Our children’s book of the month for October is Pax by Sara Pennypacker, a powerful story about the unbreakable bond between a boy and his fox.
Pax – the blurb
Pax was only a cub when his family was killed and he was rescued by ‘his boy’, Peter. Now the country is at war and when his father enlists, Peter has no choice but to move in with his grandfather.
Far worse than leaving home is the fact that he has to leave Pax behind. But before Peter spends even one night under his grandfather’s roof he sneaks out into the night, determined to find his beloved friend.
A fox’s tale
So far we have steered clear of books told from an animal’s perspective. I’m aware the children are exposed to quite a few in school – Michael Murpurgio certainly seems to domineer my daugher’s school reading at times. I also have to confess that my (few) experiences of reading a book from an animal’s perspective haven’t been all that successful. A certain cat with a Sunday name of Robert springs to mind! However when just about everyone I work with recommended Pax, a story told through alternating chapters, with one strand following 12 year old Peter and the other his fox Pax, I thought we best give it a go.
After the death of his mother, we learn Peter rescued a baby fox who quickly became his best friend. When his father enlists in an unspecified war Peter is sent to live with his grandfather, and Pax is sent into the wild.
I was initially surprised by the nameless war. I had presumed we would be dealing with World War Two, or even World War One and that the setting would be England or France. Wrong! We were in America where baseball loomed large and the war was very much taking place on home soil. We discussed as a group the setting for the book – was it a real war or one made up by Pennypacker? What decade did you think the book was set in and why? “About 1950 as there were no mobile phones.” Pennypacker’s decision set the book apart, this wasn’t another war story, it was about Pax and his boy and their journey to be reunited which shone from the page.
Pass the tissues
In the opening chapters Peter rebels, he slips out in the night to walk 200 miles back to the spot where Pax was released. What follows is, structurally, a classic quest narrative; Peter walks through dark woods both literally and metaphorically and we watch as both boy and fox become wilder, tougher. The pacing here though is quite slow which resulted in some of the children struggling with the middle section. “Peter hasn’t walked any of the 200 miles yet!” I however loved meeting war veteran Vola and reading about how both Peter and Vola physically and mentally heal the other.
As the tale reached its climax the children’s enthusiasm reached fever pitch and a tissue or two was required for the ending. We all agreed it was a well worthy book of the month and I’m adding it to the ever growing list of brilliant children’s books that I have read this year. Special mention must go to Jon Klassen who illustrated the book just perfectly.
Book Club tasks
We didn’t, but making puppets of the characters in Pax similar to Vola’s would be a great thing to do with a book club. We did a little research into foxes and baseball to help with the context. Apparently foxes do like peanut butter! But mostly we just savoured the writing and the story as it unfolded. If you are looking for some more book club ideas how about having a go of our book club questions below? We’d love to hear your answers.
Book Club Questions
- Pax doesn’t speak yet Pennypacker clearly conveys what Pax means. How does she do this? Think of the ways Pax communicates with Peter. How does this differ to how Pax communicates with the foxes?
- Did you like reading a book from a fox’s perspective? Have you read any other books told by an animal?
- Whose story did you prefer – Pax’s or Peter’s? Why?
- Who gets the most out of Peter stopping at Vola’s house?
- Did you think the book had a happy ending or a sad one?
- What do you think happens to Peter after the story? Does he return to his grandfather? Does he ever see Vola again?