Reviewed by Megan K. Shea, Assistant Manager of The Mustard Seed Bookstore
“Just because it isn’t happening here doesn’t mean it’s not happening.” With that epigraph, readers step outside their own story and into the world of Sara Pennypacker’s new children’s book, PAX. This powerful middle-grade novel explores coming-of-age amidst impending war, separation from family, and what it means fight for someone, or some animal, you love. With chapters alternating between the boy Peter's voice, and that of his pet fox Pax, readers find themselves immersed in this contemporary imagining of the Hero’s Journey, complete with a quest to unknown lands, challenges and trials along the way, a wise mentor, sacrifice and reward.
Included in Pennypacker’s seventeen previous works is the novel Summer of the Gypsy Moths, and New York Times bestselling Clementine series, geared toward emerging readers. Among her many books PAX stands out, in part due to its original story, and also because of the artistic collaboration between Pennypacker's words expertly paired with cover art and intermittent illustrations from Jon Klassen. Klassen, 2013 Caldecott winner of This Is Not My Hat, offers his distinctive artwork here, giving readers just enough physical imagery to enrich this tender novel.
With thematic echoes of beloved classics like Watership Down, The Little Prince, and Old Yeller, PAX will have readers reliving the book long after the turning of pages ends. Pennypacker has crafted a story that, ultimately, is about a boy’s search for peace (in Latin pax), both literal and figurative.