Review (Plus): ‘Pax’
Bookshelf Blurb: An unlikely bond between a boy and his fox, the father who drove them apart and the ability to endure hardship when you have unconditional love.
Ms. America’s Review: I cry whenever I read an animal story, and I must confess, this one was no different. The young boy, Peter, and his pet fox, Pax, alternate points of view with every changing chapter. Sara Pennypacker has created unique and thought-provoking characters in her new middle-reader book, Pax.
I was dismayed when Peter, our young narrator, is made to dump his pet fox in the woods while his father stands by watching. Peter throws a toy soldier into the woods for Pax to retrieve, knowing he is sending his best friend far away so he can leave and never return. Peter’s dad told him it was for the best, as Peter was going to have to live with his grandfather 300 miles away while his father goes off to war–and the fox is better left in the wilderness where he belongs. With a heavy heart, Peter climbs in the car and does as he is told: He leaves his fox.
Pax, playing his favorite game, runs into the woods to reclaim the soldier and bring it back to Peter, only to discover his human is gone. He knows the boy will return for him. After a few days, Pax is hungry, cold and alone. Peter has not returned. Another fox, Bristle, discovers Pax and smells human on him. She is apprehensive of Pax, but her friendly and eager little brother, Runt, is not. Runt is overjoyed to find a new friend. Bristle allows Pax to follow her to their den for one night, and he gladly agrees to the terms, knowing he can follow his scent and come back the next day and wait for Peter.
Peter isn’t at his grandfather’s home even 24 hours before he realizes he has left his heart 300 miles away and he must go back to reclaim it. He packs his bag and leaves to find Pax. Peter doesn’t get too far when he trips on a tree root, breaking his foot; he hobbles to shelter in a barn, where he is discovered by a hermit named Vola, who understands Peter’s need to find Pax but makes him commit to three terms before he can continue.
Author Sara Pennypacker has created special journeys for each of her three characters in Pax. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a realistic symptom found within many homes across the U.S. and Pennypacker has softened the illness through the eyes of a child. The ability to have every character show growth from the time they are introduced to the end of the book is commendable. Peter, Pax and Vola display personality traits hidden within each one of us. Even more interesting was the author’s ability to give Pax humanistic traits and make the reader connect to the fox as much as they do to the humans in this story. The depth to each character makes this a true story to love.
In the classroom: Although Pax explores complex issues, it allows your students to read and recognize shifts in character, point of view and setting. Peter is 12, and I believe this is the target audience for this book. The ever-evolving hormones of middle school students often make them rage out, cry uncontrollably, and, in short, be a moody mess. Under Vola’s direction and guidance, Peter is able to sort out some of his past and learn he has the ability to overcome inherited traits. This is a lesson every middle school student needs to learn.
Much can be gleaned from Peter and even the adolescent fox, who has to learn to survive without a human. Sara Pennypacker develops two main characters and defines them by their point of view. She chose to let each character tell his own story.
A middle school Common Core Standard is for your students to explain how an author develops the point of view of the narrator or speaker in a text. Have your students select a passage, or a chapter, and have them explain why Pennypacker selected these particular words. Are they effective? Does she use sensory details? Can we, the audience, relate to our characters?
Pax by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Jon Klassen (Balzer + Bray | 9780062377012 | February 2, 2016)