After Lion Hound and Wild Trek, I believe Haunt Fox was the next Jim Kjelgaard book that I read. My name and phone number are still inscribed inside the battered Bantam-Skylark paperback that I own, but no date, although from my handwriting I would guess somewhere around 10 or 11. (Mainly because I remember learning to write my name in cursive sometime around that time so that I could get a library card!)
This story is mostly about a fox named Star. We meet him as he is experiencing the first snowfall of his life, and follow him through the raising of his first litter. Parallel to Star’s story is that of Jack Crowley and Jack’s foxhound, Thunder. Throughout the book, all three youngsters learn, in their own way, what it means to be an adult.
Like most of Kjelgaard’s books, this is not a tale of great depth and intrigue. However, it has those gentle life-lessons that seem to so frequently be lacking in children’s books these days – the importance of honesty, hard-work, frugality, honor, loyalty, and compassion. Jack’s parents are portrayed as simple, kind, honest people, and Jack wants to be just like them. He sees their good, solid, respectable life and wants the same thing for himself. He doesn’t spend the entire book carrying on an internal monologue about how out-dated his dad is, or how he doesn’t understand what Jack is going through. Instead, he looks to his dad as a role model – someone he loves and trusts. Jack’s dad, in turn, gives Jack opportunities to prove himself. Some of those Jack fails, but ultimately he succeeds in learning the rather vague lesson of what makes a man a good man – something that cannot really be described in so many words, but is known when someone is.
In the meantime, we have the story of Star. The fox learns many lessons as he grows, for Mother Nature is a harsh taskmaster as well, leaving little room for mistakes. Star finds a mate, defeats his arch-enemy, learns to run from the hounds, out-thinks the hunter, and raises a family. Kjelgaard paints a simple yet complex picture of wilderness life. He always does an excellent job catching essence of animals – he doesn’t try to make them have actual conversations with words, but describes an animal’s more simplistic way of viewing life in a way that makes the animals more real – not only are we learning about Star, we are learning about foxes in general, including foxes I may see in my own woods.
Haunt Fox is one of my favorite Kjelgaard books, and an easy 4/5. If you have animal-loving children in your life, I highly recommend this book. There is some violence and some death, yes, but that is the way of nature. Kjelgaard balances this with the importance of thoughtful hunting and trapping as a means of preserving a natural balance of life. A truly great conservationist, Kjelgaard shows rather than tells how critical it is for humans to take responsibility for the nature upon which they have infringed, to preserve and protect it, not just for the sake of nature, but for the sake of ourselves as well.