I think that my most favorite kind of book is an illustrated middle-grade. Sara Pennypacker, author of the series Clementine, Summer of the Gypsy Moths, and The Dullards, has written a glorious story for children ages 8-12. Better yet, Caldecott winning artist Jon Klassen has illustrated it. It is titled, simply, Pax. Pax is the story of a journey. It is the story of a fox and his boy, Pax and Peter. A story of friendship, of love, and of war and peace.
Peter has raised Pax as his pet. When as an unnamed war is about to start, and Peter’s father must go serve, Peter is sent to go live with his grandfather, and Pax is left behind in the woods. Armed with only a backpack filled with peanut butter (Pax’s favorite) some matches, duct tape, garbage bags (to use as a poncho in the rain) a gold charm bracelet, string cheese, two oranges, and his baseball and glove, Peter decides to make the three hundred mile trek back home to find Pax again. Boy and fox are inseparable, and in the face of war, the master of tearing things asunder, they make parallel journeys towards each other in the hopes of being reunited.
Pax loved his boy, but more than that, he felt responsible for Peter, for protecting him. When he couldn’t perform this role, he suffered.
Pax shook the night’s rain off his back and headed for the road without even stretching his stiff muscles, straining for his boy’s scent.
Peter and Pax’s journey will take them far from home. They will meet people (and other foxes) who will change their lives, and in turn, they will also make a difference in the world they live in.
Peter meets an important lady named Vola. She asks Peter, “So which is it? You going back for your home or for your pet?”
“They’re the same thing,” Peter said, the answer sudden and sure, although a surprise to him.
Pax is a heart wrenching book that you will want to read over and over again. Pennypacker’s words will have the reader feel the ground beneath Peter’s feet, and see the trees waving in the wind over Pax’s head in the dark forest. This book examines why we make the choices we make, and better yet, shows that grownups should listen carefully to children, and also, foxes. With vivid imagery from Sara Pennypacker, and Klassen’s earthen toned illustrations, Pax is a great read for kids.
This article originally appeared in The Clarion Ledger.