I’m over at Pickle Me This today, chatting with Kerry Clare about And Me Among Them, but I have another wonderful guest for you, as part of an ongoing series about when writers read kids’ books. Please welcome Iain and send us your comments about Roald Dahl!
“They [children] accept, almost without question, anything you present them with, as long as it is presented honestly, fearlessly, and clearly.” E.B. White
I was never concerned with logic or reason. I didn’t speculate if a plot, or setting, was realistic before choosing a book. That was irrelevant. I was interested in the originality of a story and if its characters were memorable. Good books would stay with me. The ones I enjoyed most were the ones I revisited often. Even though the ending was no longer a surprise, and I knew the dialogue by heart, my level of pleasure only increased with each reading.
On the cover of my Bantam Books 1978 edition of Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl, Mr. Fox is shown standing upright, dressed in green trousers, and a red blazer. He’s holding a wooden walking stick. Both in the picture and the story, Mr. Fox was more man than fox. It’s absurd and impossible. But as White predicted, I willingly accepted it. Fantastic Mr. Fox is a story of risk taking, adventure and survival. It’s the story of the cunning fox, his family and animal friends versus the evil farmers who attempt to dig them out of their underground burrow. It was my favourite. I read it over and over. In my family we all did. Even my parents.
What made Fantastic Mr. Fox even more enthralling was our proximity to the natural world. I lived on a farm. We had chickens, and ducks. We had an apple orchard and lush vegetable gardens. It was just like the story. I could walk outside post-reading and re-enact everything. Typically I played alone and cast myself as Mr. Fox. Occasionally, we would even be visited by a skinny fox. His scruffy fur was a burnt orange except for his legs and paws which were a charcoal black. He looked like he was wearing dress socks but had forgotten his shoes.
I don’t think my parents have seen many foxes around lately. Most of the neighboring fields, once home to cattle, crops and wild flowers, have been sold to developers. Construction had been delayed for over a year. Last week mom sent an email saying work had started. Large diggers arrived. She attached a few photos with the caption, “Thinking of Mr. Fox again…today we feel like the fox family being dug out.”
Iain Reid’s work has appeared in The Globe and Mail, Reader’s Digest, on CBC Radio and NPR. He is also a frequent contributor to The National Post. One Bird’s Choice is his first book. Iain studied history and philosophy at Queen’s University and now lives in Kingston.