I must admit that I, like many, am an absolute sucker for a beautiful cover. I have a select collection of ready-to-hold books but where the majority of my books go is my beloved Kindle. Yes, say what you want about reading on a technological device but I travel a lot and move a lot and sometimes books are not practical (sad to say it..). Anyway, I LOVE my carousel on my kindle to be covered with the most gorgeous covers and this was one of them for a while. Not to mention, there is a FOX on the cover – come on, if any of you have any idea, I am a fox lover… well actually, I am really a woodland creature lover but anyway, this book dragged me in with the stunning cover.
However, it was not only the cover that grabbed me. This is a children’s book and is about war. Anybody that knows me knows I am obsessed with anything about the WWI and WWII and I have dedicated my life to studying and working with children’s books so this book seemed the perfect choice for me. Unfortunately, this book was not a winner with me.
The book follows the tale of Pax, the fox and Peter, the boy as they try to find each other after being separated due to the encroaching war. Peter’s father is a harsh, unfeeling man who forces Peter to get rid of Pax in order for Peter to be evacuated. Peter, however, runs away whilst Pax lives in the forest. The tale that ensues is one of man and beast trying to find each other.
Sounds like a tearjerker, right? Wrong.
I don’t believe these critics who argue that because it’s a children’s book, an adult cannot enjoy it. I work with children’s books and enjoy them all, looking at them critically from each angle. So I know I didn’t enjoy this book but it’s not because I am not the intended audience.
Anyway, this book is pretty boring. The chapters alternate between Peter and Pax and to be honest, Peter’s chapters were very difficult to get through. Now, there are a nice few lessons for children to learn from Peter’s struggles and the companionship he finds on his travels however, his chapters felt rushed with no direction. Pax’s, on the other hand, were artistic and creative. Writing in the way she believes a fox would think, confused by the world and the events, Pennypacker has a beautiful way of capturing the forest and the dangerous scenery during the war. The illustrations that debut with this novel are equally as stunning and creative, adding a certain essence to the novel that cannot be found in others.
Character development is low in this story. With Peter, I didn’t care enough about him to want to know his history and struggles. Pax and the other foxes he meets are built on further and the almost-fantasy way that Pennypacker has the foxes tell their story through ‘mind-reading’ definitely paints a picture of the struggles of the creatures. It is strange though when the animals have more character development then the humans. I think Pennypacker would have been a lot smarter to write this book told solely through the eyes of Pax. The reason I say this is that the book had an Animals of Farthing Wood by Colin Dann feel to it and I feel it would have been just as successful if written like that. However, the book has been nominated for awards (possibly won by now) so it must be doing something right (I wrote ‘write’ here first and laughed for a little while about that…).
Finally, the ending is not what you expect. I expected to have my heart wrenched out of my chest, as is what usually happens when I read novels like this, except that did not happen. I must admit there is a shock and a bit of a heart stopping moment in the last 40% of the book but then you just feel unsatisfied with how it is tied up. I kind of wanted more but on Pax’s side, not Peter’s.
Overall, the book is alright. It’s nothing to write home about. It’s interesting and has an amazing message about the destruction of nature at the hands of humans but aside from that, it is just an okay read. I probably would suggest middle-graders and up to read this. It is quite violent in places but I know better books I have read this year and in my childhood that could do the same as this book does. If you are going to read this, read it solely for Pax and the illustrations because they make the book worth it.
I was disappointed in what seemed to be a promising book and for that, I have given it two stars unfortunately, a rating I do not often give.