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Book Review: Leila and the Blue Fox by Kiran Millwood Hargrave with Tom de Freston (Orion/Hachette)

For ages 9+

This is the second middle grade pairing of wife and husband, Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Tom de Freston. Last year they debuted with 'Julia and the Shark', a brilliant story of family heartache, mental illness and conservation. Producing another middle grade in the same format with a feel of such a special and collectible series is a celebration of how much creating quality literature for this age range must mean to them both. I'm really thrilled about it!!

There really isn't anything much like a Kiran Millwood Hargrave book. Whether you are a fan of her adult or YA books already or not, it truly doesn't matter that this is a book for kids - you'll enjoy it just as much. All her trademark writing traits remain the same, the hidden meanings and often stomach churning angst with an ability to create rich visual character journeys from often quite bleak surroundings, situations or circumstances.

About the book

Unlike Julia though, Leila has a very different background and starting point in her story. In 'Leila and the Blue Fox'. Happy at home in Croydon with older cousin Mona and her Amma, attending a local secondary school, she heads off to Norway for a long overdue visit with her mother during the summer holidays. 6 years separation and barely any meaningful contact have caused deep emotional wounds for Leila, and what she doesn’t yet know is that a little cat-sized blue-grey fluffy arctic fox, so vulnerable alone in the world, is going to become the antidote to her suffering and the source of a new found strength and happiness.

Words © Kiran Millwood Hargrave + Illustration © Tom de Freston
Words © Kiran Millwood Hargrave + Illustration © Tom de Freston

This is a story of two halves told in parallel through the thoughts of the fox and Leila’s narrative; all text beautifully inter-spliced with Tom’s stark/enigmatic artwork. The reader is following the story of the fox, based on a true story, as she migrates across the arctic, hungry and alone facing danger and peril; all whilst Leila tries to rekindle her relationship with her mother triggering her escape from the war in Syria and her journey as she herself migrated to the UK as a 6 year old child.

Leila’s mother is a Meteorologist and has found a new life that is paid well in Norway, somewhere that has welcomed her as a refugee, as a highly skilled female scientist - an opportunity that hadn’t seemed available to her in the UK. She has secured funding to tag and track the arctic fox Dr Amani Saleh has fondly named ‘Miso’ after her favourite food. It is into this world that she brings her estranged daughter. It is an adventure across the freezing arctic ice and ocean where Leila’s hurt, confusions and anger can swell with the storms and be laid bare with honesty like the midnight sun on a research boat surrounded by icebergs.

Words © Kiran Millwood Hargrave + Illustration © Tom de Freston
Words © Kiran Millwood Hargrave + Illustration © Tom de Freston

Leila's and Miso’s stories are intertwined - both are lost, have hope, don’t give up and find love in the end. There is vital messaging for kids in this book around territorial borders, rising temperatures, and something that isn’t often addressed so starkly - that a mother might not be maternal in her instincts - she may still love her child, want to provide for her child, but she must admit to herself and her child her limitations and both parties must accept that the holistic love that is needed to feel nurtured and belonging will be found perhaps within the safety of extended family. Such a tough reality for a child to come to terms with, but with honesty earlier down the line it can save thousands in therapy in the future. I should know, I had one of those.

Words © Kiran Millwood Hargrave + Illustration © Tom de Freston
Words © Kiran Millwood Hargrave + Illustration © Tom de Freston

Migration can be caused by war, famine, drought, tsunami, rejection, anything… as Leila’s mum says, “migration is necessary for survival. What Miso did, what we did, was leave home to find something better.”

Gorgeous end papers, book lists for further reading and a personal message from the author too. Very happy about my signed copy from my local Waterstones with the little paw prints along the edges... so cute!!

P.S. if anyone has a spare proof, I'd love it for my collection, thank you x

Further reading

'Fantastic arctic fox: animal walks 3,500km from Norway to Canada' - The Guardian, 2019

About the creators

Kiran Milwood Hargrave (author)

Kiran Millwood Hargrave is an award-winning poet, playwright, and bestselling novelist. Her debut novel for children The Girl of Ink & Stars won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize, and the British Book Awards Children’s Book of the Year. Her work has been short- and long-listed for other major prizes including the Costa Award, and the CILIP Carnegie Award. She’s a graduate of both Oxford and Cambridge Universities, and lives in Oxford with her husband and cats, in a house between a river and a forest.


Tom de Freston (illustrator)

Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Tom de Freston met in 2009, when Kiran was a student and Tom was artist-in-residence at Cambridge University. They have been a couple and collaborators ever since, but Julia and the Shark was their first novel. Tom has worked as an acclaimed artist for many years.


Key themes






arctic fox

animal adventure

family separation

triggering events

arctic ecosystem


Grab a copy

Buy here through my affiliate link at or purchase from your local independent bookshop...

Publication date: 29 September 2022

Format: Hardback

Also by Kiran Millwood Hargrave with Tom de Freston:

'Julia and the Shark' Hardback edition (Orion/Hachette, 2021)

'Julia and the Shark' Paperback edition (Orion/Hachette, 2022)

Please like this post and leave me a comment, I'd love to hear your thoughts too!

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