Skip to Main Content

Maybe a Fox



Buy from Other Retailers

About The Book

Worlds collide in a spectacular way when Newbery and National Book Award finalist Kathi Appelt and Pulitzer Prize nominee and #1 New York Times bestseller Alison McGhee team up to create a fantastical, heartbreaking, and gorgeous tale about two sisters, a fox cub, and what happens when one of the sisters disappears forever.

Sylvie and Jules, Jules and Sylvie. Better than just sisters, better than best friends, they’d be identical twins if only they’d been born in the same year. And if only Sylvie wasn’t such a fast—faster than fast—runner. But Sylvie is too fast, and when she runs to the river they’re not supposed to go anywhere near to throw a wish rock just before the school bus comes on a snowy morning, she runs so fast that no one sees what happens…and no one ever sees her again. Jules is devastated, but she refuses to believe what all the others believe, that—like their mother—her sister is gone forever.

At the very same time, in the shadow world, a shadow fox is born—half of the spirit world, half of the animal world. She too is fast—faster than fast—and she senses danger. She’s too young to know exactly what she senses, but she knows something is very wrong. And when Jules believes one last wish rock for Sylvie needs to be thrown into the river, the human and shadow worlds collide.

Writing in alternate voices—one Jules’s, the other the fox’s—Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee tell the searingly beautiful tale of one small family’s moment of heartbreak, a moment that unfolds into one that is epic, mythic, shimmering, and most of all, hopeful.


Maybe a Fox 1
From under her covers, Jules Sherman listened for her sister, Sylvie, to walk out of their room. As soon as she did, Jules slipped out of bed and slammed the door behind her. She was still angry. Who did Sylvie think she was? The day before, Sylvie had once again left her at the bottom of the front porch steps and run into the woods, disappeared, her wavy red-brown hair swishing down her back, ignoring Jules’s pleas to wait up, for once just wait up.

Sylvie was always doing that. Taking off. So fast. Time after time, leaving Jules standing there. Alone.

Jules’s cheeks flushed with a bright blaze of anger. Here she was standing alone again, this time in the echo of the slammed bedroom door. The morning was still early. A gray dimness came in through their window, aided only by a thin beam from the hallway that slipped in under the door.

Even in the shallow light Jules could still see Sylvie’s favorite T-shirt, along with the sweater and jeans Sylvie planned to wear that day, all laid out on her sister’s bed. Jules hesitated, then grabbed the shirt, went straight to the windowsill and in one swift motion, swept all her rocks into the T-shirt, using it as a kind of basket. Ha! Sylvie would hate that. Her precious, precious T-shirt.

The shirt was thin and soft and smelled like cotton and coconut shampoo and Sylvie. Jules took a deep breath. Sylvie loved coconut shampoo. In fact, she loved anything that smelled like coconut—coconut ice cream, coconut candy, coconut candles, including the one Sam had given her for Christmas. Sylvie said coconut was her “signature scent.”

Jules wondered what her own signature scent was. One thing for sure, it wasn’t coconut.

She dumped the rocks onto her bed and then did the same thing with the rocks from her bookcase, the rocks on top of her dresser, and the rocks from the wooden box her dad had made her for Christmas. The rocks spilled across the mountains and valleys of her sheets and blanket. She tossed her pillow aside and scooped the rocks into the empty space left open by the missing pillow.

Jules pulled the tiny hand lens that she wore on a lanyard around her neck out from under her pajama top. Her dad had only recently given it to her. The lens was about the size of a quarter, and a bright LED light shone out from it.

“Every rock hound should have one,” Dad had told her.

The lens magnified everything by ten times. When Jules held it against the surface of the rocks, she could see the striations where the different elements had folded into one another, or the smooth, shiny edges where the rock had been either chiseled by a pick or broken apart by some bigger force, maybe a glacier, as if the rock had been rubbed smooth by thousands of tons of sliding ice.

Not for the first time, her small LED light felt like a miniature sun, shining down on her own constellation of rock planets. Her bed was the galaxy, the Sherman Galaxy, bounded only by sheets and a warm fleece blanket.

