Little Fox in the Forest
Illustrated by Stephanie Graegin
Published in 2017 by Schwartz & Wade Books
Attachment to a treasured toy, a quest through a magical world, the acts of finding and of letting go…. Stephanie Graegin’s authorial debut explores all of these through a wondrous and wordless narrative. As the book opens, tones of gray and blue depict a child’s room and introduce a young girl and her beloved stuffed fox. In the panels on the pages that follow, readers learn of a school assignment to “show and tell” something old and treasured. After sharing her fox at school, the young girl stops to play at a playground on her way home. A bright orange fox, who remarkably resembles her stuffed friend, sneaks out from the bushes, and snatches the toy. The chase is on! Accompanied by a classmate, the girl ventures deep into the forest. Splashes of color and additional animals begin to appear and then, as the two children step through an arch in a hedgerow, a brightly colored and fully realized animal community appears, complete with shops, homes, and a central square. Detailed illustrations and panels invite readers to follow this suspenseful and emotional journey to a heartwarming conclusion. The resolution prompts discussion of justice, generosity, compassion, and connection. This is one of those books that you and your students will keep coming back to and you will find that there is more to see and talk about with each revisiting.
Grades PreK – Grade 3
Teaching Ideas: Invitations for Your Classroom
Oral Storytelling. Wordless books offer wonderful language development opportunities for both monolingual and multilingual children. Invite your students to ‘tell’ the story that they understand to a partner or classmates in a small group. Extend the activity by inviting your students to create a dramatic performance of the plotline. Create an opportunity for students audiorecord their oral versions of the story using a simple app like VoiceMemo. Students could each orally tell one or two pages to create a composite from the entire class. Children can be encouraged to use transition words and to use expression, making their voice match the events that take place.
Show and Tell. Create an opportunity for your students to share something “old and treasured.” Invite caregivers to support this activity by sending home a letter describing the activity and suggesting some oral rehearsal of the presentation of the significant artifact. After each student has had the opportunity to share, engage the class in an exploration of the themes and connections that emerged in the presentations. Work together create a listing of the characteristics of the objects that make them significant? In what ways do the objects represent relationships and values? Extend this oral exercise into writing, asking students to create a brief narrative or expository piece about their writing. Share these compositions to a wider audience by creating a class big book, or a slide presentation. With younger students consider using technology, such as the app Shadow Puppet, to capture an illustration that students have made along with an audio or video recording of their presentation of the object.
Letting Go. The young protagonist in Little Fox in the Forest makes a monumental and generous decision to give her beloved toy to the young fox who has taken it from her. Ask your students to think of a time when they needed to give up something that they treasured. Their responses may vary and you might need to be prepared for an emotionally charged discussion; consider in advance how you will allow each child the time and space to discuss what they have lost. Guide students to consider when we need to let go, when we have choice in letting go and when we don’t, how we let go, how we remember, and when something might be gained in through the act of letting go. Consider bringing in additional stories that explore this concept such as Mo Willems’s Knufflebunny series (in particular the third book) and Maribeth Boelts’s Those Shoes.
Examining the End Papers. On a second reading of Little Fox in the Forest, guide students’ attention to the end papers. Take the book cover off, so that students can clearly see the substitution of the unicorn for the fox at the conclusion of the story. See if students notice the book titles and discover the connections to the story. For example, the book titles include: “ Adventures of a Small Fox” and “The Forest and Its Creatures.” As an extension, invite student to play with the concept of having book titles reflect story elements: ask students to select a favorite storybook character and to create an image of this character’s bookshelf – what would the character be reading?
Storytelling in Pictures/ A Genre Study of Wordless Books. Invite your students to study the techniques that authors use for storytelling when their medium is pictures. You may find Scott McCloud’s Making Comics a useful guide to examining the choices authors make when telling a story visually. The artist/ author makes decisions about which moments to feature, how to frame and focus the image (think camera lens), how to arrange the images to convey the flow of the story, and what medium and artistic style best match the content of the story. Gather a collection of wordless books to examine the visual storytelling techniques of other artists / authors. Wordless books featured on The Classroom Bookshelf include: Lines, Wolf in the Snow, A Ball for Daisy, Flora and the Flamingo, The Secret Box, and Mirror. Note: A version of this teaching invitation originally appeared in the entry for A Ball for Daisy.
Visual Literacy. Further hone students’ visual literacy skills by specifically examining character development in Little Fox in the Forest. Begin by asking students to state what they know about the protagonist in the story. Then ask them how they know what they know. Go back to the book and carefully examine the images, inviting children to describe what is happening in the images and how this contributes to a reader’s sense of who the character is and what they value.
