Why we love Fox & Son Tailers by Paddy Donnelly
O'Brien Press, September 2022
There's always enormous excitement in this house when a new Paddy Donelly book is
released. This latest story is all about Rory and Fox, a father-and-son team of foxes who make bespoke tails for animals. But Rory is getting bored of making the same old tails and longs to try new designs. Will his dad listen to him? Or are they destined to make the same styles forever?
Fox & Son Tailers explores the risks that sometimes need to be taken in pursuit of an artistic vision, or dreams of any kind, and encourages readers to be unafraid of departing from tradition. It also celebrates the bonds that exist within families and particular between parents and children, and grandparents and grandchildren. Rory is a brilliant character, demonstrating the importance of believing in yourself and your dreams, and persevering despite adversity.
Last month, I was incredibly lucky to see Paddy Donnelly in conversation with Steve McCarthy at the Children's Books Ireland International Conference in Dublin's Light House Cinema. It was one of the best events I've ever attended and seeing Paddy discuss his work, as well as getting to meet him, was definitely one of the highlights. One of the books Paddy discussed was Fox & Son Tailers and it was amazing to view it on a cinema screen while he spoke.
But even without the aid of a wide-screen, Fox & Son Tailers, is a book you can climb right into. The world-building is amazing and the fictional Ballybrush feels incredibly real, from its very Irish name to the comprehensive map in the endpapers (with hilarious location names - my kids are especially fond of Sloth Street and Bald Eagle Beach). The amusing titles of the businesses, the books on the shelves and the advertising copy on signs and shopfronts, all add to the atmosphere and make the setting feel extremely authentic.
The attention to detail is something my kids really appreciate. They love the map and street view of Ballybrush, and find watching the various animals going about their business hugely entertaining. I get a kick out of the very Irish postbox and Paddy's clever play on the word 'tailor' to invent a whole new profession (and what a great job that would be!). The 'Harecuts' sign above a hairdresser's is genius too. We love the antics of the 'Mouse Brothers' in the background. These busy rodents are keen observers of all that goes on in Fox & Co, using it as the basis of their own business model, and stealing ideas and materials too, while falling into paint pots and helping out on occasion too.
Paddy mentioned two of our favourite spreads at the conference. For the page that shows Rory's own sketches, Paddy used real drawings create by his son and his father. As the story is about families working together, this is a wonderful and meaningful addition to the book. And it's interesting how this 'real' artwork appeals to young readers too.
Another spread that Paddy highlighted is the chaotic arrival of more than thirty rabbits in need of back-to-school tails. Paddy mentioned that this was quite challenging to illustrate as there were just so many mischievous rabbits present. It was definitely worth the trouble as it stands out as one of the funniest and liveliest scenes not just in this book but in any picture book. My kids love seeing the mice laying low they wait for everything to calm down.
No matter how often we read this, every time we get to the very last page, I find myself getting emotional. Without giving too much away, it shows the next generation of Fox & Son Tailers and there's now a daughter. As with all the other illustrations, this is full of fantastic details that enrich the story. My kids spotted most of them before me (and I love when that happens): the photo on the wall, the fancy new upgraded tails of the Mouse Brothers and that the grandchild was a girl (which they identified by her attire). I loved seeing Paddy sneak in a reference to Pluto too, as he has mentioned before in author bios that he is disappointed it's no longer a planet.
We brought this book on holidays with us recently and it was enjoyed by many different family members of various ages, which again felt apt because of the theme. A moving introduction to three generations of foxes, this is certain to be enjoyed by many generations of humans to come. This spirited and splendid story is every bit as beautiful and memorable as Fox & Son Tailers' most elaborate construction.
Thanks so much to the lovely people in O'Brien Press for sharing this story with us - all opinions expressed are our own