Now she could begin to sort the rocks. First into the three categories: igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic. Then by size within each category. Then into vertical rows, horizontal rows, and circles. As she sorted and arranged, she felt herself growing calmer. She whispered their names aloud as she worked. “Marble. Slate. Schist. Quartzite. Sandstone. Flint. Dolomite.”

There was a fourth category of rocks too, one that didn’t have a scientific name. Wish rocks. Rocks for the river. These were rocks that she didn’t display. Instead, she kept them in an old striped sock that once belonged to Dad. It was tucked in the back of her and Sylvie’s closet, next to their shoes and boots.

Most of the wish rocks she had found herself, either by spotting them along the trail, or lately with the help of her special pick hammer, an Estwing E13P. It had taken her forever to save enough to buy the hammer, and even then it had to be special ordered by Mrs. Bowen at the Hobbston Hardware Store in town. Not only that, but Dad wouldn’t let her buy it without also buying a pair of safety goggles.

“You want to be safe, don’t you, Jules?” Sylvie had asked her. Of course she did, and besides, no true rock hound would be caught chipping away at rocks without a pair of safety goggles. Jules knew that. But it was hard to wait until she had enough money for both the hammer and the goggles. And then Sylvie did something surprising—she let Jules borrow the additional ten dollars so she wouldn’t have to wait any longer to order the hammer. Sylvie was always doing stuff like that.

Remembering the goggles made Jules feel a little less angry with Sylvie. But not completely. She was still sick of being left behind. She snapped the beam of light off and tucked the lens back under her shirt.

She concentrated on her rocks, the ones spread before her in neat rows on her bed, and reached for one of her very favorites from the entire collection. Her fingers first hesitated over the small chunk of dark green-black marble. Then she remembered that Sylvie had brought that one back for her from a school field trip to the Danby marble quarry. Marble, slate, and granite were the official state rocks of Vermont, where they lived. Jules loved that piece of marble, its cool smoothness. She loved to press it against her cheek.

But not this morning. She wouldn’t choose the marble today. Not when she was angry at Sylvie. Instead she chose the piece of blue-gray slate that she herself had found at the edge of the Whippoorwill River, the river that ran along the edge of their property. She pressed her fingertips against its sharp edge. This would be a good skipping rock. Not that she would ever dream of sending it away across the water, never to be seen again. There were rocks for the river and rocks for the Sherman Galaxy. This one was a keeper, a blue-gray slate planet.


Sylvie, outside the door. She never knocked with her hand, just her voice. Who did that? Right now Sylvie’s voice-knock bugged Jules as much as being left in the dust.

“Go away.”

“I can’t. This is my room too, remember? And I have to get dressed.”

Oops. The T-shirt! Sylvie’s precious Flo-Jo T-shirt. Flo-Jo was Sylvie’s hero, Florence Griffith-Joyner. She held the record for the fastest women’s hundred-meter sprint in history, and Jules knew that Sylvie dreamed of beating that record. She also knew that was one of the reasons that Sylvie was always running. But knowing it didn’t make it any easier. Sometimes Jules felt like the only side she ever saw of Sylvie was her back, growing smaller and smaller as she shot down the track or the trail or wherever else she ran. Jules smoothed out the T-shirt as best she could and returned it to its spot on Sylvie’s bed. Sylvie always made her bed and laid out her clothes the second she got up. Unlike Jules, whose bed was always a mess. Especially messy when she did a major sorting of rocks. Like now.

“Knock-knock,” came Sylvie’s voice again. “Come on, Jules, let me in.”

“There’s no lock,” Jules called. “Duh.”

There had never been a lock on their door. Even though she was upset, Jules still had to admire that Sylvie hadn’t just barged right in the way she, Jules, might have done. The doorknob turned and there was Sylvie, tall and skinny in her pajamas. She got straight to the point.

“Why are you mad?”

“I’m not,” Jules lied.

Sylvie just pointed at the rocks laid out on Jules’s bed, a sure sign that Jules was trying to calm herself down.

“Come on. Tell me. I’m your one and only sister.”


“What? I am, aren’t I? Unless you’ve got a secret other sister somewhere?”

