Heavy Medal Finalist #11: Scary Stories for Young Foxes
Introduced by Heavy Medal Committee Member Courtney Hague
Stories within stories. The frame for Scary Stories for Young Foxes by Christian McKay Heidicker is one of a storyteller weaving scary stories for fox kits on a cold and blustery night. Using this device, Heidicker is able to give us eight scary stories which are deftly strung together to give the reader an overarching tale of two young foxes fighting for their lives, their families, and each other.
These foxes are written in a way which tries to make them as fox-like as possible. They are only given the knowledge that young foxes would have and not the human knowledge that we, the readers, bring to this story. The descriptions of “the yellow stench” which we can know is rabies but Mia the fox does not are a great example as they rely on smell. So much of the descriptions from the foxes’ perspectives are about smells which we as humans would most likely not perceive. The descriptions of Miss Potter’s house are illustrative of this point. We can recognize the things in her home easily but Mia’s descriptions of them point out their alienness to a fox.
“The walls danced with flames–a forest fire, somehow contained within a small cave.” (86)
“The human unfolded the outer skins from its body, releasing a scent like melting flowers. Its long white fingers hung the skins, one by one, on a dead brown tree.” (87)
These unsettling descriptions of a cozy fire in a fireplace and of Beatrix Potter herself taking off a coat turn things which we as humans would generally find innocuous, or even pleasant, into bizarre and frightening events. The author’s word choice is especially good because the descriptions are apt, but are written to point out the otherworldliness of our world in relation to a fox.
The idea that these are not just scary stories but instead scary stories for foxes is an interesting idea to explore. Heidicker chooses to not simply give us scary-to-human stories where anthropomorphized foxes are inserted; instead, he gives us stories about rabies and snakes, bear traps and human captors. That these stories are made terrifying for a human audience is secondary to the fact that they are in fact real-life horrors for foxes. The strength of this novel lies in its ability to commit to that premise and the skillful way in which Heidicker uses language to create a world which is both familiar and alien in order to make the reader feel as though they are in fact a young fox listening to these stories.
About Steven Engelfried
Steven Engelfried was the Library Services Manager at the Wilsonville Public Library in Oregon until he retired after 35 years as a full-time librarian. He served on the 2010 Newbery committee, chaired the 2013 Newbery Committee, and also served on the 2002 Caldecott committee. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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