Lost and Found. Read Little Fox in the Forest along with two other wordless picture books that explore the concept of lost and found: A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka and Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell. Ask students to consider for each title: What is lost and what is gained? How is the emotional experience is conveyed through imagery? What big ideas or themes are conveyed in the plotline? As an extension ask students to write either a true or imagined narrative in which something is lost and something is found. Encourage students to keep an eye out for additional “lost and found stories” during their independent reading (another favorite of ours is Oliver Jeffers’s Lost and Found).
Use of Color. Color change is used to great effect in Little Fox in the Forest as a technique to transport readers into a fantasy world. Gather together a collection of picture books in which color plays a significant role. For some examples from The Classroom Bookshelf see our entries for: The Night Gardener, Maybe Something Beautiful, The Noisy Paint Box, Extra Yarn, Sky Color, The Great Big Green, The Day the Crayons Quit, and Green. Discuss the role that color plays in the illustrations, plotline, characterization, setting, and theme. What aspects of color are explored in each book? Following this immersion in picture books about color, invite your students to compose and illustrate their own color-inspired stories.
Revisiting the Story. Invite students to work in cooperative groups to imagine and compose another story that might take place in Graegin’s wonderful setting. Study the images in the book and have students describe what they notice – what can they learn about this animal community and its inhabitants through close reading of the illustrations? Next, students can identify characters and plotlines that might emerge from this location. Decide whether groups will create a wordless story or whether they will use text along with illustration.
The Spirit of Giving. Reread Little Fox in the Forest, inviting your students to consider how using only images, Stephanie Graegin conveys a sense of the protagonist’s deep attachment to her stuffed toy. Your students will notice details such as the many drawings of the stuffed toy that are displayed on the wall in the girl’s room and they will certainly have a great deal to say about the collection of photographs that the young girl revisits. Extend the discussion, asking students to consider the significance of the girl’s choice to give away her beloved stuffed toy. Pose the question: what do we gain when we give? Ask student to consider ways that they can give to others, reminding them that it is not always necessary to part with something so cherished. As a class, make a plan to give to members of your community in some way, either through fundraising or soliciting donations.
Finders Keepers? Create a text set around the concept of “finders keepers” by reading such as Kevin Henkes’s Penny’s Marble, John Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back, Maribeth Boelt’s A Bike Like Sergio’s, Matt Davies’s Ben Rides On and the traditional tale of Jack and the Beanstalk. Explore the idea of finding, taking, or stealing by discussing the events in these stories. Engage students in a consideration of this question: What messages is the author of each of these stories conveying about the complexities and consequences of taking something that does not belong to you? Students could choose one of the titles and write an opinion paper that expresses their view on whether they agree or disagree with the actions of the characters and/or the consequences experienced by the characters.
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Baker, J. (2010). Mirror. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.
Barnett, M. (2012). Extra yarn. Ill. by J. Klassen. New York: Balzer & Bray.
Boelts, M. (2007). Those shoes. Ill. by N. Jones. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.
Campoy, F.I. & Howell, T. (2016). Maybe something beautiful. Ill. by R. Lopez. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Davies, M. (2013). Ben rides on. New York: Roaring Brook Press.
Daywalt, D. (2013). The day the crayons quit. Ill. by O. Jeffers. New York: Philomel.
Fan, E. & Fan, T. (2016). The night gardener. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Gifford, P. (2014). The great big green. Ill. by L. Desimini. Honesdale, PA: Boyd Millls Press.
Idle, M. (2013). Flora and the flamingo. New York: Chronicle Books.
Jeffers, O. (2005). Lost and found. New York: Philomel.
Lee, S. (2017) Lines. New York: Chronicle Books.
Lehman, B. (2011). The secret box. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
McCloud, S. (2006). Making comics: Storytelling secrets of comic, manga, and graphic novels. New York: Harper.
Reynolds, P.H. (2012). Sky Color. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.
Rosenstock, B. (2014). The noisy paintbox: The colors and sounds of Kandinsky’s abstract art.Ill. by M. GrandPre. New York: Knopf.
Seeger, L.V. (2012). Green. New York: Roaring Brook Press.
Willems, M. (2010). Knuffle Bunny free. New York: Balzer and Bray.
About Erika Thulin Dawes
Erika is a professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former classroom teacher, reading specialist, and literacy supervisor, she now teaches courses in children’s literature, early literacy, and literacy methods. Erika is the co-author of Learning to Write with Purpose, Teaching with Text Sets, and Teaching to Complexity.
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