Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night: An Old Song by Peter Spier

Question: Is it possible to get 1. Randolph Caldecott, 2. Burl Ives, and 3. Bob Dylan to all fit cohesively into one book review?

Answer: Certainly, if you choose the right book.

Every father needs to provide for his family - the wife and young 'uns, so to speak. Even a fox. So when the fox goes out on a chilly night he goes where many foxes would. A farm.

The sly fox sneaks his way into the farmer's bin, swipes a duck and the grey goose, and swiftly heads back to his den. "And he didn't mind the quack, quack, quack, or their legs all dangling down-o, down-o, down-o."

Old Mother Giggle-Gaggle realizes what's happening, however, and declares, "John! John! Our grey goose is gone, and the fox is on the town-o, town-o, town-o!" Farmer John rushes out in pursuit, blowing his horn as a warning, his rifle in tow. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on who you're cheering for) the fox makes it back to his wife and ten little ones. "They never ate such a dinner in their life and the little ones chewed on the bones-o, bones-o, bones-o."

The illustrations alternate between color and black and white and there are tons of tiny details to notice with each reading. There is a Civil War monument with Giggle-Gaggle, the farmer's family name, listed on the side. Several pages later readers see a framed photograph of a Civil War soldier on the farmer's bedroom wall. There are Giggle-Gaggles on tombstones in the cemetery. As the fox makes his way to town-o, careful readers will see hints of where his quest will take him by looking at locations in the distance.

The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night by Peter Spier was awarded a Caldecott Honor in 1962. Young readers will like it well enough, especially the fox racing back home while carrying his plunder and the farmer throwing on his britches over his nightclothes, but it's an absolute riot trying to follow along as the song plays. (Not the Burl Ives version, mind you. The Nickel Creek version. See below.) As with most traditional folk songs, lyrics change and verses get dropped, but the song I first heard, the song my kids loved singing “town-o, town-o, town-ooooooo,” matches the book pretty well.

So that’s it. 1. The book won a Randolph Caldecott Honor. 2. The story is a traditional folk song once recorded by Burl Ives. 3. The song was also recorded by Nickel Creek who, when performing the song live, often include the first verse of Subterranean Homesick Blues by…Bob Dylan.


  1. You had me at "Burl Ives." This looks like a good book to check out with my kids.

  2. Now that's funny. Thanks.

    Let's see, which of the following should I throw into a future review?

    A. Bon Jovi
    B. Donut Holes
    C. The '69 Mets
    D. Lombardi's Green Bay Packers
    E. Legwarmers
    F. Walla Walla, Washington

    Any of those catch you? Any suggestions?


  3. Oh, I used to teach first grade, and I never read this book to my class: I sang it! Thanks for the review, and for sharing the Nickel Creek version.

  4. I'd love to hear your rendition. Were you able to turn the pages fast enough? Did you sing it like Nickel Creek? Or did you tend to lean toward the Burl Ives version?

    Thanks for stopping by and thanks for sharing.


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