Great middle grade reads: review of PAX by Sara Pennypacker

Although I write for middle grade I’m largely catching up on young adult reading at the moment, and amazing YA it is. That’s why I was extra thrilled to come across a middle grade book that really packed an emotional punch: PAX by Sara Pennypacker.

I haven’t read a dual voice narrative that works in quite a while, and Sara manages it elegantly, alternating between the fox’s world and “his boy,” Peter, whose father has pretty callously obliged Peter to abandon tpax_coverhe fox at the side of the road before the boy goes to live with his grandfather.

The fox’s outsider view of the human world is well done. As a writer it’s hard to choose which details of the “normal world” the outsider should fail to comprehend: I loved that the foxes don’t have a word for lying, or for tears. Sara has also laced in lovely realistic details of red fox behavior from her research into the animals, including details of how they show affection, and it all works beautifully.

PAX has picked up a reputation as a tearjerker — if you’re concerned that the story might be too much of a heartbreaker for a middle grade audience…well, there’s plenty of sadness in here, but nothing the 9 to 12 reader can’t cope with.

Artist Jon Klassen (I WANT MY HAT BACK) has done a superb emotional cover that captures the isolation of the book, and the book features an occasional black and white double page spread with his evocative, spare style, but I would’ve loved to see more of his work in this piece, the way Ongbico’s work was woven into THE WOLF WILDER, for example.

If you’d like to see more, there’s a video of my review above.

A gorgeous read and a brilliant animal story.

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