Kids Book of the Week: Pax – Sara Pennypacker

This is simply one the best middle grade books I’ve ever read. Granted, I don’t read extensively in middle grade—but Pax is Graveyard Book, The One and Only Ivan good. Actually, scratch that: It might be one of the best books I’ve read, period. Every lifelong reader knows the very best books can’t be piegeonholed. It’d recommend this book to anyone.

Emotionally, narratively, and in terms of its thematic weight, it’s a book that will live in you long after you’re done. It’s the story of a boy who is forced to abandon the young fox he has raised from a kit and takes place in the shadow of war, powerfully illustrating the effects war has on the people (and animals) on the sidelines. Pennypacker’s conception of the animals’ point of view is original and enlivening; her conception of the young hero coming to understand himself and his allegiances makes him a character you will cheer for. And it’s got one of my top ten favorite endings of all time.

I’ve looked at Pennypacker’s work before and enjoyed it–but this is like nothing she’s ever written. I hope you’ll be tempted to take a look. I’m pretty sure you won’t put it down if you do. Illustrated by Caldecott Medalist Jon Klassen, it’s also a physically beautiful reading experience.

But my opinions aren’t breaking ground here. Everyone’s been raving about this book for months.

In fact, last fall PW ran a column by bookseller Kenny Brechner called “The Power of Paxwhich contemplates the book’s themes of war and the search for self-knowledge. It concludes, “This book, which is so much about getting to where you need to be, deserves all the publicity and award consideration it is certain to get because where it needs to be is in readers’ hands.”

Pax has received four starred advance reviews as well as an unbelievable outpouring of bookseller endorsement. Expect review attention everywhere.

The aftermath of [Peter and Pax’s] separation is told in chapters that alternate between the fox and the boy’s points of view. In an exceptionally powerful, if grim story, Pennypacker does a remarkable job of conveying the gritty perspective of a sheltered animal that must instantly learn to live in the wild…..Both boy and fox encounter characters who drastically rearrange their worldview….The opening scene promises heartbreak that the rest of the story delivers, as boy and fox journey to reunite, each dramatically altered by what it takes to get there.”
— Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“A startling work of fiction that should be read-and discussed-by children and adults alike.”
— School Library Journal (starred review)

Twelve-year-old Peter found his loyal companion, Pax, as an orphaned kit while still grieving his own mother’s death…but five years later insists the boy leave Pax by the road when he takes Peter to his grandfather’s house, hundreds of miles away. Peter’s journey back to Pax and Pax’s steadfastness in waiting for Peter’s return result in a tale of survival, intrinsic connection, and redemption….Alternating chapters from the perspectives of boy and fox are perfectly paced and complementary. Only Peter, Pax, Vola, and three of Pax’s fox companions are named, conferring a spare, fablelike quality. Every moment in the graceful, fluid narrative is believable….Moving and poetic.”
— Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Pennypacker’s expert, evenhanded storytelling reveals stunning depth in a relatively small package.”
— Booklist (starred review)

“Searingly honest and heartbreakingly lovely, Pax is, quite simply, a masterpiece.”
— Katherine Applegate

I read Pax in one sitting. Wow. Everything I’d heard and read was true. Thanks for sharing it with us. What a book! I really hesitate to use the words ‘instant classic,’ but it’s absolutely a book that represents the best that children’s literature can be. I know publishing — and children’s publishing — has changed a lot over the years, but it makes me so happy to see that great stories, thoughtfully and beautifully told, can still make their way from authors’ desks to readers’ hands. I think Pax is a book with real staying power, both on our shelves and in the lives of readers.”
— Stephanie Appell, Children’s Buyer, Parnassus Books

Pax is a story of empathy, love, longing, and growth. It is a story of regret and of learning to overcome that regret, to use it to grow into a new and better person. The story, more than anything, is about what it means to be an empathetic being. Pax is a story that I’d recommend to anyone who can imagine loving someone so much that they’d cover miles and miles on foot to be together again. This book is a journey well worth taking.”
— Bobby Ray, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Lexington, KY

Pax was absolutely amazing!!  I didn’t quite believe you when you had said it was the best ending of a book you had read recently, but it is so true.  Heartbreaking but beautiful and not able to be complete any other way.  A fantastic exploration of character, as well as showing their growth along the way.  I am really excited to see the final illustrations; the ones already in the book are great!”
— Colleen Schultz, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Lexington, KY

“Wild and tame, war and peace, anger and love–Pax is a beautiful meditation, almost fable-like, on these interconnected themes. No word is wasted or wanting in the luminous tale of Peter and his fox, Pax and their converging journeys….Pennypacker hits the mark in giving Pax a voice, portraying his believably complex inner life with the perfect amount of pathos. This is a story that will break your heart open and rebuild it again, much like a phoenix rising out of the flames–a bright, breathtaking rumination on our humanity and our brutality.”
— Hannah DeCamp, Avid Bookshop, Athens, GA

Pax (9780062377012) by Sara Pennypacker. $16.99 hardcover. 2/2/16 on sale.

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