Sylvie sat down on Jules’s bed, careful not to disturb the rocks. Then she sidled her pointer finger bit by bit, like a snake, through the rumpled blankets toward Jules. She had been doing that ever since they were tiny, and it always made Jules laugh. Jules looked away so she wouldn’t start to soften.

Sylvie abandoned the finger-snake and instead picked up the one piece of obsidian in Jules’s collection. She hefted the small polished oval in her hand.

“I remember when Mom gave you this,” she said. “It was your fourth birthday. You were already crazy about rocks.” She rolled her eyes in a what-a-weird-little-kid-you-were kind of way. “Seriously, what four-year-old kid is a rock fiend?”

That was it! Jules snatched the obsidian from Sylvie’s hand. Once again, Sylvie had invoked Mom. Obsidian was caused by volcanoes, an eruption of steam and gas so furious that it melted the earth itself into this hard, shiny object. Right then, Jules felt hard and shiny.

“You and Dad,” she said. “You’re like a secret club.”

“What are you talking about?”

“When the two of you get going about Mom. How do you think it makes me feel?”

Sylvie looked puzzled. Jules kept going. “It’s like you remember everything about her!” Jules rubbed her thumb along the smooth surface of the obsidian. “But me? I hardly remember anything. All I see when I try to picture her is her hair, which is exactly like . . . like . . .”

She stopped talking and carefully placed the obsidian back on her bed, back into the vertical category of igneous rocks.

“Mine,” Sylvie finished the sentence. “The same color as mine. Is that what you were going to say?”

Jules nodded. Yes. That was what she was going to say.

What she wasn’t going to say: that no matter how hard she tried, her memories of their mom grew smaller and smaller, each one folding in on itself, so that not even her 10x magnifier could see them.

Reading Group Guide

A Reading Group Guide to

Maybe a Fox

By Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee

About the Book

Sylvie and Jules, Jules and Sylvie. Better than just sisters, better than best friends, they’d be identical twins if only they’d been born in the same year. And if only Sylvie wasn’t such a fast—faster than fast—runner. But Sylvie is too fast, and when she runs to the river they’re not supposed to go anywhere near to throw a wish rock just before the school bus comes on a snowy morning, she runs so fast that no one sees what happens . . . and no one ever sees her again. Jules is devastated, but she refuses to believe what all the others believe, that—like their mother—her sister is gone forever.

At the very same time, in the shadow world, a shadow fox is born—half of the spirit world, half of the animal world. She too is fast—faster than fast—and she senses danger. She’s too young to know exactly what she senses, but she knows something is very wrong. And when Jules believes one last wish rock for Sylvie needs to be thrown into the river, the human and shadow worlds collide.

Writing in alternate voices—one Jules’s, the other the fox’s—Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee tell the searingly beautiful tale of one small family’s moment of heartbreak, a moment that unfolds into one that is epic, mythic, shimmering, and most of all, hopeful.

Discussion Questions

1. What is the significance of Sylvie’s Flo-Jo T-shirt? Why is it important to Sylvie? Is it important to Jules? Explain.

2. Sylvie and Jules are very different characters. Make a list of characteristics for each girl. Then discuss which features make the two sisters seem similar or different.

3. How does Sylvie’s running affect Jules and her relationship with her sister?

4. Memories are an important aspect to this story. Even though Jules and Sylvie lived through certain events together, Jules felt Sylvie remembered the events differently. Why would the memories of Jules’ and Sylvie’s mother be different for each girl? Are some memories suppressed? Can memories change over time?

5. Jules loves collecting rocks and sorting them into categories—igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic—and she also adds a new category: wish rocks. Describe a wish rock and the importance of them to Jules. What is the process for using a wish rock? Do wish rocks work? Support your answer using examples from the story. Of all the wish rocks thrown into the river, why is Sylvie’s chosen and not Zeke’s, or Zeke’s grandmother’s?

