#30Authors is an event started by The Book Wheel that connects readers, bloggers, and authors. In it, 30 authors review their favorite recent reads on 30 blogs in 30 days. It takes place annually during the month of September and has been met with incredible support from and success in the literary community. It has also been turned into an anthology, which is currently available on Amazon and all author proceeds go to charity. Previous #30Authors contributors include Celeste Ng, Cynthia Bond, Brian Panowich, and M.O. Walsh. To see this year’s full line-up, visit www.thebookwheelblog.com/30authors or follow along on Twitter @30Authors.
Erin Lindsay McCabe on Pax by Sara Pennypacker
I have a few confessions to make. First, when I saw Pax by Sara Pennypacker at the bookstore, I knew I was going to buy it simply because of the wistful fox on the cover, by illustrator Jon Klassen (here’s a lovely interview where he discusses the artwork). So yes, I do judge books by their covers. Secondly, though the book is technically middle grade, and thus I justified my purchase by saying it was for my five-and-a-half year old son, I really bought it because I knew I would like it. I am an absolute sucker for heartfelt (even heartwrenching) animal stories, having grown up loving books like Beautiful Joe, Black Beauty, Misty of Chincoteague, Where the Red Fern Grows, Old Yeller, and the like. The book sat on my son’s nightstand for a few weeks, where I hoped (in vain) that it would garner his interest. It wasn’t until we ran across the audiobook at the library and I stuck it on in the car (under protest, I might add), that we became utterly hooked. The book has now been in nearly constant rotation for two weeks (both in the car and at home), with no sign of my son’s interest waning. We have listened to the entire novel at least seven times, and I’m here to say that I get something new out of it each time.
Pax is the deceptively simple story, written in clear language with lovely imagery and insight, and told in alternating points of view, of an inseparable boy and fox, who find themselves separated by a coming war. That’s the story I’m sure appeals to my son, the one about a boy whose dad is going off to war and forces him to abandon his pet fox in the woods, and the adventures the two have as they journey back to each other, meeting other instrumental characters (of human and fox variety) along the way. While my son’s favorite character in the novel is Pax, I dare you not to fall for prickly war-veteran Vola and spikey big-fox-sister Bristle, who each conceal their tenderness with sharpness.
It’s Vola and Bristle who help illuminate the parts of the story that most appeal to me, the “second story” beneath the main story of Peter and Pax, about learning to be yourself, learning what matters to you, learning how to recognize the truths you feel “in your core,” and overcoming your wounds. It’s a story about friendship and grief, the costs of war and the importance of honesty. It’s also about empathy and duty and doing what’s right, even when it’s really hard, even when you might not be successful, even if you’re scared. It’s about so many important things!
Pax may be a “kids’ book” but the literary writing and the deeper layers of meaning ensure it’s a book that will resonate with readers of all ages. One word of caution—this story does include brief war scenes, told from Pax’s perspective, and not all of the animal characters survive unharmed. A final confession: the first and last chapters just might have made me misty-eyed. I told you I was a sucker.
Erin Lindsay McCabe is the author of I Shall Be Near To You (Crown, 2014). A California native, Erin lives in the Sierra Foothills with her husband, son, and a small menagerie that includes one dog, four cats, two horses, ten goats and numerous chickens. You can also find her on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.