Summary: Pax was only a kit when his family was killed, and “his boy” Peter rescued him from abandonment and certain death. Now the war front approaches, and when Peter’s father enlists, Peter has to move in with his grandpa. Far worse than being forced to leave home is the fact that Pax can’t go. Peter listens to his stern father—as he usually does—and throws Pax’s favorite toy soldier into the woods. When the fox runs to retrieve it, Peter and his dad get back in the car and leave him there—alone. But before Peter makes it through even one night under his grandfather’s roof, regret and duty spur him to action; he packs for a trek to get his best friend back and sneaks into the night. This is the story of Peter, Pax, and their independent struggles to return to one another against all odds. Told from the alternating viewpoints of Peter and Pax. (Summary and picture from goodreads.com)
My Review: As I read this book, I couldn't help but think of the Carpenter's song:
"Bless the beasts and the children,
For in this world they have no voice--
They have no choice."
Books specifically about war of any kind are difficult, and despite my love of Pennypacker's work, I was hesitant as I started reading, until the book swallowed me up in the emotions of Peter, Pax, and the others they meet along the way. While a quick read, it is not particularly easy--there are traumatizing things that happen, to both human and animal, but this was absolutely necessary. As one character comments, and what I feel is the crux of the novel: "People should tell the truth about what war costs."
I appreciated how Pennypacker chose to tell the story from the perspective of a fox and a child, because through their eyes it highlights how war is so utterly senseless and shows the true victims--everybody, but most particularly children and animals.
I loved reading the chapters with Pax, his communication with other foxes he meets, how their fear and ideals are expressed through emotions, scents and memories. Yet it still felt animal enough, that he was a real fox learning to cope in a world where he knows nothing of a fox's natural instincts. The other foxes he meets are also well fleshed out, and their relationships with Pax are downright heartbreaking. Yet Pax still holds onto the hope that Peter will return to find him.
Peter's chapters are equally fascinating, as he sets off alone across treacherous terrain to find his lost fox, until a misfortune places him with an older, hermitish woman named Vola. I loved their unusual friendship, and how not only does she helps him, but he helps her, as she, too, has been scarred, and we see how war can make you forget who you are.
I have been lucky enough to meet both Sara Pennypacker and Jon Klassen, and loved listening to them talk about children's literature. They are both masterful storytellers in their own ways, Pennypacker through her words, and Klassen through his art, which is simple enough that you are able to evoke your own emotions from Pennypacker's story into the drawings, as each person who reads this will be affected differently.
My rating: 4 stars
For the sensitive reader: I would recommend this book for older children, as there are some difficult themes, dangers both man-made and natural. There is blood and talk of war and death, but it is tastefully done and not graphic, allowing even the younger reader to understand what a terrible thing it is to be war sick.