Sing Books with Emily, the Blog

The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night, an Old Folk Song and a Singable Picture Book

Posted on: April 5, 2011

fox went out peter spier
Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night (An Old Song)

Traditional Words and Tune
Illustrated by Peter Spier
Published by Dell Dragonfly Books, New York, 1961
ISBN 0-440-40829-6

The paperback version of Peter Spier’s illustration comes with an audio recording both read and sung by children’s entertainer Tom Chapin.

Link to Random House publisher’s webpage for Peter Spier’s Illustration of FOX, here:
This link includes an image viewer for many of the pages.

Image of a beautiful two page spread from this illustration, here:


For a Scholastic/WestonWoods study guide to go with Peter Spier’s illustration of the song, click here:

Westonwoods made an award winning video for this award winning book:

You can read about and purchase the video here:
The price (maybe this is the price for libraries, since it is on a page marked “LIBRARIANS”) is a baffling $49.95, but hopefully a school or library has it available for check-out!


Peter Spier’s illustration of “Fox Went Out on the Chilly Night” is also included in,

The Wheels on the Bus Sing-Along Travel Kit (Scholastic Storybook Treasures)
This kit features activities and videos and CD of songs for Singable Picture Books, including:
Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night, The Wheels on the Bus, Joseph Had A Little Overcoat (and MANY more!)


fox went out wendy watson
Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night
Traditional Words and Music
Illustrated by Wendy Watson
ISBN 0-688-10766-4




University of Florida Digital Collections offers an early illustrated version of the song which you can view online and for free, here:

A version of this same book, with a few verses and music also included and color plates, but different publisher, here (Ballantyne, R. M ( Robert Michael ), 1825-1894 ):

story of mr. fox
The Story of Mr. Fox (Good Little Pigs Library Vol. 3)
Traditional Words and Tune,Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night
Published in Boston, c1858, by Brown, Taggard & Chase


THE FOX  is featured in:

Favorite Folk Songs
Compiled by Peter Yarrow
Music by Various Artists, Arranged by Peter Yarrow
Illustrated by Terry Widener
Collection of lullabies, illustrated from the:


A fantastic blog article about THE FOX from Jim Moran (educator, radio host and folk musician) on his blog “Comparative Video 101″:
This article contains some of the same videos that I’ve posted here, plus others, some song history and thoughtful commentary on the FOX and the importance of group singing for children.

I left a comment on this blog and Mr. Moran wrote back:

Jim Moran said…
Your site is delightful, and thanks so much for the kind words and the link there. More importantly – good luck with your work with singing with children. I have reflected in at least a half a dozen articles on my site on the importance of the elementary school singing sessions that we had weekly when I was in grade school in the 1950s. I fear they have been almost completely abandoned today – and children grow from singing, especially group singing, now fully as much as they ever did.
MAY 5, 2013 AT 1:31 PM

An interesting Wikipedia article about the song, here:

A link to Blue Grass Picker’s Tune Book (by Richard Matteson, Jr.) in Google Books has info about the song history:
“The earliest version of this piece appears to have been a Middle English poem fround in the British Museum dating from the fifteenth centruy.”


Beatrix Potters rendition of the Fox, Gray Goose, and Duck in “Squire Fox Went Out in a Hungry Plight”

Princeton University’s Cotsen Children’s Library website has an interesting paragraph about this picture:


I adore Nikel Creek’s rendition of this song:

You can hear a clip of Nikel Creek’s studio version of “The Fox,” here:

I also love Little Mo’ Mccoury’s version of “The Fox,” you can hear a clip, here:

Burl Ives recorded one of the quintessential renditions of “The Fox,”

A musical version of the song, here:

A vintage-y recording on YouTube:


Pete Seeger

The hunky Jake Gyllenhaal

Jolly Rogues

A mom and teacher with words and guitar chords in the video


Traditional Words and Music
As with many old folk songs, the lyrics to this song vary widely.

The fox went out on a chilly night.
And he prayed to the moon to give him light,
For he’d many miles to go that night
Before he reached the town-o, town-o, town-o.
For he’d many miles to go that night
Before he reached the town-o.

