We Are the Foxes

Jane, the Fox and Me

Written by Fanny Britt, Illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault

Translated by Christelle Morelli and Susan Ourious

Published by Groundwood Books/House of Anansi 2012

17214302

 The Story:

  1. Hélène (the “Me” of Jane, the Fox and Me) is bullied by a group of girls at her middle school. She tries to be invisible, but the bully’s insults are everywhere: in the halls, school yard, stairways, on the bus and written on bathroom stalls. “Hélène weighs 216!” “Don’t talk to Hélène, she has no friends now,” “Hélène weighs 316.” With every insult “The same thing happens . . . another hole opens up in my rib cage. Hearing everything. Hearing nothing” (18). Cue tears.To make matters worse, Hélène’s school is going to nature camp, and there’s no getting out of it. All her bullies will be there, and there will be no home to escape to at night. Hélène’s being an outcast will be obvious to everyone. But the unexpected happens! Hélène meets Géraldine, who laughs at her jokes, listens to her stories, tells her stories, and suddenly the world isn’t full of insults, but “full to the brim with Géraldine’s words” (87).
  1. The Fox: I’ll leave the fox as a surprise for the reader! Although the metaphorical use of the fox reminds me of the Taylor Swift lyric “They are the hunters,/ We are the foxes.” Yes, I unabashedly listen to Swift.
  2. Hélène reads Jane Eyre as bullies taunt her on the bus, and on her bunk bed at nature camp to appear “busy.” Hélène compares herself to Jane, and finds her own story follows the emotional turmoil Jane experiences. Just when Hélène is at her lowest, Jane learns “the boy [Mr. Rochester] already has a wife as crazy as kite, shut up in the manor tower . . . the moral of the story . . . ‘never forget that you’re nothing but a sad sausage’” (83). And just like Hélène’s own story, Jane Eyre “ends well” (98).

What Wallace and I think:

Britt and Arsenault’s graphic novel is powerful and heartbreakingly beautiful on multiple levels. Hélène’s story is uncomfortably relatable. Nothing out of the ordinary happens in the novel, and it could be ripped out of any current middle or high schooler’s experience. Both the author and illustrator work seamlessly together, and are extraordinary at communicating feelings of isolation born out of bullying.

  • Fanny Britt’s writing is beautiful. Some credit has to be given to the translators, obviously, as I’m reading this in English, not French. Britt is able to weave a narrative that it is painstakingly realistic. Being a graphic novel, Britt uses her sparse words wisely. They are truly the most perfect words in the most perfect spaces. The incorporation of Jane Eyre, the fox, the mother-daughter relationship, issues of female body-image, bullying in the narrative adds intricacy. I would love to read this and discuss this book with my undergraduate students (maybe next year!) because there is so much to discuss, uncover, and explore. When I’m asked how books for young readers can be considered literature, because they aren’t as sophiscated as adult literature (cue me hyperventilating and turning red), this is the type of book I would hold up in response.
  • I am a huge fan of Isabella Arsenault. Her pencil illustrations are whimsical yet gritty, have a childish aspect to them that add to the child protagonists’ voices, and are full of detail. What I am most impressed by here is Arsensault’s ability to illustrate silence. For example, after Hélène reads some of the insults written about her in the bathroom stall, there are five images absent of words which show Hélène walking to her locker with her head hung held low and shoulders slumped. She puts on her jacket to go home, as if trying to put on a protective shield, while out of the corner of her eye she watches the girls behind her silently making fun of her. Most powerful to me was Hélène standing in front of a mirror admiring a dress her mother had slaved over. We have already learned that the girls make fun of this dress Hélène was so proud of. After this image there is a double page illustration of Hélène standing in a forest in the beautiful crinoline dress head lowered, hair falling over her face, defeated slouched shoulders. This image makes my heart ache! Even though Hélène is a pencil drawing, I want to reach out and hug her! There are several moments like this in which Arsenault is able to illustrate silence and melancholy in such a way that it gives me chills. Aresenault’s use of color and type add to the complexities of the narrative. Color is only used in specific places, the insults of the bullies are handwritten in a sloppy childish hand, and the voices of adults are written in cursive. Again, its details like these I would love to explore with a class.

I give this brilliant graphic novel 5/5

While all young readers are at different levels, I would generally recommend this book for grade four readers onwards. It could also be a good book for parents to read with their younger children.

Advertisements

6 thoughts on “We Are the Foxes

  1. Hey Anah, Evan here from Ms. Samuelson’s class,
    In response to the book you reviewed, Jane, The Fox And Me.
    I agree with you in one of the paragraphs you wrote about how the illustrations enhance the story.
    When she is reading Jane Eyre all of the colours that Isabella Arsenault used made the pictures that she illustrated so beautiful and made it seem like a perfect world. Jane Eyre’s world is what Hélèna wants to be her perfect world. Near the very end of the book after she meets Gèraldine, her new best friend, she starts to see the colours that she hasn’t seen all her life. In the darkest places in the beginning, are now being filled with the best colours.
    These illustrations speak to me of how Hélèna has stopped seeing herself as a doormat to all the bullies in her school and is starting to stand up and have a voice no matter what people say to her. Isabella Arsenault really helped describe what Hélèna was feeling. I remember at the bottom of page 68 and 69 all of the bullies were in the dark at nature camp, while Hélèna was starting to come into the light. I don’t know if this was a coincidence or not, but it stood out to me.
    Thanks so much for recommending this book, it was great! I look forward to the next book you review.

