One of the first books that I read this year was Julia and the Whale by Kiran Millwood Hargrave. It has been sitting on my shelf for a while but in the pre-Christmas madness, I hadn’t managed to get to it. It remains one of my top books of 2022, so I knew I had to fit Leila and the Blue Fox into my reading list as well. How could it not be as good as the previous one? I managed to finish it just before the end of November. I knew that I wouldn’t finish my current read in time, so decided to fit this one in instead. It was a quick read last weekend and a great way to end my month’s reading.
When I read Julia and the Whale in January this year, I was instantly captivated by the visuals and the emotional narrative. It was an incredibly sophisticated and mature children’s book that could be enjoyed by every reader. So, I was absolutely thrilled when Leila and the Blue Fox came out. It was another beautiful book and the story sounded fantastic. From the outside at least, it looked like we would be getting more of the same stuff.
Certainly, the illustrations are as beautiful and mesmerising as the earlier book. The way they use translucent pages to create depth is incredible. Most importantly for me, the images of Miso, the titular fox, aren’t too cutesy. There hasn’t been an attempt to make her too Disney. It’s a realistic interpretation of a wild animal. Something that really helps drive the story. She seems real, so the dangers she faces seem real.
This isn’t a fairy tale adventure of an intrepid fox. This is based on the real-life story of an arctic fox that walked 2,000 miles in 76 days. A journey made out of necessity thanks to the effects of global warming. Leila and the Blue Fox attempts to highlight the plight of arctic creatures but not in a preachy way. It highlights environmental issues in a way that children will engage with. No matter the deeper meaning, this is, ultimately, a great narrative.
This isn’t just the story of a fox but of the girl who follows her. Leila has been separated from her mother for years and, in the Summer holidays, goes to visit her in Norway. She never expected to end up on a boat chasing the blue fox her mother’s team have been tracking. On this journey, Leila comes to terms with some truths about her mother and her life as a refugee in the UK. Truths that have been hiding under the surface for a long time. Her story is mirrored in the creature’s story. Both have been displaced from their home and find themselves separated from their family. It’s no wonder that Leila feels so connected to the fox.
Leila and the Blue Fox carries on in much the same way that Julia and the Whale did. There are so many great similarities between the two books and both of them are so enjoyable. Kiran Millwood Hargrave is a great storyteller and Tom de Freston’s illustrations are mesmerising. The two aspects combine perfectly to bring the story to life. There is so much life within these pages that it’s impossible not to get swept away. The themes on show here are so relevant and important. We are dealing with environmentalism, family, refugees and the idea of home. It’s a beautiful and emotional story that will resonate with so many readers. I hope this is just the start for these books.