Fox and Raccoon – Lesley-Anne Green, Tundra Books, 2018
Fox and Raccoon live in the beautifully created world of Juniper Hollow, a fictional village where animals delicately crafted out of felt, balsa wood, and fabric support one another through friendship based on empathy. Raccoon is perhaps a little over-zealous, so eager to help his friend that he almost undermines the surprise she has planned. It’s difficult to overemphasize the appeal of this book.
For one thing, to quote the narrator about Raccoon, “Crafting is one of his specialties, and he was happy to help!” Green’s meticulous approach to physically building her models matches her text based on verbal detail supporting the book’s theme. “That’s how things are in Juniper Hollow —friends like to help friends out” states the story’s purpose, which is made tangible by observations such as “Raccoon chose a beautiful green yarn because that’s Fox’s favorite color.”
Reading the book is like entering a dollhouse, where each room or outside environment is primed for imaginative play. In her kitchen, Fox wears a neat white apron, napkins are carefully folded, and the food cannisters are in pastel colors or polka dots. The post office is logically staffed by an efficient beaver, in charge of compartments filled with letters. The scenes are anything but artificial, and each warm encounter between Raccoon and other members of his community reinforces the patience and commitment which they feel towards one another.
The two-page spread of Raccoon looking for juniper berries reminds you of your favorite community-supported agriculture co-op, where you sometimes collect unusual produce and then need to think of something to prepare with it: “We’ve got blueberries, blackberries, gooseberries, huckleberries –” Raccoon doesn’t have that problem. He knows he needs juniper berries for Fox’s recipe and he is determined to find them.
Adults will marvel at the process of illustrating a picture book with these original figures, the products of both imagination and incredible skill. For children, the pictures are simply as real as the toys they play with and project into pretend scenarios. The story line is not preachy. Raccoon is motivated by love for his friend, Fox, and Beaver, Hedgehog, Badger, and Cat all share this quality with him. The book enters the canon of animal coexistence in such classics as Winne the Pooh, Rabbit Hill and Elephant and Piggie. (Fans of felting will also like Tundra’s Great Job, Mom and Great Job, Dad by Holman Wang.) Further visits to Juniper Hollow by Lesley-Anne Green would be welcome.