[Reviewed from Copy Courtesy of First Second Books]
The Big Bad Fox by author, illustrator, and cartoonist Benjamin Renner is hilarious, honest, and a remarkably therapeutic commentary on right and wrong, politicians and politics, real and perceived enemies, struggling with our inner nature, the insanity of love, and the sheer chaos of parenthood. (There’s more, but the previous sentence was getting way too long.)
Fox, our anti-hero, is hungry and he wants chicken! Fox breaks into the hen house of a nearby farm only to get the stuffing beaten out of him by the chickens again and again. This is not an unusual occurrence for him and he is seen as more of a nuisance than a real threat. Other barnyard animals, who are a mix of sympathetic and resigned, are ready with an offering of turnips to help fill his hungry, defeated belly. The chickens are angry and they want the farm’s guard dog to do something about it, but the dog is a true bureaucrat and politician and takes minimal steps to intercede.
Fox gets tired of being such a failure. He consults with a sinister and actually dangerous wolf and together they devise a plan. Fox will break in to the farm, steal some eggs, hatch them himself, and then they can both eat chickens without fear of being harmed.
It sounds like a solid plan. What could possibly go wrong?
Love. That’s what goes wrong. The adorable chicks fall in love with Fox and declare he is their Mommy.
In order to get the chicks to be big enough to eat, he has to raise them and teach them how to be chickens. Eventually Wolf is ready to eat them, but Fox isn’t so sure anymore. After surviving his first few weeks of parenting, he gets attached to the chicks. He keeps coming up with delay tactics, but that’s only going to hold Wolf away for so long. Meanwhile, the farm chickens have organized and are preparing to take down Fox the next time he dares to step foot on their farm. The next thing we know, Fox is out of time and Wolf wants his chickens now or else he’s going to take down Fox, too. The only safe place for the chicks is back at the farm, but that’s also the most dangerous place for him — what’s a parent to do? Surely he wouldn’t put himself in even more jeopardy just for a few chicks he was planning to eat in the first place? Oh wait, he’s a parent now. Nothing is too insane.
The Big Bad Fox is an utterly engrossing and compulsive read. As a parent, you’ll find yourself laughing at how honestly and perfectly Renner captures the insanity of raising and negotiating with little ones. The chicks adeptly portray some of the most face-palming parenting moments and how often solid and sound parenting techniques can completely backfire. Quickly you find yourself sympathizing with the fox, which is nuts because he’s a kidnapper! But he changes his ways and you find out he isn’t the pathetic loser he initially seems to be. There are certainly points of the story where you wonder which way Renner is going to go with the plot, because he had plenty of opportunities to devastate you – but Renner is merciful and gives an ending that is satisfying, funny, and yet painfully honest.
My sons enjoy The Big Bad Fox immensely, but for very different reasons. They enjoy the slapstick humor, the overwhelming cuteness and shenanigans of the chicks, and general walloping the fox takes. They especially enjoy rooting for the underdog, but definitely don’t comprehend how skillfully and accurately his agony and frustrations are portrayed.
The cartoon illustrations are wonderfully done and are a perfect balance of humor and beauty. There are no traditional panels, but white space is expertly used to separate the scenes and set the pace of the story so that it is a smooth and seamless read.
Originally published in 2015 in French, but now available in English, The Big Bad Fox is excellent in every way. You’ll love reading it and laughing with your kids — and maybe, just maybe, they’ll walk away with a little glimmer of the glories and complications of what it is like to be a parent to unpredictable and rambunctious little ones.
Keep an eye out because an adaptation of The Big Bad Fox is coming soon to the screens of North America. Read more about it at Variety.com.
See the Trailer for the Animated Special:
Recommended Ages 7 to 11. First Second Books. June 2017. 192 pages. ISBN: 978-1626723313 Graphic Novel.
Where to Get it:
- [Affiliate Link]: Amazon.com
- [Publisher]: First Second Books
- [My Favorite Bookstore]: Addendum Books
- [Library]: Worldcat.org
Author and Illustrator Websites:
- [Author and Illustrator] Benjamin Renner
- School Library Journal – starred review
- Project Muse
- Kirkus Review
Where Obtained: I received a review copy from the publisher. No other compensation was received. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
FTC Disclosures: Some of the links in the post above are Amazon affiliate links and others are IndieBound affiliate links. If you click on the link and purchase something, I will receive an affiliate commission at no additional cost to you. Which goes to fund my family’s picture book habit. It’s a vicious cycle, but we manage. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”