Pax was only a kit when his family was killed, rescued by “his boy,” Peter, from abandonment and certain death. Now the war front approaches, and when Peter’s father enlists, Peter has to move in with his grandfather. Far worse than being forced to leave home is the fact that Pax can’t go. Peter obeys his stern father and agrees to release Pax back into the wild. But before Peter makes it through even one night under his grandfather’s roof, regret and duty spur him to action; he sneaks out into the night, determined to find his beloved friend. This is the story of Peter,
Pax was only a kit when his family was killed, rescued by “his boy,” Peter, from abandonment and certain death. Now the war front approaches, and when Peter’s father enlists, Peter has to move in with his grandfather. Far worse than being forced to leave home is the fact that Pax can’t go. Peter obeys his stern father and agrees to release Pax back into the wild. But before Peter makes it through even one night under his grandfather’s roof, regret and duty spur him to action; he sneaks out into the night, determined to find his beloved friend. This is the story of Peter, Pax, and their independent struggles to return to each other in the face of war.
Learn more at http://findpax.com/.
- Balzer + Bray
- April 2019
- 288 Pages
“‘Pax‘ the book is like Pax the fox: half wild and wholly beautiful.” – The New York Times Book Review
“A sorrowful story…moves cleanly and elegantly to an emotional end.” – The Wall Street Journal
“Moving and poetic.” – Kirkus (starred review)
“Pennypacker’s expert, evenhanded storytelling reveals stunning depth in a relatively small package.” – Booklist (starred review)
“In an exceptionally powerful, if grim story, Pennypacker does a remarkable job of conveying the gritty perspective of a sheltered animal that must instantly learn to live in the wild.” – Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“A startling work of fiction that should be read—and discussed—by children and adults alike.” – School Library Journal (starred review)
“Original and heartfelt, Pax shines and soars into your heart.” – John Schumacher, Brook Forest Elementary School
“Searingly honest and heartbreakingly lovely, Pax is, quite simply, a masterpiece.” – Katherine Applegate, Newbery Award-winning author of The One and Only Ivan
“Pennypacker’s finest work yet…a story sure to resonate with readers long after they’ve finished the last page.” – Dr. Rose Brock, Sam Houston State University
“It is a privilege to be destroyed and rebuilt by this novel with every read.” – Elizabeth Bird, New York Public Library
“Pax will take hold of your heart from the very first page and not let go until long after you finish.” – Lisa Nehs, Books & Company
“A master storyteller, Pennypacker leads the reader along a path of shifting hopes to the story’s heart-wrenching conclusion.” – Ann M. Martin, Newbery Honoree, author of Rain Reign
“You have to read this novel to experience its power.” – Margaret Brennan Neville, The King’s English Bookshop
“Quite a feat – incredibly moving, highly original…a brave piece of writing.” – Monica Edinger, The Dalton School
“Sara Pennypacker has a seemingly effortless gift for capturing the innocence of childhood.” – Jonathan Hunt, San Diego County Office of Education
“Pax has that feeling of an instant classic.” – Mary Brown, Books, Bytes, and Beyond
“This book is one that will resonate with kids (and adults) for years to come.” – Leslie Hawkins, Spellbound Children’s Bookshop
“Pennypacker’s Pax is a book that will remain in the minds and hearts of middle grade readers for the rest of their lives.” – Colby Sharp, Parma Elementary School
Discuss the connection between Peter and Pax. How has that connection developed over the years? Why must Peter release Pax? What makes Peter leave to look for Pax after he arrives at his grandfather’s home?
What is the importance of the toy soldier in the game Peter plays with Pax? Why is Peter surprised to find a box of toy soldiers at his grandfather’s house? What is the impact on Peter when he sees the picture of his father as a boy with his arm around a dog? Why do you think Peter’s father never talked about his dog?
Why is it so important to Vola to live alone? What does she mean when she says, “The plain truth can be the hardest thing to see when it’s about yourself” (p. 189)? How does that phrase pertain to Vola? How does it pertain to Peter and to Peter’s father?
