Author Rubinstein, Gillian.
Language English
London: Orion Children's, 1998


Twelve-year-old Tod's mystical links with a spirit, half man and half fox, and with the natural world surrounding his grandmother's house in the Australian countryside challenge his attempt to adjust to the real world.

Subjects :

  • Juvenile fiction
  • Problem families
  • Fiction
  • Supernatural
  • Human-animal relationships
  • Fiction.
  • Grandmothers
  • Foxes
  • Australia
  • Family life

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Best Books :

  • Middle And Junior High School Library Catalog, Eighth Edition, 2000 , H.W. Wilson

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Awards, Honors & Prizes :

  • Children's Book of the Year Award , Winner , 1995, Australia

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State & Provincial Reading List :

  • West Australian Young Readers' Book Award (WAYRBA; Nominee 1997-1997 Australia

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Reviews :

(Bookbird Reviews)
The story of a boy who experiences the strange effects of the foxspell, an enchantment his grandmother claims is cast by foxes, when he finds the strung-up carcass of a fox in an abandoned quarry. Todd's obsession leads him to track and call these feral animals. When he joins a local gang that tights boredom with random acts of destruction, the author makes comparisons between the environment and the behavior of the foxes and human. The worries and difficulties in his life draw Todd into an alternative reality of a fox spirit world, where he learns to accept and deal with reality. This intriguing novel, Rubinstein combines a compelling family story with spiritual fantasy. Tod, 12, lives with his sisters, mother, and grandmother in a small Australian town. Unable to make sense of his father's desertion, he becomes fascinated by the surrounding countryside and by the fox that prowls there. Eventually, he meets a spirit fox that allows him to transform into an animal himself. Tod relishes his experiences as a fox and appreciates the insight they provide. As a human, he is threatened and courted by a gang; teased; and lost in a family filled with clashing, independent spirits. As an animal, there are no decisions for him to make and he fits in with the world. On the other hand, the violence of wild creatures conflicts with his human feelings. His dilemma is riveting, but Rubinstein's strong characterizations are the true highlight of this book. All of the characters are well drawn and true to life. The ending is dramatic and unresolved: after a friend dies in a gang-related accident, Tod is torn between facing that death or embracing the fox world forever. Readers never learn what he chooses. The lack of resolution may frustrate some readers, but it is thought-provoking and will provide excellent material for discussion? Todd is living a very troubled life, which causes him to be involved with a gang and do poorly at school, but after he buries a dead fox, a fox-spirit offers him the chance to become a fox himself and Todd must decide what is the best thing for him to do in his situation. Red foxes were brought to Australia in the nineteenth century, dragged from their native land against their will. Tod, a young Australian boy, was also dragged from his native land against his will when his family moved across the country to live with his grandmother. The foxes survived in a hostile land; whether Tod can do the same is the focus of this book.
(PUBLISHER: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (New York:), PUBLISHED: 1996.)

Chris Sherman (Booklist, October 15, 1996 (Vol. 93, No. 4))
His father's abrupt departure has meant radical changes in 12-year-old Tod's life. Financial problems have forced his family to move in with his grandmother, adjusting to a new school has been difficult, and he is being pressured to join a local gang. He finds refuge in the hills surrounding a quarry near his grandmother's home. His kindhearted burial of a fox killed by the gang initiates a wondrous relationship with Dan Russel, a fox spirit who haunts the quarry and tempts Tod with an offer of peace and immortality if he will assume a fox shape forever. Foxspell doesn't have the overwhelming sense of menace that made Galax-Arena (1995) so powerful, but the tension builds quickly and relentlessly, culminating in a dramatic, unexpected ending that leaves readers wondering whether Tod will reconsider Russel's offer. Category: Older Readers. 1996, Simon & Schuster, $16. Gr. 7-9.
(PUBLISHER: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (New York:), PUBLISHED: 1996.)

CCBC (Cooperative Children's Book Center Choices, 1996)
Since his father abandoned the family, 12-year-old Tod, his mother and teenage sisters have moved from Sydney to live wiht his grandmother in a town in Southern Australia. Tod is neither shy nor withdrawn, but living amidst strong personalities and unspoken feelings about his father's departure, he feels powerless and small. When he finds and buries a dead fox pup, he becomes fascinated with these wild animals that roam the edges of the city. Gradually Tod is drawn more and more deeply into a fox-like way of thinking, at first in his dreams, and then in his waking hours, until he is literally transformed. Tod knows deep, gnawing hunger in his fox-state, and sometimes danger and fear, but also the powerful certainty of instinct that entices and comforts him each time he retreats from the confusion of the human world. A fluid, beautifully written novel tells of a haunting and fragile existence for foxes and humans alike. CCBC categories: Fiction for Teenagers. 1996, Simon & Schuster, 219 pages, $16.00. Ages 11-14.
(PUBLISHER: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (New York:), PUBLISHED: 1996.)

