This poster includes SPOILERS for the book The Fox Busters.
A couple of days ago I posted a post from one of my old blogs about re-reading The Mouse Butcher by Dick King-Smith, one of my favourite books as a child. This wasn’t his only book I enjoyed as a youngster, I also loved The Fox Busters, his first book written in 1978.
Much like The Mouse Butcher, The Fox Busters is equally as good and isn’t a children’s book you need nostalgia goggles to read. It is also filled with a number of quite mature themes. The opening chapter is like the start of a horror movie, a group of innocent chickens are playing in the farm yard before going to a trough for a drink. Beneath the murky waters hides a fox. You can guess what happens next (an even bigger hint is at the bottom of this post!).
This blood thristy opening sets up the conflict for the rest of the book between between chickens of Foxearth Farm and foxes who hunt there reaches its climax. Therefore the rest of the book feels like a chicken version of the Battle of Britain from our three heroes names’ Ransome, Sims and Jefferies to how the chickens win the war. It also helps that they are super smart and can fly. You can guess what happens next from the title of the book!
Outside of the warmongering, King-Smith builds a sense of community around the farm. though lots of very clever little details such as the phrases used by Spillers, the mother of our heroes
There’s many a starving sparrow would be grateful for that grain of wheat
how chickens get their name to the idea of cockerels going for “a cropfull of malt barely” of an evening. All this means when a far nastier unfortunate event happens later in the book you feel the pain of the flock and want them to get their revenge.
However, unlike most British war movies about the Battle of Britain, The Fox Busters is very even handed. The foxes aren’t some faceless evil we are told to hate. We see the places that they live and are given reasons behind their actions, even if you don’t agree with them. The only thing they are missing are names but you can’t have everything.
With a fairly large cast it is only our heroes, The Fox Busters of the title, and their parents who get any characterisation. Ransome is the leader of the group and is everything you’d expect from a leader. Jefferies is more of a joker while Sims is very sensible. Their mother Spillers is the clever planner and a very private hen, while her husband Massey-Harris is impulsive and bold.
As I said earlier, the book takes on the feeling of a war film so it is safe to say that not everyone makes it out alive. On top of this there are some very dark discussions in the book, such as what the Farmer of Foxearth Farm does with the chicken’s eggs. When coming from the beaks of chickens, the word omelette sounds quite scary. It is also very clever how King-Smith takes these ideas and turns them in the book’s equivalent of swearing.
Over all The Fox Busters is an excellent book and well worth reading for both adults and children. You won’t forget the chickens of Foxearth Farm in a hurry that is for sure!