Book Review: Thomas and Friends On Track with Phonics: Fox in the Box

This is a little book that came in a set of 12 I bought for my 2-year-old at the book fair at his school last week. He loves Thomas the Tank Engine, and the minute he saw these books he had to have them. They were produced by Random House, copyrighted 2010.

Tonight I read him the book titled Fox in the Box, and I have to say: it is a terrible book. I understand the need to use certain words and sounds when teaching phonics, but they could have done better than this.

The story begins with Thomas and Percy (another train engine, for those not versed in Thomas lore) wanting to have a party. There's no clear reason for this celebration; they're just party animals, those two. Lucky for them they have a box filled with nuts, bags, and caps. Woo-hoo! Bring it!

Things go awry, however, when a fox comes along and gets into the box. This fox eats the nuts and "nips and rips" the bags, which sends tattle-tale Thomas running to Driver Dan to beg him to do something. But before Dan can come up with a plan, it starts to rain.

Turns out the fox doesn't like rain. So he runs off to another box—this one empty—seeking refuge. It's not entirely clear why the fox didn't just stay in the first box, which appeared to be inside and sheltered from the rain. But we'll let that pass and focus on the truly dreadful outcome of this story.

The fox is in the empty box, hiding from the rain. Driver Dan then comes along and puts a lid on the box so that only the fox's tail is hanging out. Meanwhile, Thomas and Percy get to throw their wild party, nuts, bags, caps and all. And the final page? It reads: "The party was fun. But not for the fox."

Sure enough, with confetti flying, there are Thomas and Percy having a party and the box with the fox's tail sitting in the middle of it all. Instead of letting this poor fox go free somewhere, Driver Dan and the tank engines have apparently decided to subject it to captivity and mockery. (They also haven't invited any of the other trains from what I can tell.) It's not a terribly edifying lesson, is almost baffling in its bizarre "twist ending."

I haven't read any of the other books in this collection, though my husband assures me Go, Bertie, Go features Dan wielding a bat for no apparent reason. I'm starting to think Dan needs a holiday or therapy or something. I fear he's encouraging anti-social behavior in the sheds.

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