Maybe a Fox

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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, more 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.

Excerpt

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.

“Knock-knock!”

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.”

“Stop.”

“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 Author

Photograph courtesy of the author

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

Dani Werner

Alison McGhee is the New York Times bestselling author of Someday, as well as Dear SisterMaybe a FoxFirefly HollowLittle BoySo Many DaysStar BrightA Very Brave Witch, 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 AlisonMcGhee.com.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books (April 2017)
  • Length: 288 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781442482432
  • Grades: 5 - 9
  • Ages: 10 - 14
  • Lexile ® 740L

Awards and Honors

  • Bank Street Best Books of the Year
  • Texas Bluebonnet Master List
  • Writer's League of Texas Finalist
  • Wisconsin State Reading Association's Reading List

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