He ran till he came to the farmer’s bin,
Where the ducks and the geese were kept penned in.
“A couple of you will grease my chin
Before I leave this town-o, town-o, town-o.
“A couple of you will grease my chin
Before I leave this town-o.”

First he caught the grey goose by the neck,
Then he swung a duck across his back.
And he didn’t mind the quack, quack, quack
Or their legs all dangling down-o, down-o, down-o.
And he didn’t mind the quack, quack,
Or their legs all dangling down-o.

Then old mother Giggle-Gaggle jumped out of bed.
Out of the window she popped her head,
Crying, “John!  John! Our grey goose is gone,
And the fox is in the town-o, town-o, town-o,”
Crying, “John!  Our grey goose is gone
And the fox is in the town-o.”

Then John, he ran to the top of the hill,
Blew his horn both loud and shrill.
The fox, he said, “I better go with my kill
Or they’ll soon be on my tail-o, tail-o, tail-o.”
The fox, he said, “I better go with my kill
Or they’ll soon be on my tail-o.”

He ran till he came to his nice warm den.
There were the little ones, eight, nine, ten.
They said, “Daddy, better go back again,
Because it must be a wonderful town-o, town-o, town-o.”
They said, “Daddy, better go back again,
Because it must be a wonderful town-o.”

Then the fox and his wife, without any strife,
Cut up the goose with a fork and a knife.
They never ate such a dinner in their life
And the little ones chewed on the bones-o, bones-o, bones-o.
They never ate such a dinner in their life
And the little ones chewed on the bones-o.

FOX  is one of the songs we selected to be part of
Oh, What a Beautiful Day: Sing Books with Emily, the Cabaret.”

Completing my Song Craft Worksheet is part of my process of preparing songs for performance,

 Emily’s Song Craft Worksheet

1 Q: Who wrote the words?

1 A: “Traditional,” it’s folk song dating back hundreds of years.  The original author is unknown and, though the story remains largely the same, lyrics vary widely.

2Q: Who wrote the music?
2A: “Traditional”

3Q: When was the song written?
3A:  Possibly as early as the 15th century.  It may have started out as a poem written in Middle English.

4Q: At what point in the lyricists’ and composer’s career was the song written?
4A: NA

5Q: What is the song from?
5A: The song is from world musical heritage.

6Q: If from a show, what character sang it?
6A: NA

7Q: If from a show, from what situation does the song arise?  Why does the character sing the song?  What function does the song/character play in the story?
7A: NA

8Q:  What other contextual elements of the song are significant?
8A: It is important that the fox is often viewed as a sly preditor, and, though this song does not refute the foxy reputation, we do come to understand the fox’s motivation for hunting, to put food on the table for his large family.

9Q: Was the song written for a particular singer?  Why?
9A: NA

10Q: If not from a show, why did the songwriter write the song?
10A: I think this allows for an interesting opportunity to, through the movtivations of animals, to explore, understand and interpret some actions and movtivations of humans.  I’m also engaged in the idea that the world does not stop when we sleep and much goes on in this world that humans never see and rarely consider.

11Q: What do you feel the lyricist is trying to say?
11A: The fox has a family, too.  And, the world is alive and flourishing with adventures even whe we aren’t looking.

12Q: Does the song tell a story or just express feelings or ideas?
12A: This song tells a story

13Q: Who else has recorded this song:
13A: Burl Ives, Pete Seeger, Peter Paul and Mary, Smothers Brothers, Harry Belafonte, Nikel Creek…and soon: Emily!

The rest of the questions require VERY personal answers and I will spare you those!

Addendum, Summer 2011

My family and I went on vacation to our usual haunts of Colonial Willimasburg and Fort Story, VA.  Just off Merchant’s Square in Williamsburg is a little used bookshop called Mermaid Books and I like to stop there for possible interesting Singable Picture Book finds.  This time, sparking the first incident in a week saturated with foxy images, I found a paperback version of a book I’d been looking for “Father Fox’s Pennyrhymes.”  The title caught my eye a few months ago when researching “Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night.” But I didn’t know much about it.  Then I found that the author had also written music for these rhymes in, “Father Fox’s Feast of Songs,” so I began the hunt (and I do so love the hunt).