6. Jules and Sylvie’s dad has a list of Do Nots that each sister knows by heart. Do you think the list is reasonable? What do the girls think? Do they always follow the rules? How do the girls get around some of their dad’s Do Nots? Is “making snow families in your pajamas” on the list? What does their father say to them to make sure they are paying attention to him? Do other families have Do Not lists? Discuss some of the rules in your own family. Are they similar or different? Whose Do Not list would you prefer?

7. What influence does “The Legend of the River Brothers” have on Jules? Why is this legend important? How does it compare to Jules and Sylvie’s story?

8. When Sylvie goes to the Slip, Jules starts to play the Maybe game. What is the game and what is its purpose? Why doesn’t Jules want to play it without Sylvie? Foreshadowing is a literary technique used to indicate or warn of a future event. How is this technique used in the story?

9. Jules and Sylvie describe Sam Porter as Super Friend Sam. Discuss the relationship between these friends. As the story progresses, how does the relationship between Jules and Sam change?

10. When Elk goes away to Afghanistan he gives Jules two nearly identical agates. He asks Jules, the rock girl, to find the Grotto and to put the rocks in the Grotto if he and Zeke do not return. What is so important about the Grotto? Does she follow through with his request?

11. As Jules searches for Sylvie, a mother fox anxiously awaits the spirit of her unborn daughter. When the spirit arrives, the mother fox hears her ancestors whisper “Kennen.” What is a Kennen? What is the purpose of the Kennen in this story? How often were Kennens around?

12. Elk spent a great deal of his time wandering the woods. What was he doing all day? How important was the woods to him? Refer to the book for examples of activities the children did in the woods. Would you enjoy doing these same activities?

13. When Sylvie’s tracks become a gash, a gash that shoots straight into Whippoorwill and disappears into the Slip, how do you feel? Do you understand what has happened? Discuss the author’s use of descriptive vocabulary in this scene to evoke emotion.

14. What are some of the ways, however unusual, that Jules tries to cope with her grief?

15. What is the “After Sylvie” time like for Jules? Does this time help her cope with her loss? Why do you think that some people talk to a person who has died? Elk caught Jules talking to Sylvie. What did he tell her about himself? Was Elk missing Zeke? Does he have an “After Zeke” time?

16. After talking with Elk, Jules feels a pull—a pull that would take her into the woods. She wonders if this is a burning wish. What makes her want to go into the woods? Why is it so important to her?

17. When Sam drops off Jules’s homework he tells her the exciting news that a catamount has been spotted. Seeing a catamount was Sam’s burning wish before he changed it wishing to bring Elk home safely. Why does this news upset Jules so much? Does she mean to make Sam feel bad? Do you think life is fair?

18. How does Senna know she needs to make contact with Jules? What draws her to Jules?

19. Jules is upset when she thinks of her father and Sylvie’s ritual to remember her mother. Do you think it’s a good thing to have rituals? Why is Jules so sad thinking about this ritual? What is her father’s solution? Do you agree with his solution, or can you think of a better one?

20. Senna knows things that even Mother Fox does not know. What does Senna see around her? Why does this worry Senna’s mother? Who else, besides Senna, is in this above world for a particular purpose?

21. Sam loved the name, catamount. What did he think the name meant? What is a catamount? Is it real or imagined? Where would you find one? Why was the news of a catamount so important to Sam? How did Senna know that the catamount was not a threat to her or her family?

22. On the day Jules returns to school, she spots a fox. What does her dad tell her about the sighting? Is it as hard for her father to send Jules off to school as it is for her to attend? Use examples from the book to defend your answer.

23. How does Sam prove his friendship to Jules on the first day of school? Discuss how Sam is grieving for Sylvie, and even his brother Elk. How is Elk, even though he came home from Afghanistan, not entirely the same brother Sam knew before he went to war? Does anyone help Sam with his grief?

24. The story takes place in Vermont, which is known for its wilderness. How did Jules and Sylvie feel about the woods surrounding their property? How well did the girls know their woods? What did Mrs. Harless mean when she called Jules, Sylvie and Sam "woodland creatures"?

25. What is the climax of the story? How do the authors coordinate the characters to make the animal world and the human world collide?

26. Why can’t Jules hear anyone calling to her as she runs to the Slip with her burning wish rock? Could this also be the reason why Sylvie didn’t see the tree root in the snow?

