The Fox Wife
The Fox Wife
But the fox’s mind was made up, and nothing could change it. From her stare, in that moment, he understood.
The Fox Wife is an adaptation of an Inuit tale about Irniq and his relationship with his wife, a shapeshifting fox. Beatrice Deer is a “singer, seamstress, and an advocate for good health” from Quaqtaq, a tiny village in Nunavik on the northeast coast of Quebec (p. 36). The Fox Wife has an interesting path: Deer composed a song, “Fox,” adapted from a traditional Inuit tale; she then adapted the song into this book. For readers, the song and the book can be used to open conversations about adapting creative works across different media.
The animated music video for “Fox” is currently viewable on the public video platform YouTube and presents additional material not covered in the book. It presents a vision of an Inuit futurism where a technological landscape superimposes on the Arctic landscape. While not made explicit in the book, it can be argued that the visual language and stylistic choices made in The Fox Wife also speak to this vision of adaptable, modern Inuit identity. The illustrations by D.J. Herron and Amanda Sandland depict characters in traditional clothing and homes, but the style is clearly computer-rendered with clean lines and smooth colour. This is not to say that the characters seem flat; rather, this style highlights the personality, movement, and expression of each individual character, both human and non-human. Readers will note many visual similarities to modern graphic novels.
The Fox Wife borrows the use of speech and thought bubbles from comics and graphic novels and combines it with traditional, third-person prose, which results in a layered storytelling. This combination visually breaks up the block of text on the page, as well as humanizes the story by allowing the reader to observe the characters’ internal thoughts and dialogue. Deer also incorporates Inuit words and defines them for readers who may not be familiar with them; for example, she describes “amauti” on p. 8 from the fox’s perspective as a “beautiful garment…lined with beautiful dark fur”, and readers can also understand from the accompanying illustration that an amauti is used for babywearing. Deer takes the opportunity to share a language and worldview: this story is situated in a specific cultural landscape.
Readers may find themselves lingering on the story after the final page. The end of the tale is bittersweet, with a teaching that reminds readers to be grateful and respectful of others. While it is a children’s book, The Fox Wife does not coddle its readers with a story that gives the protagonist multiple chances to fix problems or forces a “happily ever after” ending. In this story, Irniq fails to treat his wife with respect and has to live with the consequences of his actions. The Fox Wife presents a different way to understand and interact with storytelling, and it is an important work to include in any collection of children’s picture books.
Sabrina Wong is Teaching and Outreach Librarian at Capilano University in North Vancouver, British Columbia.