Pax by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Jon Klassen, 2016
Children’s novel for grades 4-8; animal stories, survival stories
Ever since Pax was a kit, he has lived with Peter, but now Peter has abandoned the fox to go live with his grandfather while his father goes off to war. Although it was Peter’s father who forced Peter to leave Pax behind, Peter feels guilty, because after all, he and Pax are supposed to be inseparable. So Peter runs away from his grandfather’s home to find Pax. The point of view alternates by chapter between Peter and Pax and shows them both learning survival skills and discovering truths about themselves, human nature, and the evils of war. Peter is helped by a woman named Vola who lives by herself and is trying to rediscover herself after fighting in war and suffering from PTSD. Pax befriends three other foxes in the wild and then must flee from a group of soldiers who are planting land mines. Finally, Peter and Pax find each other, but in a tearjerker ending, Pax decides to stay in the wild.
I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, it’s beautifully written, rich with emotion, and full of likable and memorable characters. One thing that I especially liked about it is the motif of leg injuries. First, Peter breaks his foot, then he meets Vola, who has lost a leg and wears a peg leg, and nearer to the end, one of Pax’s fox friends loses a leg in an explosion. Another significant factor is Peter’s struggle with anger; he refuses to admit when he feels angry because he associates anger with things his father has done. Part of the adventure for Peter is learning to come to terms with emotion. Certainly, this book is thought-provoking, and I would have to say that, from a literary standpoint, it’s remarkably good. But on the other hand, I just didn’t find it particularly interesting. That might just be a genre preference, so if I’m held to an official opinion, I will say that Pax is a good book that I would recommend to middle graders.
Additional information for teachers and parents:
Lexile Score: 760L
AR points: 8.0
ATOS Book level: 5.3
For estimates on other leveled reading information, check this chart and look around level U. Please keep in mind that these reading levels are based on algorithms and do not take all relevant factors into consideration. They are best considered estimates.