Jane, the fox and me by Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault

cover image

Walker, 2013. ISBN: 9781406353044.
Highly recommended for ages 10+. Helene's life is sheer hell! For no apparent reason, her 'friends' suddenly begin to ostracise her, plaster her name and rude messages over the walls of the toilet cubicle and spread gossip and negativity about her throughout the school. With their rudeness, particularly about her weight, Helene begins to doubt herself and any self-esteem she may once have had disappears. Her only escape from their cruelty is to disappear into the world of her favourite book, Jane Eyre. When the entire class is treated to an outdoor camp, especially for them, it seems that her worst nightmare is about to begin as she is left with the other students who fit the group of outcasts. Afraid she is about to be teased and harassed again, Helene is about to take flight, when she realises that it is not other students who have come to seek her out but a fox which has instead appeared. The connection between the two is sadly severed as another child emerges from the tent and scares the fox away. Shortly thereafter, Geraldine, a newcomer, is banished to the outcasts' tent and befriends Helene. Immediately, the story changes and the way is paved for a happy ending.
As one who has always loved picture books but not been a particular fan of graphic novels or books, I felt this beautifully spanned the genres and I eagerly devoured the story. Beginning with dull grey colours, reflecting the mood of the protagonist, throughout the bulk of Helene's story, there is the sudden addition of red tones to the images as Jane's tale is outlined. Immediately the focus returns to Helene's life, so too the colours revert to the dreary greys. As the story progresses, the illustrations of Jane's world have greens added and later shades of blue. At no stage is Helene's world imbued with colour until such time as she meets the fox. This is short-lived, thanks to the arrival of Suzanne Lipsky, warning her of the dangers of fraternising with such a creature. As her friendship with Geraldine grows, so too does Helene's self-esteem and the colour begins to seep into the real life component of the story.
As a text about growth, self-development and bullying, this would be great to share with middle to upper primary classes. There are many aspects of the book to use as a focus. From the use of colour to the variation in fonts and italic style handwritten text to the layout of the various pages, this title has much to offer all students.
Jo Schenkel