With his picture book, The Woodcutter and the Fox, Joseph Newns has written a parable for adults about what happens when caregivers in public institutions become lost in a bureaucratic fog and lose sight of their primary duty: to serve their community with love and respect. The book is illustrated in vibrant color by Raynald Kudemus.
The Woodcutter is a Christian child-care worker in a public institution managed by Kevin the fox, Sleazy the weasel and Toothy, the white-headed rabbit. This triumvirate cares more about finances than the best interests of children in their care. When a beautiful little girl arrives whose mother has died and who has been ill-treated by her father, she’s placed in the Woodcutter’s care. Soon, she is thriving.
Then one day the fox announces that the children’s home must close. “What will happen to the children?” the Woodcutter asks. He’s told most will go to loving homes but that the little girl and the staff who care for her must go to a dangerous place called the “’Make-Em-Worse’ Grange.” The Woodcutter suggests it isn’t the best place for the girl and is ignored.
Time passes. The girl hates her new world. She doesn’t feel safe and begs to be sent someplace else. Ignored, she runs away, over and over again. Management blames the Woodcutter for encouraging her antics. When he complains, he is fired as a whistleblower.
This is complex material for the illustrated picture book format the author has chosen, and the book’s design is likely to attract the wrong audience. The book isn’t really for children; it’s for the grown-ups who care for them. In addition, the message is heavy-handed in the extreme (naming a bad place the “’Make-Em-Worse’ Grange” suggests an agenda is driving the story forward, not the storyteller’s imagination.) In the end, this parable doesn’t have universal appeal, however worthy the Woodcutter’s cause.