Enchantingly told and marvelously illustrated, Lance Lee’s holiday-themed chapter book offers bountiful delights for readers of every age. A modern-day urban Wind in the Willows set in London, this story, subtitled “a fable for children and their parents,” is populated with mannered Beatrix Potter-like animals on a quest to discover the meaning and magic of Christmas.
When “the heaviest rains anyone could remember” drench the North London neighborhood of Crouch End, gentlemanly Rufus the Red Fox finds his life disrupted. Inside his elegant den in a deep backyard, “Rufus’ floors were slimed. In one room a bed floated in floodwater … He didn’t dare use his stove for fear of electrocuting himself.” A new neighbor, introducing himself as “Marvin Mole, Builder Extraordinaire,” is wary of Rufus because “He is a Fox – after all!” Yet Rufus hires Marvin, quelling his predatory instincts.
Renovations underway, Rufus wanders the streets of Crouch End, growing “ever more conscious of all the strange Christmas behaviors of people,” things he’s seen previously but doesn’t understand. Hearing Rufus’ findings, the mole responds, “They go mad this way every year.” As other animals chime in – Belinda the Wood Pigeon and Hilda Hedgehog stunned that “a Mole and Fox were friendly” – they challenge Rufus to ask the fairies about Christmas since he’s rumored to have second sight. Later, Tinya the Fairy explains “the meaning of all the decorations and lights. Or almost all,” since she stops short, stating, “There’s something more you must find out yourself.”
Lee’s contemporary narrative is a timeless tale of caring, sharing and community, with a glorious dollop of magic. Meilo So’s illustrations blend loose sketches and scribbled color with precisely rendered animals fetchingly anthropomorphic in their quaint attire.
Glorious, nostalgic and effortlessly charmingly, this instant holiday classic deserves a spot among the best of Christmas tales for children.
Highly recommended for fans of Kenneth Grahame and Beatrix Potter.
Also available in hardcover.