Updated: Sep 23, 2021
Pax, by Sara Pennypacker, with illustrations by Jon Klassen (2016)
The novel is about what Peter and Pax each get up to while they search for each other - each making new friends, and expanding their own definitions of what it means to be a human, what it means to be a fox, and what family means.
Peter meets a reclusive woman named Vola, living off the grid and perpetually punishing herself for things she's done in the past. They slowly become friends as each of them let their guard down, and begin to take care of one another, teach other (things like woodworking), and push each other to try new, difficult things (like getting out of the house and talking to other people in the community).
Pax meets other foxes for the first time since Peter found him as a kit, and creates a new family for himself. I read that Pennypacker consulted with a fox expert to try to make them as realistic as possible, and it shows. Not that I know anything about fox behavior, but I enjoyed the attention to detail regarding, in particular, Pax's sense of smell and how he uses it to understand the world around him.
The book also introduces the concept of "two but not two," which Vola describes as the Buddhist idea of oneness - "How things seem to be separate but are really connected to one another. There are no separations.” This can refer to Peter & Pax's relationship, about Vola's relationship to the wood and tools she works with... about everything and everyone being connected. It's a complex and profound concept for a book written for ages 10 and up, but Pennypacker does a nice job of keeping it simple and effective, and not heavy-handed in it's messaging.
I also love Jon Klassen's illustrations (and wished there were more of them!). He is well known for his series of books, I Want My Hat Back, This Is Not My Hat, and We Found a Hat. If you don't know them you should check them out, they're really cute and clever.
I read this book super slowly... In part this is because I am having trouble focusing just in general right now, with all that's going on in the world. But also once I finished it, I realized it was also because there is a lot of peace in it. A lot of slowing down, learning, and appreciating the world. Maybe I wanted to stretch that out a bit. And maybe it felt not unlike what we're all trying to do now.
UP NEXT: The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman