CM . . . .
Volume VII Number 19 . . . . May 25, 2001
There have always been foxes in this place. Its fields and forests are our haunts. We watch over them and have seen more things than there are stars in the sky.Having produced the first two volumes of a YA historical fiction trilogy plus a number of picture books, such as Flags and Storm at Batoche, which relate to Canada's past, Trottier's credentials in the area of historical writing are certainly well established. With There Have Always Been Foxes, Trottier provides a most unusual, but enticing, history of the area surrounding what was the French settlement of Louisbourg on Cape Breton. What makes this history so unusual is that it is being told from the perspective of a fox that is passing on a story which has been told though generations of foxes. As the title indicates, while many things about the area, and Louisbourg in particular, have changed over the years, unchanged is the fact that foxes have always roamed the area and still continue to do so. Initially, the narrator takes readers back to the days of unspoiled forests before the white man came to this part of North America and to a time in which foxes lived in relative harmony with the indigenous "people." Then the fox, using images meaningful to animals, describes the arrival of Europeans who "flew across the sea in ships that were taller than any spruce. Huge sails billowed as white as the breasts of gulls." The fox remarks on the construction of the fortress, its eventual destruction and its transformation into a cow pasture before being eventually rebuilt. After the fortress was destroyed, "for many years no fox would walk there," but following the reconstruction, "sometimes when the night is still and winter crisps the grass, I step through the fortress gates and walk the cold streets as they slumber around me." There, under the starlit sky, the fox gambols with a cat.
Trottier's brief text effectively leaves much unsaid, allowing inquisitive older students, for example, to explore the full historical implications imbedded in lines such as "The bellies of their ships would be filled with mountains of glittering cod to be dried in the sun" or "When more ships came, men spilled from them like ants to march against the fortress." A full page closing "Author's Note" provides a brief history of the French settlement of Louisbourg plus a note on how Trottier got the story idea while visiting a home on Cape Breton where she heard a tale about "how, years ago, a fox was sometimes seen dancing with a cat that lived inside the fortress."
Regolo's dark, romantic oil paintings, which flow across pairs of facing pages, are, as a cover note indicates, "in the style of the old masters." Full of detail, they evoke a mood of quietness despite the activity which they portray. The one small complaint is that Regolo's cat which appears in two of the three closing illustrations bears a strong resemblance to a dog.
A worthy addition to libraries' picture book collections.
Dave Jenkinson teaches courses in children's and YA literature in the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.
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