to us! As I recall, every day we sat quietly around a table (we must have really enjoyed this book!) and he read us a chapter. Although I had actually forgotten the plot and any details about the book, I have always remembered that it was a book I loved, and that it prompted me to read more by Betsy Byars. I cannot wait to pick this up again, and to read it with my daughters!

    Anita, I really enjoy your blog! Thank you for reviving my memories and offering new suggestions!

  2. G. Perry says:

    I recall this book from last year, but the description here is so good, I don’t recall if I read it, or I’m just remembering this review. In either case, I have it ordered the book because it’s darn sure is my kind of book. Can’t wait!

    I’ll follow up.

  3. G. Perry says:

    Well, I forgot my follow up.

    I read it, and this was a wonderful book. I loved it.

    In fact, I’m going to go read it again.

  4. Shutta Crum says:

    Anita; I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoy your Book A Day Almanac! You get a deep, and heartfelt thanks from me…and your many followers.

    S.

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