Book Review of Beatrice Deer’s The Fox Wife
Continuing our summer book club, this week we have a story for our younger readers! This book is a re-telling of a traditional Inuit story, told by Beatrice Deer, an Inuk and Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) musician who grew up in the town of Quaqyaq in Nunavik, Quebec. Deer has released six albums and won several awards, including the 2018 Canadian Folk Music Award and Best Folk Album at the 2019 Indigenous Music Awards. She is also a strong advocate for mental health and cultural connection!
Title: The Fox Wife
Author: Beatrice Deer
Age range: 6-9
Length: 35 pages
Content warnings: N/A
This picture book is actually based on Beatrice Deer’s original song, “Fox”! It tells a similar story with a backing of strong, growling guitar tones, and it is definitely worth a listen. Both the song “Fox” and the book The Fox Wife reflect Deer’s interpretation of a traditional Inuit story. In this story, a fox transforms into a woman to trick a young man into taking her as his wife, unknowing of her true nature. However, there are some things the fox cannot hide, like her musky smell. This eventually drives the couple apart, as the man can’t stand the strong odor and continually complains about it while the fox pretends it is not coming from her, too afraid to show him her real form.
The man and the fox woman each teach important lessons about judgement, honesty and loss. The man judges the fox woman for her musky smell, which she has no control over, and drives her away with his insensitive comments. The fox woman is hurt by the comments, but she doesn’t say anything. Her attempt to hide her true nature puts a strain on their relationship. Ultimately, the man loses his wife by judging her for the way she is, and she walks away from him under her own power.
Some younger readers may find it helpful to read this story with a more experienced reader to fully grasp what is happening. For example, knowing that foxes have a characteristic strong, musky odor (some liken it to a pungent “ground coffee” or “skunky” smell) allows the reader to understand why the fox woman has this smell. Realizing that the woman and the fox are the same being is also crucial, and the fox pelt that hangs outside the tent when she is a woman is an important detail. The fox pelt reminded me about “selkies” in stories I’d read as a child. Selkies are beings that look like seals but can shed their skin to become a person and turn back into seals when they wear their pelt again.
The book is beautifully illustrated in full colour by D.J. Herron, depicting elements of camp life like sealskin tents secured with heavy rocks and using an ulu to scrape caribou and sealskins. It also introduces some Inuktitut words, like amauti, anaana, and qulliq, that the reader can understand using context clues and the book’s accompanying illustrations. A unique book that will capture the imagination of its readers, this is a rich story about love and hurt that does not compromise on its message to force a happy ending.
Author: Basil, ITMP Admin & IT Support
Image credits: Book cover by D.J. Herron via Inhabit Books