June’s Big Picture
The Big Bad Fox
by Benjamin Renner; translated from the French by Joe Johnson
Sometimes you can tell a book has a lot going for it right away; the pieces come together to make a distinctive whole, and describing each aspect of the book demands critical rigor to avoid simply gushing, mash-note style, about what the author has accomplished. Such is the experience with this hilarious French graphic novel about a male fox who becomes a mother to an unusual trio.
The Big Bad Fox may not be quite the intimidating force he’d like to be, but he’s got high hopes that one of these times he’ll leave the farm with something more delicious than root vegetables. When he joins forces with a wolf who seems to have big and bad well in hand, it appears that Fox’s luck may have changed as he actually escapes with three eggs, but of course things don’t go as planned and soon Fox is parenting three chicks who need him.
This is a snarky and uproariously funny graphic novel, that’s for sure. However, it also has some surprising emotional depth, operating at its core as a transformation and love story as the fox parentally falls for the chicks. The fox has clearly been alone for a long time, and he is used to unrelenting scorn at best and hatred at worst. After he tends and protects the eggs, devouring the chicks is the last thing on the fox’s mind, even if he can’t initially admit it to himself. Of course, that doesn’t mean parenting is easy either, as the chicks shriek their discovery of new things and demand Fox do everything for them. Plus the wolf wants to eat the chicks, plus the hen understandably wants her kids back. Amid these trials, however, Fox has found true love in these chicks who take him exactly as he is, and have no fear, a custody arrangement with Hen is in place by end of book.
Since Renner is an accomplished animator, it’s fitting that the art is exceptional with film-ready close ups (in fact, an animated version of the book is forthcoming), a minimalistic approach to backgrounds, and sly humor. Settings are spare, with action focused on the lithe and cartoony line and watercolor animals; the significant white space beautifully sets off the characters and makes them stars. The lack of paneling links the layouts to picture-book sequences, making this a comfortable yet sophisticated step up, but the left-to-right, top-to-bottom sequenc- ing will also be a familiar structure for genre readers.
Graphic novels fans from grades three and up are all going to find some- thing to like here from the art to the humor to the tender underbelly. The cover sells itself, and there’s plenty of readaloud, acting out, curricular, and solo reading potential here. In a celebratory era of powerful, memorable, visually significant graphic novels, this one happily joins the mountain near the top.
April Spisak, Reviewer