I was so happy to find a sweet interpretation of the character of Fox in the “Pennyrhymes” book, as the character of Fox was problematic for me at first. “Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night” has, over a long period of time, and as the result of some of the most serious effort I’ve ever put into a song, become one of my favorites to share at Sing Books gatherings.  Children immediately responded to the song…the good strong rhythm, the fast words, and story about a crafty creature was always entertaining.  But I found the central character hard to interpret.  As I recently wrote to a friend, “The song gave me troubles for a long while, I couldn’t get a handle on why to sing a song to kids about a fox killing a goose and a duck.  Plus, my research on the song suggested that it’s origins were settled in the fox character’s nature as a mean predator.  But, based on the fact that the children always responded with such delight for the song I pressed on.  Finally, from focusing on the end of the song, I realized that the fox’s motivations are for his family.  This fox is not trying to make evil, he is doing the best he can to provide for his family (“the little ones 8, 9, 10”).  Isn’t that, after all, what most people are trying to do: provide for their loved ones and get through the day (or night, in the case of the nocturnal fox) as best they can?  Realizing that made the song meaningful for me and I was able to record it and put it in the show with great delight.”

All this on my mind, I was delighted to find a fox wall hanging wood sculpture at the Nancy Thomas Gallery:

Then there were the “Beware the Fox” ceramics for sale at Colonial Williamsburg stores:

After Williamsburg we headed on toward our beach haunt at Fort Story near Virginia Beach.  Our usual cabin was not ready, so the first night we stayed in a small house, not near the sandy beach, but right on a rocky shore close to the water.  This house had a screened front porch that looked right out onto the ocean and surrounded by thickets of brambles that grew up out of the sandy dunes.  I was sitting on the front porch of house, reading Father Fox’s rhymes, when I heard a slight russle and looked up.  There just coming out of the brambles was a gorgeous read fox.  He sniffed around for a while on the edges of the thicket.  He sat and scratched his muzzle then kept on searching.  He found a mouse or a small bird and picked it up in his mouth and quietly russled back into the thicket.  Was there a den in there somewhere with the little ones 8, 9, 10?  Could have been.  It was a magical moment and the climax of my week of foxes.

It’s now a couple weeks later, in the first week of August 2011 and I’m excitedly waiting to get a CD of music from Clyde Watson, the author and composer of Father Fox’s Pennyrhymes and Father Fox’s Feast of Songs (and sister of the illustrator Wendy Watson).

It all combines to seal my heart in love and delight around the character of Fox, who, sneaky though he might be, is also a loving parent, doing the best he can to make it through the day.

Addendum, September 2011

I’ve come to think of “The Fox” as complicated character.  Not one single fox, but the idea of The Fox as a single entity an each encounter is just a bit and piece of a larger whole.

Just today I was talking to my dad about The Fox wood sculputre I bought in Williamsburg, VA this past summer.  Poor fella was a casualty of the earthquack the East Coast expereinced on August 23, 2011.  Mr. Fox was proudly supervising our living room mantle when the earthquake hit.  He tumbled down and both his leg broke off.  My dad agreed to take him home to Indiana and repair Fox good as new.

Just after that, sifting through some wonderful pictures kids had drawn in celebration of Sing Books, I ran across this picture by Connor:

(Artwork by Connor, Kindergarten 2010-2011)

The Fox is always a favorite, one of the most requested songs.  The Fox is a wonderful song and kids respond to it for so many reasons (including the tempo, strong beat, engaging story, and the mystical appeal of Fox).

Kids REALLY LOVE the fox!  Here’s another picture, by Celeste, who made sure to include the name of her favorite song on the picture,

Artwork by Celeste, Kindergarten 2010-2011


I do so love the character of Fox.  He appeals to me on many levels and he just keeps on popping up.


Fantastic Mr. Fox
Book by Roald Dahl
Illustrated by Quentin Blake

“Fantastic Mr. Fox,” the book,  is illustrated by Quentin Blake and contains two short songs, and as far as I’m concerned, this qualifies it as a bona fide Singable Picture Book:

Boggis and Bunce and Bean

Words by Roald Dahl
Boggis and Bunce and Bean
One fat, one hort, one lean>
These horrible crooks
So different in looks
Were none the less equally mean.

