Every three months I review children’s books for a nearby newspaper. I love this assignment. It gives me a reason to look at current picture books and to share my enthusiasms with readers in eastern Iowa. Last week I found a winner—with a wonderful story about the story.
In 1961 Doubleday published The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night, Peter Spier’s take on the folk song of the same name. That book was a Caldecott Honor Book. In a charming author’s note to a new edition (2014) Peter Spier says that he was inspired to do this project while driving through Vermont with his wife one October, early in their marriage. “We were singing the folk song ‘The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night,’ and I suddenly said to Kay, ‘This is the perfect setting for a picture book of this song!’”
He did the research, made the illustrations, and published the book, which has never gone out of print. Only one side of each page was printed in color in that 1961 version. In 2013, a Random House editor asked Spier if he would color the black and white pages. He writes, “…at age eighty-six and more than half a century later, I wondered if I would be able to do it as well as when I was thirty-one.” I’m here to tell you he was able to do it. And he enjoyed the process. “The years fell away. I was back in 1959 and I was blissfully happy.”