Harquin is a young fox who lives with his family at the top of the hill. Nobody knows they are there, and Harquin’s parents want to keep it that way. They tell their children never to go down to the valley for fear that someone will see them and follow them back.
Unfortunately, Harquin is bored and makes trips down to the valley at night when his family are asleep. He discovers a way across the dangerous marshes and is able to catch chickens and rabbits. Harquin’s father senses that one of the children has disobeyed him, and he reminds them that their uncle was caught by the huntsmen.
Despite his father’s warning, Harquin continues to go down to the valley. One night he just misses being shot by the gamekeeper. His parents hear the shots, and they are afraid the whole family will be killed. The squire tells the gamekeeper that they will take the hunt up the valley the following Sunday, and Harquin starts to formulate a plan to save his family.
On the Sunday, Harquin makes sure the huntsmen see him as they set off. He runs to the marshes and takes his secret path across. The huntsmen, horses and hounds don’t know how to cross the marshes and they fall into them. The squire is among them, and in his fury he calls off the hunt.
Harquin goes home, and his family continue to live in safety. When Harquin grows up, he tells his children the story of his adventure. Does he notice that one of his sons is bored and wants to go beyond the valley?
John Burningham’s Harquin was first published in 1967 and is now considered to be a classic. Harquin’s desire for adventure and his skill in tricking the huntsmen to cross the marshes will capture the imagination of young children. Harquin is a lovable hero. The book is definitely one for children who are slightly older than those that usually enjoy picture books. It would easily appeal to confident independent readers.
The text of Harquin is set in a large and very clear font. Sometimes there are as few as two lines per page, occasionally there are as many as sixteen. Most of the text appears on a white background, but there are one or two instances when a couple of lines are superimposed on a green area of an illustration. On the whole, the text is very easy to see for the purposes of reading aloud. Burningham’s vocabulary is very straightforward, although there are one or two words like “treacherous” and “souvenir”. Harquin is not a book for a child who is learning to read by phonics, but the fact that it is not childish means it is suitable for an independent reader up to the age of about eight.
John Burningham illustrates his own stories and is as talented an artist as he is a writer. The colours are very natural and quite subtle, except for the scarlet jackets of the huntsmen. The foxes have a cosy home under the ground with armchairs, cooking pots on the stove and a vase of flowers. The scene of Harquin hiding amongst the long grasses as the little group of huntsmen in the distance leave might be appreciated more by adults reading aloud. Children will probably prefer the comical scene of the huntsmen stuck in the marsh with their legs in the air, or the close-up of Harquin with his trophy, the squire’s hat, in his mouth.
Harquin is a wonderful book in terms of classic story-telling and delightful illustrations. There is plenty of action and excitement to hold a child’s attention, but it is not a picture book for the very youngest members of the family. Four-year-olds are likely to love listening to Harquin while they study the illustrations. Slightly older children who can read the book for themselves will probably appreciate it as it is certainly not childish. There must be quite a few parents reading Harquin to their children today who remember enjoying it themselves many years ago. It is definitely a classic.
Harquin: The fox who went down to the valley by John Burningham
Paperback, 32 pages
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