27. As Senna departs from the above world and lets herself fall, a Someone waits to catch her. Who is this Someone? Is this the same Someone who is in the Grotto?

28. Mother Fox had known before birth that Senna is a Kennen. Even with this knowledge, do you think she was prepared for Senna’s sacrifice? What is her reaction?

29. Sylvie places her mother’s flamingo mug in the Grotto as a way to honor her mother. Jules brought the chunk of marble—the one Sylvie gave to her, warm to her touch, smooth on one side and coarse on the other like Sylvie—to the Grotto, in honor of Sylvie. What does this touching moment reveal about Jules?

Extension Activities

1. Divide students into small groups, and have each group describe Sylvie’s characteristics from the point of view of Jules, Chess Sherman, Sam, Liz, and Elk. Compare and contrast the characteristics from each point of view.

2. The story is set in Vermont. Vermont’s state rocks are marble, slate and granite. Research other states to learn what their state rocks are. Then determine what type of rocks they are: igneous, sedimentary, or metamorphic. Compare the states to see if they all have the three different categories of rocks. Do some states have only one rock? If possible bring in a sample of each type of rock for the group to examine.

3. Research Florence Griffith Joyner. How was she as an athlete? Consider why Sylvie wanted to be like Flo-Jo. Research other famous female runners.

4. Mrs. Harless’s property was marked by rock cairns. What does that mean? What are cairns? Research different types of cairns and their purposes. If possible, try making a small cairn out of found rocks.

5. After the group has finished reading Maybe a Fox, have them write the next chapter. Possible topics could be:

Does Jules take Elk to the Grotto and leave the agates in honor of Zeke?

What happens to the hunter—does anyone prosecute him for negligence of a firearm?

Does the catamount sacrifice his life for Elk or possibly Sam?

Does Liz Redding break any running records for the school?

Does Jules develop a ritual to help her remember Senna?

Does Jules continue collecting rocks?

Are there more Do Nots added to Jules’s list? The possibilities are endless; let the creative process take over!

6. Try making a snow family, if possible. If there is good packing snow it will be easy to do. If not, try using shaved ice to make the snow and mold a family out of it. Who would be included in the family? What is a family? Were Jules and her father a family? Would Jules add a fox to her snow family?

7. It was implied that many of the rocks in the Grotto came from places far away, brought by the Vikings, Norsemen, and Native Americans such as the Abenaki Indians of Vermont. Research the Abenaki Indian tribe to learn more. Compare this Native American tribe to one near you. How are they similar and how are they different?

8. Have you ever walked or hiked through the woods, or a wooded area? What is your first impression? Next time you walk through the woods, look more closely to see its wonders, such as the type of bark on a tree or its different shades. The woods may even look different depending on the season. In the summer, look for a rotting log and roll it over. What do you see? In the winter, check the frost crystals. What type of birds exist in this environment? Do you see any animals?

Guide prepared by Lynn Dobson, librarian at East Brookfield Elementary School, East Brookfield, MA.

This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.

About The Authors

Photograph courtesy of the author

Kathi Appelt is the author of the Newbery Honoree, National Book Award finalist, and bestselling The Underneath as well as the National Book Award finalist The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man SwampMaybe a Fox (with Alison McGhee), Keeper, and many picture books including Counting Crows and Max Attacks. She has two grown children and lives in College Station, Texas, with her husband. Visit her at

Photograph (c) Alison McGhee

Alison McGhee is the New York Times bestselling author of Someday, as well as Dear SisterWhat I Leave Behind, Pablo and BirdyWhere We AreMaybe a Fox with Kathi Appelt, Firefly HollowLittle BoySo Many DaysStar BrightA Very Brave WitchDear Brother, and the Bink and Gollie books. Her other children’s books include All Rivers Flow to the SeaCountdown to Kindergarten, and Snap!. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Laguna Beach, California. You can visit her at

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books (March 8, 2016)
  • Length: 272 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781442482425
  • Grades: 5 - 9
  • Ages: 10 - 14
  • Lexile ® 740L The Lexile reading levels have been certified by the Lexile developer, MetaMetrics®