Vola tells Peter, “People should tell the truth about what war costs” (p. 130). What costs of war does each of the characters in this book pay? Describe both the physical and emotional costs that these characters experience.
Discuss the concept of “nonduality,” or “two but not two,” that Vola explains to Peter (p. 186). How does this concept help Peter understand his connection to Pax? What does it mean to Vola?
Describe the steps in Peter’s journey that help him to understand that, when he finally finds Pax, he must let him go. Describe the steps in Pax’s journey that lead him to stay with his new family in the wild.
Discuss the meaning of the phrase that appears before the story begins: “Just because it isn’t happening here doesn’t mean it isn’t happening” (p. 10). What does that phrase mean to you? Why do you think the author did not name a specific place or area as the setting of the book?
What does Vola mean when she asks Peter if he is “wild or tame” (p. 105)? What do those words mean to you? Why is it hard for the wild foxes to accept Pax when he finds them? Apply the concept of wild or tame to each of the main characters in the story to help explain their personalities.
Discuss the meaning of the final words in the book: “Sometimes the apple rolls very far from the tree” (p. 277). Why do these words appear as handwritten text? What do these words mean for Peter?
Why do you think the author decided to tell the story from dual points of view with alternating chapters describing of the separate adventures of Peter and Pax? How does this structure help the story move forward and enhance your understanding of the plot?
What do you think Peter and Pax do in the moments after the story ends and in the weeks that follow? What clues in the book support your guesses?
Compare the experience of reading Pax to listening to the audio edition of the book. How is the experience of the story different when you hear the voices rather than see the words on the page? How do the illustrations in the book help you to visualize the story?
Throughout the centuries and in many cultures, people have told stories, tales, and fables about foxes. What stories can you remember or can you find that have a fox as a main character? How would you compare some of these fictional characters to Pax and the other foxes in this novel?
Read the story of Sinbad in a volume of the Arabian Nights stories. Compare the experiences of Sinbad to what you have learned about Vola in this book. Why do you think the story and the puppets she creates have become so important to Vola? What does the story and working with the puppets mean to Peter?
The fox felt the car slow before the boy did, as he felt everything first.
Through the pads of his paws, along his spine, in the sensitive whiskers at his wrists. By the vibrations, he learned also that the road had grown coarser. He stretched up from his boy’s lap and sniffed at threads of scent leaking in through the window, which told him they were now traveling into woodlands. The sharp odors of pine—wood, bark, cones, and needles—slivered through the air like blades, but beneath that, the fox recognized softer clover and wild garlic and ferns, and also a hundred things he had never encountered before but that smelled green and urgent.
The boy sensed something now, too. He pulled his pet back to him and gripped his baseball glove more tightly.
The boy’s anxiety surprised the fox. The few times they had traveled in the car before, the boy had been calm or even excited. The fox nudged his muzzle into the glove’s webbing, although he hated the leather smell. His boy always laughed when he did this. He would close the glove around his pet’s head, play-wrestling, and in this way the fox would distract him.
But today the boy lifted his pet and buried his face in the fox’s white ruff, pressing hard.
It was then that the fox realized his boy was crying. He twisted around to study his face to be sure. Yes, crying—although without a sound, something the fox had never known him to do. The boy hadn’t shed tears for a very long time, but the fox remembered: always before he had cried out, as if to demand that attention be paid to the curious occurrence of salty water streaming from his eyes.
The fox licked at the tears and then grew more confused. There was no scent of blood. He squirmed out of the boy’s arms to inspect his human more carefully, alarmed that he could have failed to notice an injury, although his sense of smell was never wrong. No, no blood; not even the under-skin pooling of a bruise or the marrow leak of a cracked bone, which had happened once.
