(With illustrations by Mab West & Lily Hunter)
The fox has inspired some of the best stories ever written. Everyone loves The Tale of Mr. Tod and anyone who hasn't yet read David Garnett's Lady into Fox (1922), which describes the ordeals of a man whose wife suddenly turns into a fox, has a treat in store.
Now, along comes this strangely brilliant book about a vegetarian fox who moves into his grandfather's old earth in the next village. Like everyone, he needs new friends, but, aided and abetted by the the self-important hare who runs the parish council, all the other animals are vile to him, slamming their doors in his face and offering him not a single smile or nod. When the newcomer rescues two baby rabbits from the river, they are all convinced he has only done so to put them off their guard.
So far, so bad. But, slowly, there's a change of heart. Suddenly, our hero finds a lovely hot potato pie on his doorstep, a secret gift from the baby rabbits' mother. Leading the pro-fox movement is the squirrel who runs the village shop, but she, alas, has problems of her own. The poor old thing can never remember where she's stored the baked beans, washing-up liquid, elastic bands and even the fresh worm sandwiches so loved by the local mice.
The crucial turning point comes when humans on horseback and their foxhounds arrive on the scene. Initially hoarse with laughter at their visitor's new ordeals, the other animals eventually see the light, become bitterly ashamed of themselves, and, yes, make friends with the fox at last.
One of the charms of this short, sharp book, which will please children as much as adults, is the way it humanises the entire animal kingdom—frogs speak French and three local geese even work as bereavement counsellors—but will any animals themselves get the chance to read it?
ANDREW BARROW, Country Life, 21st January 2015