Illustrated by Jon Klassen
Balzer + Bray
Pax was only a kit when his family was killed, and “his boy” Peter rescued him from abandonment and certain death. Now the war front approaches, and when Peter’s father enlists, Peter has to move in with his grandpa. Far worse than being forced to leave home is the fact that Pax can’t go. Peter listens to his stern father—as he usually does—and throws Pax’s favorite toy soldier into the woods. When the fox runs to retrieve it, Peter and his dad get back in the car and leave him there—alone. But before Peter makes it through even one night under his grandfather’s roof, regret and duty spur him to action; he packs for a trek to get his best friend back and sneaks into the night. This is the story of Peter, Pax, and their independent struggles to return to one another against all odds. Told from the alternating viewpoints of Peter and Pax.
This book, to me, was like Disney’s The Fox and the Hound meets John Boyne’s Stay Where You Are and Then Leave. Well, it was all the things I loved about those stories. Pax was the cutest thing ever, and my heart totally broke for him as he got left behind. I loved Peter, too, for his devotion and loyalty to his fox. I wasn’t totally sure about Vola at first. I sort of expected her to be a brief presence in the story, but she stayed around, and actually, I came to love her, too. There’s one moment where she places her hands on Peter’s head, and it’s this really tender gesture, especially since Peter has been so starved for affection since his mom’s death. I totally bawled. It’s so sweet.
The illustrations also added a lot to the story. I loved the style of the drawings. It made me really want to give the book as a gift for Christmas. And I just might do that!
Some of the descriptions of war are a bit harsh, so this story definitely has some grit to it. In some ways, that only strengthened the power of the other themes about love and the value of a life, any life. If you liked Be Light Like a Bird by Monika Schröder, you will want to check this one out.
Vola describes herself as part Creole, part Italian among other things. Peter describes her as someone who used to speak another language that sounded like a song.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
Vola swears, saying “dyeableman.” At one we’re told Peter swears. (What he actually says doesn’t appear.)
Peter describes his connection with Pax as feeling a mental or spiritual connection. Vola tells him about the Buddhist concept of oneness—“two but not two.”
Land mines explode, killing and injuring animals. Vola lost her leg in a similar explosion. Pax learns to hunt and kill prey. He and the other foxes eat mice, etc.