I’m a bit surprised that this is the first book I written about here, but it is the only book that I’ve actually finished reading in the last couple of weeks, mostly because it’s the one that I’ve been reading to my son at bedtime.
Betsy Byars’ The Midnight Fox tells the story of Tommy who is sent to stay, against his wishes, with his aunt and uncle on their farm one summer whilst his parents visit Europe.
The story is narrated by Tommy several years after the events, and the first 4 chapters are called Bad News, The Trouble with Leaving, Abandoned and Stranger, which only reinforces the feelings of abandonment that Byars gently puts across. However, that Tommy is retelling the tale should provide some reassurance about the outcome.
Tommy’s comfort and ease on the farm develops after he spots a black fox playing, and Byars beautifully puts across the magic that children can feel watching something new, particularly wildlife,
“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.”
Tommy also recalls stories from before the summer, particularly about his friend Petie Burkiss. These stories offer a fine understanding of childhood friendships.
“The evening before I went to the farm, my friend Petie came over and we sat on the steps without saying anything. Usually we talked all the time, but that evening we just say there and watched an ant on Petie’s sneaker. Petie was transferring the ant from one sneaker to the other, crossing his legs all kinds of different ways, so that no matter which way the ant ran he was always on a sneaker.”
Tommy’s attachment to the fox grows but is jeopardised when the it kills some chickens and a turkey. This allows the story to develop as Tommy grows in his relationships with both the fox and with his aunt and uncle.
The Midnight Fox was first published in 1968, but rarely felt old fashioned. The chapters are long enough to move the story on but short enough to mean that you aren’t committed to reading for too long and too late, handy for 7 year olds.