The car pulled to the right, and the suitcase beside them shifted. By its scent, the fox knew it held the boy’s clothing and the things from his room he handled most often: the photo he kept on top of his bureau and the items he hid in the bottom drawer. He pawed at a corner, hoping to pry the suitcase open enough for the boy’s weak nose to smell these favored things and be comforted. But just then the car slowed again, this time to a rumbling crawl. The boy slumped forward, his head in his hands.
The fox’s heartbeat climbed and the brushy hairs of his tail lifted. The charred metal scent of the father’s new clothing was burning his throat. He leaped to the window and scratched at it. Sometimes at home his boy would raise a similar glass wall if he did this. He always felt better when the glass wall was lifted.
Instead, the boy pulled him down onto his lap again and spoke to his father in a begging tone. The fox had learned the meaning of many human words, and he heard him use one of them now: “NO.” Often the “no” word was linked to one of the two names he knew: his own and his boy’s. He listened carefully, but today it was just the “NO,” pleaded to the father over and over.
The car juddered to a full stop and tilted off to the right, a cloud of dust rising beyond the window. The father reached over the seat again, and after saying something to his son in a soft voice that didn’t match his hard lie-scent, he grasped the fox by the scruff of the neck.
His boy did not resist, so the fox did not resist. He hung limp and vulnerable in the man’s grasp, although he was now frightened enough to nip. He would not displease his humans today. The father opened the car door and strode over gravel and patchy weeds to the edge of a wood. The boy got out and followed.
The father set the fox down, and the fox bounded out of his reach. He locked his gaze on his two humans, surprised to notice that they were nearly the same height now. The boy had grown very tall recently.
The father pointed to the woods. The boy looked at his father for a long moment, his eyes streaming again. And then he dried his face with the neck of his T-shirt and nodded. He reached into his jeans pocket and withdrew an old plastic soldier, the fox’s favorite toy.
The fox came to alert, ready for the familiar game. His boy would throw the toy, and he would track it down—a feat the boy always seemed to find remarkable. He would retrieve the toy and wait with it in his mouth until the boy found him and took it back to toss again.
And sure enough, the boy held the toy soldier aloft and then hurled it into the woods. The fox’s relief—they were only here to play the game!—made him careless. He streaked toward the woods without looking back at his humans. If he had, he would have seen the boy wrench away from his father and cross his arms over his face, and he would have returned. Whatever his boy needed—protection, distraction, affection—he would have offered.
Instead, he set off after the toy. Finding it was slightly more difficult than usual, as there were so many other, fresher odors in the woods. But only slightly—after all, the scent of his boy was also on the toy. That scent he could find anywhere.
The toy soldier lay facedown at the burled root of a butternut tree, as if he had pitched himself there in despair. His rifle, its butt pressed tirelessly against his face, was buried to the hilt in leaf litter. The fox nudged the toy free, took it between his teeth, and rose on his haunches to allow his boy to find him.
In the still woods, the only movements were bars of sunlight glinting like green glass through the leafy canopy. He stretched higher. There was no sign of his boy. A prickle of worry shivered up the fox’s spine. He dropped the toy and barked. There was no response. He barked again, and again was answered by only silence. If this was a new game, he did not like it.
He picked up the toy soldier and began to retrace his trail. As he loped out of the woods, a jay streaked in above him, shrieking. The fox froze, torn.
His boy was waiting to play the game. But birds! Hours upon hours he had watched birds from his pen, quivering at the sight of them slicing the sky as recklessly as the lightning he often saw on summer evenings. The freedom of their flights always mesmerized him.
The jay called again, deeper in the forest now, but answered by a chorus of reply. For one more moment the fox hesitated, peering into the trees for another sight of the electric-blue wedge.
And then, behind him, he heard a car door slam shut, and then another. He bounded at full speed, heedless of the briars that tore at his cheeks. The car’s engine roared to life, and the fox skidded to a stop at the edge of the road.
His boy rolled the window down and reached his arms out. And as the car sped away in a pelting spray of gravel, the father cried out the boy’s name, “Peter!” And the boy cried out the only other name the fox knew.