PAX – Sara Pennypacker

Nature has two enemies; a man fighting nature and a man fighting another man.

I first learned about this book in Best Book Portal last winter and the strange story of a fox-pet and a bit of hyggelig cover made me go to the my local library as soon as I could. Which meant tomorrow morning.

I started reading it the same evening and finished it the next day. The other books I was reading at the time had to wait patiently for my attention later.

Duty calls, and we answer in this family.

Pax by Sara Pennypacker

The duty that invokes Peter’s father is called war. In order to fulfill this duty, the father decided to do what, in his estimation he had to do, send his son Peter to his grandfather, 500 kilometers away from home. And by the way, on the way there, finally release that fox into the wild. It’s war. Who has the time and resources to take care of a wild animal that doesn’t belong to humans anyway?

Even Peter is no longer a child, his father thinks; he brought that fox home, he will bring it back to the forest.

The father pointed to the woods. The boy looked at his father for a long moment, his eyes streaming again. And then he dried his face with the neck of his T-shirt and nodded. He reached into his jeans pocket and withdrew an old plastic soldier, the fox’s favorite toy.

The fox came to alert, ready for the familiar game. His boy would throw the toy, and he would track it down—a feat the boy always seemed to find remarkable. He would retrieve the toy and wait with it in his mouth until the boy found him and took it back to toss again.

And sure enough, the boy held the toy soldier aloft and then hurled it into the woods. 

Pax by Sara Pennypacker

A few hours later, Peter is safe. He should stay with his grandfather until the war is over, until his father returns home. But something is wrong. Peter knew before it happened that something was wrong. Didn’t his dad grow up with a pet too? Did he not remember that there was not only an unbreakable bond between the child and his pet; that they really are one soul?

Ever since Peter’s mother passed away, when Peter was just seven years old, something had happened to his father. He became a man who seemed to only know the cold resignation of life and the anger that he often could not control. He too became like a grandfather – a flamboyant temperament, always on the verge of a rage.

When Peter found Pax and rescued him from the cold fox’s den, he knew by then that the two had something in common. And the little fox remained motherless and barely alive, trembling between the cold and stiff calves of his brothers and sisters. The loyalty and love that Pax develops towards this boy from the first day of his new life is a stronger bond than the wild animal has with nature.

Remembering all this, Peter knows he has no choice.

He writes a letter to his grandfather and travels the 500 kilometers long way toward his fox, his friend – the only unspoiled relationship left in his life.

On the other side of the distance between him and the boy, the fox faces a world that would have been destined for him if Peter had not found him and had by any chance succeeded in surviving. The world it reveals (to itself and the reader) is marvelous and magical; he is not entirely sure, but he seems just, unlike the world created for himself by humans. But the fox wants his boy. He saw what the war was doing, what the war was bringing, and he wants to protect Peter.

So these two innocent souls go in search of one another; they are drawn to the unique bond that they created when they were little, scared, forgotten, rejected, and when they lacked someone – at least one person – to love them selflessly, sacrificially, like a mother they no longer had.

Will it succeed in overcoming the nature of nature and the nature of humans in that journey?

This book is one of those that does not fall out of hand until it is read, and then you would at least wan to hug them a little more. Yes, this is a story of friendship and loyalty – and as such, it is already beautiful, already enough to be exceptional.

But this story carries with it two more powerful meditations on important topics; about war and the price of war, and about nature and man’s relation to it.

It seems at the outset that the war is some kind of ancillary, marginal story that will provide a good reason for the boy’s father’s absence. However, as soon as we get to know the other foxes through Pax – and as soon as we get to know Vola through Peter, it becomes clear that this book is a message and an incentive to look at an important topic – the price of war.

The fact is, if we just lift our heads off the screen and even, I’ll be cheeky, get our noses out of books, and we hear and see that the threat of war is rising on the horizons of our worlds.

People flee from their countries. The places where they come to find peace and security are also not safe; every once in a while, as the little fox in the book calls, people who are “infected with war” kill those who want to feel safe.

It’s not, I think, coincidental that Sara Pennypacker just got the idea for this book a year or two ago. And it is no accident that the book bears the title it bears.

She wanted to write a story-alert; she wanted to remember, through the lives of young foxes, what was lost in war and how cruelly it was lost; she wanted to recall through Peter’s story that children were not spared, but that they were paying the price both during and after the war; she wanted Vola to tell us the story of how war makes man no longer recognize himself.

And when you forget who you are, says Vola, you forget who you care about and forget what is right to do.

In war, the bonds between man and man are broken, between man and nature; between friends and friends.

Why did Sarah write a book on this topic specifically for children? Because maybe only children hear… Because maybe only children understand and can do something not to grow up infected with war.

When little fox Pax describes his boy, he talks about the hope the author has of the new generations to come.

We are the ones who do not need to remain silent in front of these children about the true cost of war. Maybe we need to hurt their eyes and ears so that one day they don’t hurt their souls, their friendships, their world.

The more beautiful but equally important message of this story concerns the necessity of building a relationship between man and man, but also between nature and man. I know we forgot to look and experience nature the way Pax sees it.

Just look at the examples of how a small fox experiences the world around him:

The spiky pine scents – wood, bark, cones and needles – cut through the air like blades, but he recognized the softer clover and wild garlic and ferns, as well as hundreds of other things he had never encountered before that smelled green and irresistible. .


Spiky scents. Soft clover. Smell green and irresistible.

“The morning air was pulsing with the sounds of spring. During the long last night, they scared Pax. The darkness trembled with the ripples of the night-time vultures, and even the sounds of the trees – the twisting of the leaves, the resin piercing through the young tree, the barely perceptible crackling of the trunk that was expanding – would carry him every time as he waited for Peter to return. Finally, when the sky turned silver from dawn, he fell asleep.


Darkness that trembles. Night Vultures. The sky is silver since dawn.

As I read all the little foxes telling Pax about people, I wondered if they were really right? Are we really like that?

I’m afraid the answer is – we’re even worse. We are even worse to nature.

Can nature trust us as protectors, not just exploiters? I’m afraid of the answer to that question, too. And it shouldn’t be that way. It must not be so.

Occasionally there is talk in the society I live in that I hardly know the generations that were born after me, who would know how to light a fire, cultivate the land, identify weeds from a sapling, plant something, nurture any wild or domestic animal, catch any edible fish?

If all the markets and shops were gone tomorrow, I wonder how many of us would know what to do to produce or find food for ourselves?

And I am afraid of this answer because in the answer lies the exact distance between man and nature; I am afraid that it is greater than the 500 kilometers Peter has decided to master in order to meet one piece of wildlife, one piece of nature that he grew up with and which grew up with in him.

In what way, I asked myself, am I helping nature, the part of it that is left over? I don’t like the answer to this question either. I think I can do better. I think I need to do better.

Beautiful this is a story about a boy-pet friendship, but she is much, much, MUCH more than that.

For me, this book was a poignant reminder of the role of parents, of the role of educator. I would like all our children to be much more courageous and much more entrepreneurial when it comes to preserving peace and their well-being than we are today.

I want our kids to never have to say this to themselves:

I never wanted any of this, but I did not fight against this. I do not know why I did not fight.


I want the war not to touch them and, like Vola, not to forget who they are, what matters to them and what is right to do.

Thank you for your patience!

4 thoughts on “PAX – Sara Pennypacker”

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