This picture book combines two of Australia’s best-known names in picture books – author Maragret Wild and illustrator Ron Brooks. In the four years since it was first published it has assumed classic status as a truly memorable and great example of the picture book form.
The fable like story tells of an unusual friendship between a dog and a magpie. Magpie’s wing is injured in a fire and she can no longer fly. She is looked after by Dog, who wills her to get better. He is blind in one eye. He puts Magpie on his back and runs with her. Magpie tells Dog that he can be her wings and she will be his missing eye. The friendship continues until a Fox arrives. Seeing the pair cosily together, he conspires to part them. He cajoles Magpie to come with him. He can run faster than Dog and Magpie will love the feeling of really flying on Fox’s back. When Magpie finally agrees, Fox abandons her in the desert, telling her that now she and Dog will learn what it is like to be truly alone. The story ends with Magpie, regretting her abandonment of Dog, beginning the slow journey back to her friend.
This is a story which grips the reader. The temptation of the fox and his leading Magpie into the desert has a biblical quality, and the seemingly sad ending still rings with the courage of the flightless Magpie hopping towards home across the desert.
Brooks’ illustrations and hand-lettering add to the myth-like feel of the story. This print, the use of collage and the reds and ochres prevalent in the book all combine to create an illusion of age, as if this a story created long ago and perhaps drawn on ancient parchment or etched on a cave wall. The dark colours of the illustrations also reflect the serious tone of the tale.
With this tone, Fox may not make for fun bedtime reading, but it is an outstanding book which kids will be drawn to and which will encourage discussion about friendship, loyalty and betrayal. It would also make an excellent classroom text for literature study and visual literacy lessons.
Fox, by Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks
Allen & Unwin, First Published 2000, new edition 2004