    Like

    • Hi Evan, thank for your comment! I agree that the use of color is so interesting and full of meaning, and your arguments about how it is used are very insightful! What you noticed about Helena coming into the light was probably not a coincidence (thanks for pointing that out, I didn’t even notice it!), and even if it is, isn’t it wonderful that readers can find meaning even when the artists and authors didn’t intend it. If something stands out to you, that always means it’s important 🙂 Happy reading!

      Like

  2. Hey Anah, it’s Lauren from Grade 6. When I read the book, you recommended “Jane, the Fox and Me” there were a lot of things that touched me. The one thing that got me was when Helena started to think of herself as a sausage. Personal body image is a big thing through out your whole life and if you think there is something wrong with your body, it can take a big chunk out of your self-confidence.
    I think this book really points out bullying. After reading this, it made me noticed how bad it could make someone feel about him or herself. I honestly didn’t know that all the things that people can say could go straight to your head as true.
    The reason this made me so angry and also sad was throughout the book Helena continually saw what people were writing on the bathroom doors about her. As well, it was heartbreaking that not only were they writing things on the walls, they were ignorant enough to actually say it to her face. For example “I stuck a fork up your butt but you’re so fat you didn’t feel a thing” and “Helena weights 216.” Again, this made me so sad because Helena started to believe the lies, but really she only weighted 88 pounds and that’s definitely not over weight.
    It made me really happy when she found that one friend that was actually willing to be there for her and Helena was able to trust her. After viewing the book, in my opinion, Helena looked just the same as every other girl that was bullying her and we also had facts that she was not over weight. I didn’t quite understand why she didn’t “fit in”. After hearing that she didn’t fit in and she didn’t have any friends made me feel horrible to think that really does happen to kids our age. When I saw she got that one friend I knew right away that she would gain some self confidence and she would start to notice that all that stuff that the mean girls were saying about her would start to fade in her mind and start to understand that it was all lies.
    Thank you for recommending this book. It really pointed out to me that you have to be really careful of what you say, knowing that sometimes I let things slip. I look forward to reading more of the books you recommend.

    Like

    • Hi Lauren! Helena picturing herself as a sausage broke my heart as well. The moment you mention, when she gets weighed by the doctor and is told she’s only 88 pounds, not even close to being a sausage, I found painful, because she had trouble believing the doctor. She took the words of her bullies to be true, and not what those who had her best interests at heart. You’re right about body image, especially with girls, being an important issue, as I know there were times when I was a kid I hated my body for no good reason, and this continues today, though I’ve learned to quite the little voice that whispers mean things to me 🙂 You make a very interesting point that Helena doesn’t look different from all the other girls, that there’s nothing about her that doesn’t fit in. This is such a great observation! It really shows how senseless bullying is. Thanks for your comment! Happy reading 🙂

      Like

  3. Hi Anah Emily here,
    I just read your recommendation to read Jane, the Fox and Me and wanted to say what spoke to me about it. It is a great book and has a very powerful message about bullying. One of the things this book points out is how much words impact people. For example: “Helene weighs 316!” is the words written on the bathroom wall that Helene must face and read all the time. Helene must deal with the judgments of everyone around her and she begins to worry about issues that do not exist like her weight and body image she starts to believe she weighs 316 pounds and she accepts it as fact. Anything she is self-conscious about is magnified and repeated over and over in her head, on the bathroom walls, and through the voices of her bullies. She sees herself as fat when really she is totally normal and she has nothing to worry about, she is only 88 pounds.

    I think that the fox was an important part of the book because it shows how every event becomes negative and sad even though Suzanne was simply worried. When she turns a wild fox coming up to her into a miracle, which it kind of is. When Suzanne Lipsky crushes that miracle she goes back into a dark place. “I didn’t know that any fox who dares to approach me- HELENE WHO WEIGHS 396, HELENE WHO HAS NO FRIENDS, HELENE A FORK IN HER BUTT, HELENE WEARING A CRINOLINE WHEN IT’S LAST SUMMER’S FAD, HELENE WHO GETS ON EVERYONE’S NERVES, EVEN SUZANNE LIPSKY’S- has got to be rabid, sick, dangerous.
    I didn’t know.
    She is pressured by her peers and even her old friends to be skinny and perfect. I hate that she has no friends and no one to talk to about what’s happening to her. She is at the point where she won’t even tell her mom what is going on in her life to make her so sad. To face a bully or any major problem in your life you need some kind of support, but Helene has none. She cannot stand up for herself the way she needs to.

    When Geraldine seeks out Helene as a friend everything changes. Helene finally has someone who knows that Helene is perfect in her own way and she makes Helene’s life a hundred times better. Sometimes one person to give you support and love is all you need because when you know that someone thinks you’re pretty and funny you believe it too.

    Like

    • Hi Emily, thanks for you comment! I like what you have to say about the fox in the story. It has the potentially to be this magical, special moment for Helena (like you say a moment of lightness), but it is ruined by bullying and someone’s thoughtless words. I think you’re right that the story shows that the kindness of just one person can over shadow the darkness of others. Geraldine seems to be that light for Helena, and I like you, was so relieved when Helena found some light in her life! I’m glad you enjoyed the book and that it had meaning for you! Keep up the reading!

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s