Here’s why dust jacket art matters. I was first encouraged to pick up Pax when I caught a glimpse of its striking cover. Flipping through, I saw illustrations peppered throughout the book and thought this was just the ticket to encourage a budding young reader I know to sink her teeth into the story of a fox and his boy. Well, my young friend was unimpressed and never cracked the cover. I, on the other hand, was hooked from the start by the most heart-wrenching opening chapter I can ever recall reading. It was so devastating, I had to close the book and put it down for a while before I was ready to read on.
The titular character is a fox, raised from a kit by a boy named Peter. Motherless, Peter lives in the country with his father, where he and Pax can spend long hours rambling together. When an unnamed national conflict arises (the author is careful not to date the action), Peter’s father enlists, forcing the boy to release Pax back into the wild and leave his best friend far behind when he goes to live with his grandparents.
Over the course of this duel coming-of-age story, Peter struggles to tame his wildness (his anger) while Pax must foster his wildness in order to survive. The narrative excels because author Sara Pennypacker conveys the fox’s story and his communication with others (human and animal) without resorting to sugary anthropomorphizing. The spare and evocative pen and ink illustrations by Jon Klassen (he of the awesome Hat series of children’s picture books) are perfectly matched to the story.
In Pax, author Sara Pennypacker and illustrator Jon Klassen have created a Charlotte’s Web for a new generation, a rich experience that will resonate with readers of all ages.