Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl

Sep 2, 2015

Aaron has informed me, on more than one occasion, that Roald Dahl is his favorite author. This probably doesn't seem all that significant, maybe not even worth mentioning, except that Aaron never makes decisions about anything. He seems to have inherited both Mike's and my non-committal gene, and, as the first child, it has compounded into something unmanageable. He is unwilling to make a decision on just about anything. ("What was the best part of your day?" I didn't have a best part. "Would you rather have a banana or a peach in your lunch?" Which would you rather I have? "Do you want to go to the pool or the library?" Hmmm, I don't know.)

So the fact that he actually settled on a favorite author and that he's mentioned it several times and that it was not prompted in any way by me is actually pretty amazing. Roald Dahl, you've worked a miracle.

Fantastic Mr. Fox only further cemented his devotion. In fact, all three older boys (Bradley included, which doesn't always happen) loved this book.

The story begins by introducing the reader to three farmers: there's Boggis (an enormously fat chicken farmer), Bunce (a short, potbellied, duck and goose farmer), and Bean (a thin and clever turkey and apple farmer).

There's also Mr. Fox and his family. Every evening, Mr. Fox asks his lovely wife, Mrs. Fox, what she'd like for dinner, and then he goes and pilfers it off of one of the three farmers. It's a pretty sweet gig, filled with variety and deliciousness.

But the three farmers have had it with the stealing. They know the fox is the thief, and they devise a plan to put an end to him once and for all. Their plan is simple: surround his hole, wait for him to come out, and shoot him. And they come so close to succeeding. They shoot off Mr. Fox's tail (a loss he mourns for the rest of the book) before he sees them and dives back into his hole.

At that point, the game is on. It's one set of wits against another. But it isn't called Fantastic Mr. Fox for nothing.

At under one hundred pages, this is a short book that could easily be started and finished in a single afternoon. The chapters are short, the pictures are frequent, and the pacing is quick. However, with the start of school, we didn't have a long afternoon to devote to it, so we read it in four installments instead. And now, in retrospect, I'm kind of glad.

If we had read it all at once, I'm afraid we would have forgotten it pretty quickly. It would have just been a little spark along our reading continuum, nestled between books that took us several days or weeks to finish. And the truth is, when you spend more time with characters, you remember them better. By spreading out the reading of this book, even though the actual time spent reading it was the same, we revisited the characters several times, which forced us to review and remember what we already knew about them and the story. I'm not saying I recommend reading it in four sections instead of one, just mentioning that I don't regret the way it worked out.

Even though it's short, it still had all the elements we've come to expect from Roald Dahl: really despicable characters, clever solutions (although, for my part, I seriously wondered why Mr. Fox had to get to the brink of starvation before he came up with, what seemed to me to be, a rather obvious solution), characters worth championing and cheering for, and just the right dash of quirkiness.

My kids were quite eager for Mr. Fox to outsmart Boggis, Bunce and Bean, but does it seem odd that I actually felt a little bit sorry for the three farmers? I'm not saying they're pleasant characters by any stretch of the imagination. Just that, if I had a fox sneaking in and stealing from me several times a week, I might be a little grumpy too. I loved this poem about them:

Boggis and Bunce and Bean
One fat, one short, one lean.
These horrible crooks
So different in looks
Were nonetheless equally mean.

Obviously, if I had to choose between characters, I still wanted Mr. Fox to win. But I was not without sympathy for the three farmers and what they were up against. (My kids did not share my feelings and felt nothing but dislike for the three. The sooner Mr. Fox outwitted them, the better.)

Really though, it was just a fun, entertaining book. One that if, like Aaron, Roald Dahl is a favorite author of yours, you will definitely not want to miss.

Just for fun, tell me what your favorite Roald Dahl novel is. (This is a question Aaron would not be able to answer.)


  1. That's a hard question. I adore Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. But I'm going to have to go with Matilda, my kindred spirit!

  2. My favorite varies between Danny, Champion of the World and Flying Solo (a memoir).

    And I also have a son who hates making decisions! He almost failed a standardized test once because he had to write an essay on one of two topics, and he sat for the first of two hours just trying to pick one...


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