Fanny Britt, Isabelle Arsenault, Jane, the fox & me
Published 2013 by Groundwood Books, 104p
Jane, the fox & me will speak not only to children but also to adults. We all have been Hélène at a certain point in our lives. We all experienced isolation and loneliness and felt the need to escape reality.
The book opens presenting the school – Hélène’s grey universe. There are children everywhere so she cannot hide and become invisible. Every day is a test for her as she is being insulted by the girls who once used to be her friends. So she finds comfort in Charlotte Brontë’s novel, Jane Eyre.
Every time Hélène opens the book her world becomes coloured and meaningful. She won’t tell her busy mother about the reality at school, preferring to fight prejudices by herself and having Jane Eyre as her inspiration:
Because she grew up to be clever, slender and wise, no one calls Jane Eyre a liar, a thief or an ugly duckling again.
Sometimes Hélène dares to dream lying on the living-room floor:
I imagine myself a gorgeous stubborn singer traveling the world with hope and a guitar, turning as rough and piney as a laurentian forest.
The situation degenerates even more when Hélène is sent with her class to camp in nature. She is in the outcasts’ tent and children humiliate her every time they have the opportunity. Then, on the second-last night in the camp, reading outside, Hélène meets a fox:
A fox. A real live red fox, tiny, with a small oatch of darker fur just above its left front leg. Like a beauty spot. Its eyes are so kind I just about to burst.
The small animal brings miracle in Hélène’s life and their moment of connection comforts her soul. But one of the mean girls scares the fox away and Hélène feels discouraged again.
Never forget that you’re nothing but a sad sausage.
Shortly after the episode with the fox, another girl, Géraldine, is kicked out of her tent and becomes an outcast. The two spend time together laughing and talking nonsense. Hélène becomes more confident and happy to conclude that the story ends well.
The book is stunning; the text is poetic and the illustrations are exceptional, both insisting on the girl’s suffering. Children can be very cruel and the story reiterates this aspect but also reveals the beauty of connections and the amazing therapeutic power of reading.
Complement Jane, the fox & me with The Hundred Dresses, the story of a girl bullied for her poor wardrobe.