Browse Related Books

Raves and Reviews

Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee’s collaborative novel entwines the story of one girl’s grief with that of a fox with a rare, but important destiny. Among Jules and Sylvie Sherman’s dad’s Do Not rules is that they are never to go near the Slip, a dangerous point where the Whippoorwill River surges beneath the ground before reemerging downstream. However, this wild, watery place in the woods behind their Vermont home holds a particular allure: it is the perfect place to throw wish rocks. Jules, 11, is a rock hound who loves sorting her collection into “Sherman Galaxies” of igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rock, but wish rocks are a category unto
themselves. These rocks are for writing a burning wish that might just come true when cast into the Slip. Sylvie, 12, is a runner whose burning wish is to run faster; but one morning when she doesn’t return from a last-minute dash to the Slip, Jules can only find a tree root poking out of the path, followed by a gash in the snow that ends at the river. And just like that, Sylvie is gone forever.

Elsewhere in the forest, a fox gives birth to three kits and knows that her little girl, Senna, is Kennen—spiritually connected to another living creature. As Senna grows and learns “a thousand years of fox knowledge” from the smells and sounds around her, Jules and her father struggle to cope with Sylvie’s death, their grief compounded by the lingering loss of the girls’ mother a few years earlier. Jules runs through what-if and if-only scenarios that would have kept her sister alive, alternately feeling despair and anger over what has transpired. Her inability to control her emotions rings true, and readers will empathize with her desire to find her feet in a world “After Sylvie.”

Despite the heavy nature of the story, it maintains a forward momentum and resists taking on a brooding atmosphere. This is due in part to the way the narrative shifts, drawing on different characters’ experiences with death. The girls’ friend Sam had a burning wish for his brother, Elk, to return safely from Afghanistan; though he did, Elk’s best friend did not, and Jules and Elk form a quiet camaraderie in their search for solace. Rules and rituals evolve to remember departed loved ones, create order, and stay safe:
Jules sorts her rocks, her dad devises more Do Nots.

Throughout, Jules chases the question, “Where do you go when you die?” It's a query she and Sylvie used to answer with the Maybe game, postulating “Maybe you fly away like a bluebird” or maybe you simply shrink until no one can see you. Once Sylvie dies, this question is joined by another: why did Sylvie want to run so fast? Jules’ sister had always kept this a secret, but both answers, as it turns out, are wrapped up in Senna.

Many readers will quickly guess the connection between Senna, Sylvie, and Jules, but the exact implications to the plot are not as easily discerned. Additionally, the concept of Kennen imparts another avenue for the authors to explore grief, offering a comforting spiritual explanation that is not tied to religion. While this may not resonate with everyone, the fantasy element inherent to Senna’s story helps keep the book’s serious aspects from overwhelming young readers.

Neither author is a stranger to writing poignant animal stories that tackle weighty themes, as Appelt proved in her Newbery Honor book, The Underneath (2008), and McGhee showed in Firefly Hollow (2015). Together, they create a delicate world that effortlessly impresses itself upon the reader. It is a world where bad things can happen for no good reason, where catching sight of a fox means luck, where love transcends all boundaries, and maybe death doesn’t have to be an ending.

– Booklist *STARRED*, December 15, 2015

Appelt(The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp) and McGhee (Firefly Hollow) create anintoxicating blend of realism and myth in a novel involving a grieving child,ancient legends, and a mysterious fox. When Sylvie, whose burning wish is torun faster than she has ever run, disappears into a Vermont forest and isassumed dead, Jules, her younger sister, feels a sorrow like no other. Just asanguished are Jules’s father and their neighbor Elk, a veteran who knows whatit’s like to lose a loved one. Then there is the fox, who seems to beckon11-year-old Jules into the same Vermont woods. Breaking her father’s rule tonever leave their property, Jules embarks on a quest both dangerous andmarvelous. Evocative third-person narration brings the wonders of the wildernessto life and underscores the mysterious connections between humans, nature, anddestiny. Appelt and McGhee offer just enough clues to keep readers absorbedwhile delving into the powerful emotions of two inexplicably connectedcreatures. Ages 10–14.

