Written by Marguerite Henry
Illustrated by Wesley Dennis
Paperback 144 pages (including illustrations)
Genre Historical fiction with animal personification
Recommended for Boys and girls; Children who like animal stories; homeschools and classrooms studying American History (Revolutionary War); Anyone longing to know what this fox says
I have a vague recollection of reading Misty of Chincoteague in the fourth grade. I recently discovered that the same author (Marguerite Henry) wrote a host of other animal-centric novels, including Cinnabar: The One O'Clock Fox.
I placed a hold for it at the library and received what I suspect is an original library edition. Within the back cover is an old-fashioned envelope, on which is stamped the words "OVERDUE CHARGES, 2 CENTS A DAY." Delightful. It's the little things in life.
How Historical Is This Fiction?
"It was April in Virginia. The brooks and runs on George Washington's estate were overflowing in their hurry to join the big Potomac," begins chapter one. This book is a historical fiction, based loosely on an old legend about a fox who so loved a good chase that he would show up promptly at one to lead the hunt on a chase through the lands of Mount Vernon.
The historical aspects are mostly a geographic awareness of George Washington's estate (and some of the buildings adjacent to it, including a mill and a church), and an understanding of what a fox hunt was like. There is no reference to the Revolutionary War. George Washington himself only gets about one line, as Cinnabar is a skilled fox who keeps far ahead of the hunters, most of the time.
Even though it is light on what most would consider essential historical details, I still would recommend this book for young readers learning about early American history. Adults underestimate the importance to a young child of seeing a familiar name again, and most people with a good understanding of American history have a pretty fuzzy idea of what Mount Vernon is like. In fact, there is a map on the page spread following the table of contents that shows Mount Vernon, creeks, the Potomac, the mill, etc (the above is my own creation).
More than historical details, I believe Cinnabar captures the feeling of the time very well. He is a hard working, proud provider for his family, which includes Rascal and Pascal (the boys), Mischief and Merry (the girls), and his dear wife Vicky. So many male "heroes" of modern times are self-serving bachelors, and I think Cinnabar is a fine contrast.
The author says, "Cinnabar represented the spirit of the times, the spirit of a people who fought for freedom and lived for freedom's sake. He eluded all who would catch or trap him, and he finished out his days as a free wild thing."
For literary snobs like me, this book was positively delightful. I think it would excel as a read-aloud with occasional rhymes and lots of fox calls. Due to my extensive knowledge of fox hunts courtesy of having seen Mary Poppins, I was able to "hear" the various hunting calls. Young readers who may be less familiar with classic films, classic books, and the proper spelling of supercalifragilisticexpialidocious may appreciate hearing read out loud. Sadly, I haven't been able to find an audiobook, so I can't recommend that as a back-up.
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