Kirkus (Kirkus Reviews, 1996)
A 12-year-old boy confronts the disintegration of his family by transforming himself into a fox in this striking novel from Rubinstein (Galax-Arena, 1995, etc.). When his father flees home to England, Tod moves with his mother and sisters from Sydney to the South Australian countryside, where they settle in with their crusty but spirited grandmother. The transition for Tod is difficult: While his mother pursues a career as a standup comic in seedy bars and his sisters bicker, he attempts to continue his schooling, in spite of learning disabilities and an overcrowded classroom. Rubinstein vividly evokes pastoral Australia, while supplying a wealth of information on foxes that brings the cunning animals alive. She even weaves in aboriginal myths: Tod eventually meets the legendary half-man/half-fox Dan Russell, who offers him the chance to live the life of a fox. Although he first resists, Tod is soon hunting rabbits and eating raw animal flesh and relishing the experience. Readers will find the fantastic aspects of the character's journey satisfying and be sobered by the metaphor of a young boy who survives contemporary family life only by becoming an animal. 1996, Simon & Schuster, $16.00. © 1996 Kirkus Reviews/VNU eMedia, Inc. All rights reserved.
(PUBLISHER: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (New York:), PUBLISHED: 1996.)

Deborah Stevenson (The Bulletin of the Center for Children s Books, January 1997 (Vol. 50, No. 5))
Along with his mother and his two older sisters, Tod, twelve, has moved in with his flinty grandmother while his father has left the country to rethink the marriage. Beset by family changes and by the unwanted attentions of a school gang, Tod finds refuge in roaming the wilder land by the railroad tracks and becomes obsessed with the foxes that also roam the area. Soon his connection with the foxes becomes supernatural, as he begins, with the aid of their guardian spirit, to transform into a fox and prowl the land by night. Rubinstein handles the magic quite well, with Tod's vulpine leanings credible and understandable in the context of the story. The real-life saga is less well developed, which is a shame as the eccentric cast of characters has great promise. As a result, the relationship between the two plot strands is unclear, which makes the dramatic ending frustratingly mystifying in its implications. Young readers unconcerned with the mundane may not mind, however, and they'll enjoy the hard-edged fantasy of the foxspell. Ad--Additional book of acceptable quality for collections needing more material in the area. (c) Copyright 1997, The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. 1996, Simon, 219p, $16.00. Grades 6-9.
(PUBLISHER: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (New York:), PUBLISHED: 1996.)

Christine Heppermann (The Five Owls, January/February 1997 (Vol. 11, No. 3))
Can we ever really know what it feels like to be an animal? Most people, according to the fox spirit in Australian author Gillian Rubinstein's sensual and perceptive new novel, don't bother to try to find out. They choose to stay safe behind the mental and physical barriers humans have constructed between themselves and the rest of life on earth. Yet with one gesture, Tod (whose name, incidentally, means "fox" in Scottish), Rubinstein's twelve-year-old protagonist, reaches across the divide. He finds a fox carcass tied to a fence, a bloody bullet hole in its head, and buries it. Then, gradually, so that he and the reader barely notice, he begins to change. His senses sharpen, he drops down on all fours without thinking, and comes face to face with Dan Russell, the fox spirit, who tells him, in his primitive mode of speech, "You do good thing for my child, yarp. I do good thing for you ou ou." In several ways, Tod and the foxes that roam the quarry near his grandmother's house are alike even before he starts to snarl in his sleep and smell the scent of humans ("People, he corrected himself. Why had he thought humans?") on the wind. Both are outsiders. Foxes didn't live in Australia until the 1800s, when the English shipped them there to give themselves something to hunt. Tod, his mother, and two older sisters move in with Grandma because they have no place else to go. His father has left them for an extended stay in England, and his mother, a fledgling stand-up comedian, can't support the family on her own. But, beyond just feeling lost and lonely at a new school, Tod is an outsider in the larger sense that all adolescents are, as they stand between childhood and adulthood. His sister Charmian, only a few years older than he, has already crossed over. Her boyfriend, the leader of a local gang, offers Tod entry into a dangerous, more adult world; but he hangs back, not entirely persuaded. Yet he also scorns the childish cautiousness represented by his egghead school friend Martin, who won't make a move without his mother's permission. While Tod's family problems lend depth to his character, the novel is at its most captivating when exploring the conflict between his fox and human sides. The things he does as a fox, killing and devouring his grandmother's chickens, for instance, both thrill and disgust him when he becomes a boy again. Rubinstein does not depict one mode of existence as better than the other. Hers is more a plea for sympathy between species. At the novel's shocking end, when Tod watches a boy he knows get hit by a train, the fox spirit comes to the aid of his anguished "human cub," just as Tod came to the fox spirit's aid by taking the carcass off the fence and "giving [his] dead child back to the earth." 1996, Simon & Schuster, 219 pages, $16.00. Ages 10 up.
(PUBLISHER: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (New York:), PUBLISHED: 1996.)

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Publication Details:

  Publisher ISBN Notes
London: Orion Children's, 1998

Media Type: Language Material
192p. ;
New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 1996

Media Type: Language Material
219 p. ;
PZ7.R83133 ([Fic])
"Originally published in Australia in 1994"-verso t.p.
South Melbourne Vic.: Hyland House, 1995

Media Type: Language Material
190 p. ;
PZ7.R83133 ([Fic])

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