She came to the library to pick out her birthday book. The selections of new books weren't to her liking, so I showed her some I had pulled from our recent Scholastic Book Fair. Pax was on top of the pile. Her face lit up reading the dust jacket; she had found her birthday book.
I teased her by saying that I hadn't processed it so I could read it first, but since it was her birthday, I'd make an exception. My assistant entered it into our system, labeled and wrapped it that day, and I delivered it to the birthday girl.
She came back to the library, book in hand, in two days. "Here you go, Mrs. Margocs."
"You're done already?" I asked, worried that it hadn't been a good fit for her and that she was abandoning it.
"I couldn't stop reading it!" she replied, "I had to find out what happened next, every time I thought about putting it down. You have to read this, it's really good! Kinda sad, kinda happy....but really good!"
I promised I would move it to the top of my to-read pile. She promised to check in with me after the weekend, to hold me accountable.
Yes, birthday girl, I read Pax by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Jon Klassen. Klassen is a favorite of mine, and his dark colors (the inner pictures are done in blacks and grays) suit this story about a boy and his fox, caught in the turmoil of grief, anger, and the approaching battlelines of war.
Peter is forced to abandon his pet fox, Pax, when his father enters the military during wartime. At his grandfather's home hundreds of miles away, Peter soon realizes that leaving Pax was a mistake that he must rectify.
Peter sets off on his own to rescue his pet. As he stumbles through unfamiliar territory, we learn of the loss of his mother, the anger of his father, and the love he has for the fox that helped tame his grief. In alternating chapters, we are privy to Pax's experience and thoughts as he navigates the wild for the first time.
Peter and Pax both meet benefactors when help is needed most--and both realize they have something to give in return. There are parallels in their stories as they overcome major obstacles to survival and reunion.
The birthday girl was right--the ending is kinda happy, but sad, as well. War is the background story, and Pennypacker does not soften the effects of combat on families, communities, and nature. The relationship between humans and wild animals is not simplified. We are left to ponder the complexities of both in the end.