– Publishers Weekly *STARRED REVIEW*, December 14, 2015

Eleven-year-old Jules, a budding geologist, and hertwelve-year-old sister Sylvie, the fastest kid in school, live withtheir father in rural Vermont. Because the girls’ mother died when Juleswas small, her memories, frustratingly, are dim. She does remember theawful sight of their mother collapsing onto the kitchen floor, and thensix-year-old Sylvie sprinting as fast as she could to get help, but it was toolate. And now Sylvie is the one who has disappeared: one morning before schoolshe takes off running in the woods and never comes back; they think she trippedinto the river and was swept away. At the same time, a fox kit, Senna, is born,with the instinctual desire to watch over and protect Jules. Because foxes areconsidered good luck, Jules’s occasional glimpses of Senna bring her some peace.A catamount, too, is rumored to be in the woods, along with a bear, and atbook’s climax, the human, animal, and (most affectingly) spirit worldscollide and converge. This is a remarkably sad story that offers upmeasures of comfort through nature, family, community, and theinterconnectedness among them. The sisters’ best friend, Sam, who ishimself grieving for Sylvie and desperately longs to see that catamount,is happy to have his brother Elk home from Afghanistan, but Elk’s ownbest friend Zeke didn’t return, leaving Elk bereft; he and Jules mourn theirlosses in the woods. Zeke’s grandmother is the one to whom Sylvie ran whentheir mother collapsed and who now brings soup for Jules, and for her kind,stoic, heartbroken father. A good cry can be cathartic, and this bookabout nourishing one’s soul during times of great sadness does the trick.

– The Horn Book Magazine, January/February 2016

Twelve-year-old Sylvie, the older of the two Sherman sisters, is the runner, the fast, impetuous one. A year younger, Jules is a rock collector who takes her time to think things through. The morning of the last snowfall of the season in rural Vermont, Jules and Sylvie build a miniature snow family before getting ready for school. Sylvie wants to be fast, “so fast that…” but she never finishes that sentence,and Jules isn’t sure why her sister is so focused on speed. After playing in the snow, Sylvie darts off into the woods to throw a wishing rock into the Slip—and that’s the last time anyone sees her. At that moment, a fox kit is born. One of a litter of three, this kit is a “kennen,” a being that has an understanding that others do not possess and a destiny that it cannot escape. It’s tied to Jules and to Sylvie. Although Sylvie’s body is not found, everyone knows she drowned in the river and is gone. Jules thinks of it as “the After Sylvie” time, and she and her father grieve together, struggling to cobble together some hope for the future. There are some heavy elements in this beautifully written middle grade novel: the death of Sylvie and Jules’s mother several years before the story begins, the devastating disappearance/death of Sylvie, and the grieving of a neighbor who was deployed with his best friend to Afghanistan. But despite these sad events, the descriptions of rural Vermont, the sense of caring within Jules’s community, and the relationship between the two girls and their father make for a book that is both raw and hopeful and one that readers won’t soon forget. Through a dual narrative—one from Jules, the other from the “kennen” fox kit—the authors convey an understanding that grief is a journey and that a person can, even after terrible loss, feel the warm sun, smile once again, and make wishes for the future. VERDICT-Highly recommended for all middle grade collections.–Kathy Kirchoefer, Henderson County Public Library, NC

– School Library Journal *STARRED*, January 1, 2016

A fox kit born with adeep spiritual connection to a human story in a rural Vermont community has aspecial bond with 11-year-old Jules. Jules' sister, Sylvie, just a year older,longs for their mother, who died suddenly. Sylvie is a runner, while Jules'focus is on the intricacies of rocks and stone. When, in the opening chapters,impulsive Sylvie makes a dash to throw a wishing rock into the Slip, atreacherous place where the river drops under the ground, it is Jules whodiscovers that Sylvie tripped on a tree root, sliding in March snow to herdeath. Meanwhile, Jules' kind friend Sam longs to see a live catamount, a rareeastern cougar—and aches for his war-veteran brother, who mourns Zeke, whodidn't return from Afghanistan. Jules and Sylvie's speculative question gameasks what happens after death: "Maybe you turn into wind. / Maybe you turninto stars." Magical elements—a legend about brothers who chanced the Slipfor a girl's love; an elusive grotto; spirit animals sent to complete a taskunfinished for a human—all confer transcendent dimensions on the story. Appeltand McGhee's rich, polished narrative invites the reader to experience theworld both as Jules and as the fox. Intriguing as a story of connection to theanimal world and, for perceptive readers, filled with solace. (Fantasy. 9-13)

– Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2015

Eleven-year-oldJules and her older sister, Sylvie, know that the Slip, the dangerous placewhere the river near their house flows into a deep cavern, has been declaredoff limits by their father; the warning, however, has often gone unheeded asthe two girls go there to throw “wish” stones. One morning Sylvie leaves Julesbehind and runs to the Slip to make a quick wish, and she doesn’t return.Jules’ time is then separated into Before Sylvie and After Sylvie as shegrieves for her sister and tries to hold off the guilt she feels about Sylvie’sdeath. As Jules wanders, lost, through her days, she often catches sight of ared fox that she feels a connection to; in fact, the fox is a Kennen, a spiritmeant to help humans. The book keenly conveys Jules’ pain at the loss of Sylvieand realistically complements it with absolute fury at her sister’s actions.The chapters that focus on the fox are warmly narrated, and the fox itself isgently curious and then genuinely empathetic toward Jules. A subplot involvingthe return of the older brother of Jules best friend from Afghanistan showsthat grief manifests in many ways, a message that is underlined by the howl ofthe fox’s family after she sacrifices herself for Jules. This is a quietexploration of what it is to continue life after the death of a loved one.

– Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, February 2016

Father says eleven-year-old Jules is as strong as a rock,but Jules doesn’t feel as strong as her sister, Sylvie, who can run like the wind. Jules is jealous of Sylvie, until the day Sylvie disappears and everyone assumes she fell into the slip, the treacherous gorge in the Whippoorwill River. What Jules doesn’t know is that when Sylvie died, a Kennen fox was born as her spirit guide. As Jules faces life after Sylvie, she ventures out into the forbidden woods where she bonds with the fox, who guides her to the location of a mystical grotto and reveals the headband Sylvie wore the day she died, helping Jules find closure. Although etched with sadness, the novel artfully blends the worlds of animals and humans through the alternating voices of the fox and Jule. It is bound to leave readers full of hope. This title will appeal to tweens who have experienced a loss, as well as teachers and librarians familiar with the work of this award-winning author team.


– School Library Connection, May 1, 2016

5Q 3P M J

Sisters eleven-year-oldJules and twelve-year-old Sylvie are very close but very different. While Jules loves her rock collection,Sylvie's "burning wish" is to run faster. Their mother died when theywere very young, and the family still feels her absence. Their close-knit ruralVermont community is supportive and they see reflections of their own grief ina neighbor who has returned from serving in Afghanistan without his bestfriend. Then, Sylvie disappears, leavingJules and their dad to pick up the pieces. At the same time, a fox named Sennais born. Senna's story is interwoven with Jules's and they connect in asatisfying, though sad, conclusion.

This story has a lot of moving parts and would not work inthe hands of lesser authors; however, Appelt and McGhee weave a magicallylyrical tale marked by sparse, simple prose. Jules and Sylvie's best friend,Sam, could use a bigger part in the story. His obsession with finding acatamount is the seed out of which a companion novel could grow. This is aquiet novel with a quiet cover. Giventhe authors and the quality of the writing, it seems likely that there will berenewed attention when awards season comes around. Not all young readers willbe drawn to it, but for fans of Katherine Patterson's Bridge to Terabithia (Thomas Crowell,1977), this will be anappealing and magical read.—Kristin Anderson.

– VOYA, June 2016

Awards and Honors

  • CCBC Choices (Cooperative Children's Book Council)
  • Bank Street Best Books of the Year
  • Texas Bluebonnet Master List
  • Writer's League of Texas Finalist
  • Wisconsin State Reading Association's Reading List

Resources and Downloads

High Resolution Images