________________ CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 38 . . . . June 3, 2016



Sara Pennypacker. Illustrated by Jon Klassen.
New York, NY: Balzer & Bray (Distributed in Canada by HarperCollins), 2016.
276 pp., hardcover, $21.00.
ISBN 978-0-06-237701-2.

Subject Headings:
Foxes as pets-Fiction.
Human-animal relationships-Fiction.

Grades 3-9 / Ages 8-14.

Review by Michelle Superle.

**** /4



They are war-sick? Pax wanted to know.

Not now. They are peaceful now. I remember this peace. The old fox curled his forelegs under his chest. At the end of the day, the humans I lived with gathered like those across the river.

Suddenly Pax remembered: he had seen something similar as well. It hadn't happened for several years, but sometimes at the end of the day, his humans would sit together on his boy's nest. The father would lay a hard box, flat and thin and made of many layers of paper, across his lap. Paper, like Pax's own bedding, but not shredded, and with many marks. His humans would peel these layers, one by one, and study them. Pax remembered that his humans were most linked together on those evenings, and with their harmony he could let down his guard.

Pax felt a strange sensation—as if his chest were no longer large enough for his heart.

Sara Pennypacker's Pax is a welcome contribution to the popular animal story genre for young people. Readers aged eight through fourteen will enjoy this captivating tale of Peter, a gentle soul separated from his pet fox, and Pax, the tame fox struggling to survive in the wild.

      The novel begins when Peter's father, who is about to deploy to war, insists upon dumping the fox in the woods so that Peter can move in with his grandfather unfettered. The ensuing narrative is structured as a quest, with the soul mates each encountering obstacles, helpers, and enemies while they search for one another. From the first page to the last, the characters' tension and longing are excruciatingly palpable. Their love for each other is rendered more intense by the use of alternating point of view (chapter by chapter) to show both Peter's and Pax's experiences and feelings as they struggle towards their reunion. The result is an electrifying story that's nearly impossible to put down. Adding to this power is Pax's style: the story is told in vivid prose that sometimes verges into the lyrical, taking the tale to unique heights. Jon Klassen's charming illustrations create further depth.

      Pax draws on familiar animal story genre conventions. There is a separation. There is a search. There are talking animals. There are helper figures. There is a glut of barely-hidden factual information about the species. There are naïve animal insights revealing truths about human nature. However, Pennypacker infuses these predictable elements with her own unique signature, creating a fresh take on the genre. Newcomers to the animal story will be engaged while long-time fans will be impressed by Pax's ingenuity.

      Perhaps better still, with the narrative's conclusion Pennypacker skillfully addresses criticisms of the genre that literary scholars have been raising for decades. With her ending, the author not only provides satisfaction for young readers, she also provides scholars with an opportunity to discuss a highly contemporary portrayal of the animal human bond—and how it can affect both parties.

      Pax is a richly layered novel with something valuable to offer nearly every reader. Teachers, librarians, parents, scholars, and book buyers should feel confident adding it to their collections.

Highly Recommended.

Michelle Superle is an Assistant Professor at the University of the Fraser Valley where she teaches children's literature and creative writing courses. She has served twice as a judge for the TD Award for Canadian Children's Literature and is the author of Black Dog, Dream Dog and Contemporary, English-language Indian Children's Literature (Routledge, 2011).

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.

Next Review | Table of Contents for This Issue - June 3, 2016.

CM Home
| Back Issues | Search | CM Archive | Profiles Archive