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Animal Character, Courage & Resiliency, Fairy/Folk/Tall Tale, Family, Friendship, Middle Grade Readers, NEWBERY HONOR BOOK

SCARY STORIES FOR YOUNG FOXES by Christian McKay Heidicker

I picked up Scary Stories for Young Foxes on two different occasions at the library in 2019 and put it back on the shelf. For whatever reason, I just wasn’t interested. When I saw it had been named a 2020 Newbery Honor Book I was still skeptical but decided I would make an effort to read it. I AM SO GLAD I DID! This was a 5-star read for me. I loved it! I almost read the whole thing in one sitting. (I fell asleep and had to finish the last 30 pages the following morning.)

The story is brilliantly structured as follows: seven fox kits are begging their mother for a scary story, rejecting all the ones she suggests as simply too tame; they want a REALLY SCARY story. Mother tells them about an old Storyteller who has many scary stories to tell…if they can handle it. With the wonderful (and sometimes foolish) bravery of youth the kits sneak out at night to seek out the Storyteller. The Storyteller tells them much can be learned from truly scary stories–but only if you can stay for the entire story. If you are too afraid and leave before the end, the story will always remain scary and you will never be able to receive the wisdom the story has to offer. Of course all the kits insist they are brave enough to hear the whole story.

The Storyteller then tells several different tales, each one building on the one before it so that all of the smaller stories taken as a whole reveal themselves as one overarching storyline. After each of the shorter stories, one of the kits is too frightened to continue listening and finds an excuse to return to their burrow (and their mother). The moments in the present with the listening kits are stitched seamlessly in between the stories, acting as the joints between the bones of the same appendage.

Uly and Mia are exactly the kind of warm-hearted, courageous, tenacious-in-tough-situations heroes about whom we love to hear stories. The villains–especially Mr. Scratch and Beatrix Potter(!) are exactly the kind we love to root against! Scary Stories for Young Foxes is a bizarre blend of The Incredible Journey and the original Grimm’s Fairy Tales: there are both animal survival and magical realism adventures.

That said, this will not be a 5-star read for everyone. I am a huge fan of the original Grimm’s Fairy Tales, which includes their tradition of clearly defining good vs. evil and having some graphic obstacles for heroes and violent consequences for villains. If those original Fairy Tales punch your squeamish buttons, then Scary Stories for Young Foxes probably will too.

For readers young and old who enjoy truly chilling tales and the very concrete sense of justice (good is rewarded, evil is punished) present in old-school fairy tales I highly recommend you run out and get Scary Stories for Young Foxes as fast as you can! I’m glad I did!

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