Saving Samantha: A True Story, written by Robbyn Smith van Frankenhuyzen and illustrated by Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen, tells the story of how Robbyn and her family rehabilitate a fox kit. Robbyn’s journal entries are intermingled throughout the story, describing their care for the fox and the adventures she has.
The book starts out with Robbyn going for a walk with their dog, and it shows how animal sounds surround them. “Tweets, twitters, and trills filled the air.” It has a unique word for the sound of a bullfrog: jug-o-rum. Trouble happens when the dog freezes at some high-pitched yelps, and Robbyn knows they’re coming from the fox den. Sure enough, she discovers a fox kit whose leg is broken by a trap, and she takes her home and puts her leg in a cast. The family names her Samantha, and Samantha becomes a member of the family. In the illustrations, Gijsbert’s yellows and oranges add the warmth and security of their house. My favorite picture is where Robbyn is reading with Samantha curled up on her lap, looking like a soft ball of fur.
As Samantha heals, she moves out of her cage and into the kitchen. She later leaves the safety of the house and explores the outdoors, meeting different animals on the van Frankenhuyzen’s farm and even trying to take down the scarecrow. An illustration shows Samantha’s agility in pouncing; her back is curved, her nose is pointed down, and her front paws are tucked in as she leaps. The vibrant greens in Gijsbert’s pictures add lushness to the vegetation.
Samantha wonders further away from Robbyn, gaining more independence. According to Robbyn’s journal entries in September, the fox accepts Robbyn’s presence by marking a tree, though she kills the family rooster, having Robbyn lock up the chickens at night. Gijsbert’s oranges and reds capture the beauty of autumn and foretell the coming of winter. As Samantha disappears for a stretch of time, Robbyn worries about something bad happening to her.
But Robbyn later spots her, the fox having a thick coat and a plump body for winter. Samantha gets a mate and has a litter of four kits, repeating the life cycle.
The book has a list of facts about foxes in the back, though they only scratch the surface of information concerning these adorable creatures. They mention that the father fox provides for the litter during the litter’s first few weeks of life, but they don’t mention that barren vixens also can be providers. If your child wants to learn more about foxes, you can ask a teacher or librarian for help.
This book is a great introduction to nature watching and journaling for elementary school children. Who knows? They might pick it up as a new hobby. Even if there’s no wildlife where you live, your children can journal your pet’s habits or that of your neighbor’s pet. Or like Gijsbert, they can create pictures that illustrate animal behavior and habitat. Of course, children should never try to handle a wild animal themselves, and in their introduction, the van Frankenhuyzen’s make it clear that they rehabilitate animals under state and federal regulations.
Saving Samantha ends with this journal entry, showing the joy one can have in taking care of God’s creation, and it might inspire some children to work in wildlife rehabilitation:
Sam has become fully wild now. The short time that she spent with us has most likely become a distant memory to her. But we will never forget her or the joy she brought to our family. We are proud of the small part we played in returning her to the wild.Saving Samantha, by Robbyn Smith van Frankenhuyzen