“Pax” by Sarah Pennypacker

Related imageThe Plot In 5 Sentences Or Less:  War is approaching and Peter’s father must go off to fight.  Before he leaves, he forces Peter to leave his pet fox, Pax, in the woods; it is not welcome at his grandfather’s house where Peter must stay for the time being.  After leaving Pax and traveling to his grandfather’s, Peter is wracked by guilt and decides that he must journey to find his fox.  Alone in the woods, Pax learns the way of the wild foxes and learns that as the war draws closer, the animals must travel to safety.  Both Peter and Pax find themselves on a journey on which they will discover much about themselves.

My Take: I thought that this was an engaging book from the first page.  Pennypacker manages to relate the story of a child’s attachment to his pet in a way that is heartfelt but not sentimental.  I also appreciated that she portrays realistic fox behavior but also uses a deft amount of anthropomorphism to draw in the reader.  The foxes came across as both believable animals and interesting characters.  I found that the narrative slowed down a touch when Peter sought refuge at a hermit’s house, but I thought the ending was sheer magic and more than made up for it.

One Interesting Note About The Author:  Pennypacker is also the author of the Clementine book series.

Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool


The Plot (in 5 sentences or less):  The year is 1946 and 13 year old Jack Baker from Kansas is sent to the Morton Hall Academy for Boys in Maine after his mother dies and his father returns to the Navy.  At his new school, Jack feels like an outsider but soon meets Early Auden, an eccentric boy who has a genius for such things as mathematics and small boat craft and is also constructing an elaborate story around the number pi.  As their friendship develops, Jack learns that Early is also mourning his brother, who was reported dead in France in World War II.  Over fall break, the two boys push off into the Kennebec River and go on a mysterious journey that will bring them closer to their lost loved ones.

My Take:  From the midpoint of the book until the end, Vanderpool injects a strong dose of magical realism, involving such things as pirates, anthropomorphic bears, and a volcano.  I was initially skeptical of these fantastical elements, but, towards the final chapters, I decided that the author had pulled it off.  I would consider this a very special book that explores the mysteries of grief.  There is a great deal of symbolism and meaning and Vanderpool draws heavily on fairy tale and archetypes to add depth to the narrative.  I found Navigating Early to be a profound exploration of how we search for answers in our bereavement.  (ages 12+)

One Interesting Note About the Author:  Vanderpool researched Navigating Early by visiting Maine and exploring lighthouses, a boarding school, and even taking a hike on the Appalachian Trail.  She did not see any bears.




Call of the Klondike by David Meissner and Kim Richardson


The Plot (in 5 sentences or less):  This nonfiction book follows the journey of two young men, Marshall Bond and Stanley Pearce, as they journey into the Klondike during the gold rush.  Starting in the summer of 1897, they make the decision to head for British Columbia only a few hours after gold rumors began flying.  Sailing to Skaguay, Alaska by ship, the men put together an outfit and journey over the White Horse Trail, over several lakes, and into the waters of the Yukon River.  They arrive in Dawson City in the fall, build a cabin, make connections and begin doing the hard work of staking and working a mining claim.


My Take:  I was impressed by the use of primary source material, the letters of Bond and Pierce, throughout the book.  Selected passages from the letters are interesting and understandable to modern younger readers.  The authors’ own writings that are interspersed between the letters adds a fuller picture of the arduous Klondike journey.  The generous amount of photographs and maps also add to the appeal.  I would absolutely recommend this book to younger readers interested in the gold rush of the late 1890’s.  Ages 12+


One Interesting Note About the Author(s):  Kim Richardson is the great-great-grand nephew of Stanley Pearce.   In the summer of 2010, David Meissner retraced some of the journey of Bond and Pearce into the Klondike.  He stated that “every step of the trail made me appreciate the toughness of these stampeders.”