Home Again Swiftly I Glide
Words by Roald Dahl

Home again swiftly I glide,
Back to my beautiful bride.
She’ll not feel so rotten
As soon as she’s gotten
Some cider inside her inside.

Oh poor Mrs. Badger, he cried,
So hungry she very near died.
But she’ll not feel so hollow
If only she’ll swallow
Some cider inside her inside.

A musical setting for “Boggis and Bunce and Bean” rhyme can be heard in the movie version of “Fantastic Mr. Fox”:
(It would be a good idea to slow it down a good deal for kids to enjoy singing it…)

You can hear the song in this YouTube:

And, seems to me, the tune could also be used to sing the second rhyme…only, again, slow it down a little!

It’s fun to spend an hour or so with Mr. Fox in the movie, which is delightfully fantastic and wonderfully voiced, but not very much like the book:

A special thanks to the Fabulous Clyde Watson for reminding me about the Fantastic Mr. Fox!

Addendum, January  2012

I’m continually delighted to find evidence of the influence the character of FOX has upon the collective cultural imagination of us human-folk.

It was a lot of fun to see an Antiques Road Show appraisal of a foxy painting by William H. Bear, painted in 1874.  Wonderfully, the painting’s original frame sports a plaque with the caption,” Haven’t Seen Your Hen?”

Click here to the archive page for this appraisal which includes an image of the painting and a video:

Addendum, 5/13/2013

I wanted my own copy of FOX WENT OUT ON A CHILLY NIGHT, as illustrated by Wendy Watson, for a long time.  It just arrived.  I bought a very good ex-library hardcover edition from Amazon and it is as sweet and delightful an illustration as one would expect from Wendy Watson.

fox went out wendy watson
Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night
Traditional Words and Music
Illustrated by Wendy Watson
ISBN 0-688-10766-4

As with any old folks song, the lyrics will often vary from one printed version to another (and among the many people who sing and perform it) and that is the case here.  I’ve been singing this for kids with Peter Spier’s illustration (which I also adore) and the lyrics within are slightly different than that, but the differences are wonderful and it will be lots of fun to sing both.  For example, in Peter Spier’s illustration, the woman who discovers the fox and sticks her head out of the window is “Old Mother Giggle-Gaggle,” but in Wendy Watson’s illustration, the woman is “Old Mother Slipper-Slopper,” who Ms. Watson adorably draws wearing sloppy slippers.

The inside cover book flap for Wendy Watson’s illustration offers this info:

This classic folk song of a fox in pursuit of his dinner was first published in the 1810 edition of Gammer Gurton’s Garland.  It has been a childhood favorite ever since…

It’s hilarious to me, that, in the text mentioned above from Gammer Gurton’s Garland, the woman is called “Old Mother Widdle Waddle.”

In the 1810 Gammer Gurton’s Garland, this is all there is of what was to become the song FOX WENT OUT ON A CHILLY NIGHT:


Old Mother Widdle Waddle jumpt out of bed,
And out at the casement she popt out her head:
Crying the house is on fire, the grey goose is dead,
And the fox he is come to the town, oh!


Addendum 11/28/2014

Peter Spier’s inimitable illustration is reissued in 2014, with artwork restored this illustrated song classic again shines gloriously.  In previous edition, half the pages were black and white.  Peter Spier went back to his original classic pictures and recolorized everything and added color where previously the pages were just black and white. This is very exciting!  It’s one of the kids’ favorite songs in classrooms and they are going to love this reissue.

2014 reissue cover for FOX WENT OUT ON A CHILLY NIGHT
fox went out on a chilly night spier 2014
Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night (An Old Song), 2014 Reissue
Traditional Words and Tune
Illustrated by Peter Spier

Article about the reissue, here:

More about the reissue from publisher in Canada:

Visit Amazon to “Look Inside” and see some of the new pages:

Related Posts

Of the hundreds (maybe thousands) of choices, this list onPinterest displays the top blockbuster favorite Singable Picture Books that we warble together at Sing Books visits:


The Fox, a Crafty Character for Singable Picture Books



Singable Picture Books from Nancy Dingman, Aldren A., Clyde and Wendy Watson

The Singable Picture Books of Peter Spier

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