Pax by Sara Pennypacker

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Pax by Sara Pennypacker

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Linda Lawlor
Reviewed by Linda Lawlor
Summary: A touching and tender story of the love between a boy and his fox, without once straying into the sentimental or mushy. Set against the rigours and horrors of war, it nonetheless manages to hold out hope of some kind of happy ending.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: February 2016
Publisher: Harper Collins Children's Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780008124090

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Longlisted for the 2017 CILIP Carnegie Medal

Young readers will be well aware of the horrors of war. It kills people, destroys families and homes, creates waves of desperate refugees and devastates the landscape. But there's one aspect of fighting which, apart from a few notable exceptions, isn't often touched upon – the fate of animals caught up in conflicts. We know a little about horses participating in cavalry charges, and homing pigeons carrying messages, but what about those animals which live in the wild? And worse still, what about all those well-loved pets which can no longer be fed or protected by owners close to starvation themselves?

Peter has looked after Pax since the fox was a tiny kit, but when war comes his father forces him to abandon his pet. And this is the first of several questions touched upon in this moving and at times heart-breaking tale. Is Pax lucky to have a second chance? Young readers might be shocked to know that in times of war many people, faced with an uncertain future, have preferred a quick and painless death for their faithful companions. After all, what kind of a life will a tame creature have, out in the countryside all alone? How will an animal that's been regularly fed and cared for by humans understand how to hunt or even find water, never mind avoid becoming prey to larger and stronger beasts? Pax has never had to find his own food, never been anywhere beyond the garden gate. And so Peter takes the decision to walk the two hundred miles back to where he left his beloved pet, to rescue him.

Of course, it's not that simple, and the story alternates between the adventures of the two companions, with the addition of some truly beautiful illustrations by the well-known and gifted Jon Klassen. It's simply and elegantly told, and while the author does not shy away from the miseries her two heroes face, the story never wallows in horror or gore. It will touch your heart, especially in those early scenes where Pax, who has no idea why he's been abandoned, bounds along the road after his master's car until he collapses with exhaustion, but it will also fill you with admiration and hope as two young creatures, one human and one fox, are spurred on no matter how hopeless things seem, drawn by the bond between them. And be warned: even tough guys might need a tissue or five in that final chapter...

For another really good story which sees the world from an animal's point of view, try Doglands by Tim Willocks, about what it means to be free. And then, of course, there's the splendid cli-fi The Last Wild by Piers Torday about a boy and a group of animals fighting the stupidity of greedy and destructive adults, and its sequels The Dark Wild and The Wild Beyond. They're all punchy and serious enough to make thoughtful readers wonder how the human race has managed to keep going for so long – and whether it should continue to do so, considering what a mess it's making of the world - but wrapped in utterly readable and even, at times, funny prose. You might also enjoy What Does the Fox Say? by Ylvis and Svein Nyhus.

Booklists.jpg Pax by Sara Pennypacker is in the Top Ten Books for Confident Readers 2016.

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