Battut, Eric. The Fox and the Hen. Illustrated by Eric Battut. Boxer Books, 2010. 32 pages. $16.95. ISBN 9781907152023.
When Henrietta Hen lays her first egg, she’s not quite sure what it is! So when Red Fox comes along and offers to trade, she is happy to do it. The other animals have to tell her the bad news: “Your egg is precious. You need to look after it and keep it warm. Red Fox will eat it!” The animals are ready to help Henrietta find a way to get her egg back. First Rabbit and Henrietta approach Fox and offer him a trade: the egg for some seeds from Rabbit’s garden. He declines politely and says that he has no garden and would much prefer “a hard-boiled egg for his breakfast.” Next Goose comes to offer a trade of feathers for a pillow, followed by Goat who offers some fine cheese, and on and on until all the animals have exhausted their options. But Henrietta comes up with a clever plan to trick Red Fox and get her egg back.
Though this is not a traditional folktale, it has a decidedly “folktale feel” in the way that repetition is used to build the tension in the story. Another common theme in folktales is trading and cleverness, which is a major theme here. Students could be asked to compare and contrast this story with Jan Brett’s Hedgie’s Surprise, or another folktale that involves similar story construction, with a clever ending.
Battut’s paintings are loose and brushy, in bold colors of red and orange. Though it is a primitive style, there are subtle expressions that are conveyed in a humorous way: Fox’s sly look and licking tongue, Henrietta’s naïve innocence, and the pleasure of all of the animals when they find their solution. The paintings are beautiful and engage an audience during a read-aloud.
Folktale, Humor, Problem-Solving, Friendship
This theme of problem-solving and multiple steps towards a solution brings to mind an classic, award-winning book, One Fine Day (Hogrogian), or perhaps Hedgie’s Surprise (Brett), or Clever Jack Takes the Cake (Fleming).