“Pax” by Sara Pennypacker was not what I was expecting. But, something amazing happens when all your preconceived notions are thrown out the window - a captivating story is told and then remembered forever.
When I first picked up “Pax” I thought it was going to be the story of a fox, plain and simple, but “Pax” is so much more than just a story about a fox. It’s the story about a boy and his inseparable bond to his pet fox. But when war tears them apart, the reader is taken on a journey of discovery, and when it comes to 12-year-old Peter, there is much to discover.
Pennypacker is able to perfectly describe the feelings and emotions of Pax and his fox friends. In fact, there were sentences that I felt compelled to read over and over again, just to take in the brilliance of how they were pieced together. In the Acknowledgements, Pennypacker mentions her dislike of “lazy sentences”. I can assure you, there aren’t any lazy sentences in this novel.
My biggest complaint about "Pax" is the ending. It came so fast and left so much up to the imagination, but I guess that’s why there’s a sequel. And you better believe that the sequel is already in my Amazon cart!
Recommended Age Group?
The publisher’s recommended age group is 8-12. While it would be fine to read
this book to an 8-year-old child, I would wait. This book is beautifully written, full of wisdom, and bursting with heart-wrenching themes. Please do your children a favour and introduce this novel when they can appreciate the enchanting language and complexity of the story. My recommended age group would be 10-13+.
There are many themes within the pages of “Pax”. A large theme is the destruction of war, and the devastation that follows in its path. Throughout the latter half of the novel, there are animals that lose their lives to the chaos of war, and Pennypacker does little to shield her readers from the emotions that come with these deaths. Animals are not the only ones to lose their lives in this book. Peter’s mother dies in a car accident when he’s 7, thus having to live life without a mother, and with a feisty quick-tempered father. This novel is chock-full of beautiful themes: friendship, love, the pursuit of peace, hardship, loss, truth, and the quest of finding out who you are and what you’re capable of.
There is one specific theme that could act as a trigger for students. Peter’s father, while he loves his son very much, is angry and abusive (if not physically, then emotionally). The abuse isn’t overly mentioned, and often the reader has to read between the lines to make the connection. Peter is not abused during the novel, but his journey brings flashbacks in which his father’s hand is raised to strike.
This book is definitely classroom-approved, but best suited for grades 3 and above.
“Pax” will provide ample opportunities for class-wide discussion and introspective thinking. Students will inevitably put themselves in Peter’s shoes and wonder if they could have made a similar journey to find a loved one during a time of war.
As always, you know your students and children best, so keep the specific themes in mind when making the decision to use this book as a class read aloud. I always recommend pre-reading the book before making any sort of decision.