Book Review: The Fox on the Swing


As part of my Post-K Summer Reading Boot Camp:

I’m not sure if it’s because this coming-of-age book for young children was written by someone from a different culture (i.e. Lithuanian) and has been translated to English, but the story didn’t make any sense, or rather, the theme of the story:  “Happiness is a fox.”  I tried googling for “foxes in Lithuanian folklore” but came up empty.  

I don’t believe the fox was real but rather, the fox was symbolic of something else–an imaginary friend who serves a purpose but for what purpose, I don’t know.  

However, the illustrations, layout, and font are fantastic, except that the main boy, Paul, looks like a tomboyish girl.  The illustrations are busy, but I didn’t mind because the story didn’t capture me at all.  Some of the quotes just didn’t jive, like “having a fox as your friend is the same thing as swinging on a swing.”

Though the relationship between the boy and the fox was solid, I thought the fox was a greedy pig when he guilted Paul into giving him his roll when it would’ve been better if the Paul (or the fox) had simply split it in half.  Sharing is not the same thing as giving it all away.  Overall, the fox seemed a bit too serious and not playful enough–more wise than whimsical.  

The fox tells Paul that when he moves away, he’ll stay behind, yet shows up again in Paul’s new city–that kind of inconsistency is confusing to a young child.  The boy is too co-dependent upon the fox and can’t seem to move on in the “even bigger city” without his presence.  If the fox is so wise, why isn’t the fox encouraging Paul to make human friends?  Even though Paul’s parents seem eccentric, most kids would probably think it’s cool to live in a treehouse like the Berenstain bears.  

Some of my favorite illustrations were the fox book titles (e.g. “Long Tales from a Short Fox,” “Wise Old Tales by a Strange Old Fox,” et cetera) and the fox and his boy gazing at the constellations of happy things (like swiss rolls and giant peaches).    

The Fox on the Swing was basically a litany of lessons, like when the fox mentions “that everything depends on your point of view.  Things can change.  Depending on whether you look at them from up above or down below, from the left or from the right.  So ask me again when you’ve looked at the problem from all sides.”  I get that, but this is when the teaching gets in the way of the telling and was just too didactic for my tastes.

Suggested activity:  I have always been a fan of Aesop’s Fables, and foxes are prevalent characters in them.  These simple tales are far more memorable than “The Fox on the Swing.”

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