Welcome to the fifth installment of Brightly’s Book Club for Kids, where we help young readers find fun ways to read together! This month we’ve chosen a book about the special connection between a boy and his pet, and the lengths the two will go to reunite after they are separated. I think it’s destined to be a classic and hope your kids enjoy it as much as mine did. Just make sure to get multiple copies of Pax by Sara Pennypacker – my eight year old stole mine and it took me a week to get it back!
This Month’s Selection
Best For: Kids ages 8 – 12. This book will speak to the animal lovers in your group — and we dare any cynics not to fall in love with this fox and his boy.
What It’s About: Peter and Pax have been together ever since Peter rescued the orphaned kit, but when Peter’s father enlists in the military, he sends Peter to live with his grandfather and forces the boy to release Pax back into the wild. The separation leaves the young fox confused, and the boy heartbroken. Each are tested to their limits as they journey to reunite in a country on the brink of war.
Major Themes: Friendship, loyalty, determination, and the choices we all make to nurture the relationships that matter to us.
Why We Picked It: This book will shatter you and put you back together again in the way that only stories that touch us deeply can. If you grew up devouring The Black Stallion and still remember where you were when you read the final pages of Where the Red Fern Grows, we think you’ll be happy to share this book with the people you love most. Stories about the bonds between children and animals remind us all that love transcends human relationships.
A Word of Caution For Sensitive Readers: The main character Peter is abruptly forced to abandon his pet in a wrenching opening scene. Characters suffer physical injuries from war, including the loss of limbs.
Suggestions for Younger Readers: Too young to read Pax? Try one of these fox-centered picture books instead…
What You’ll Need for Book Club
You’ll need the book, DIY decorations, book-themed snacks, our printable discussion questions (see below), and access to the Internet.
- Make these adorable fox masks and transform your book club into a skulk of foxes in no time.
- Create your own bindle — because you can’t hit the road without something to carry your stuff. Make a traditional bindle with a stick (or a pole), and any piece of cloth you happen to have around. Just remember to put your copy of Pax inside before you head to book club!
- Peanut Butter Cookies: Peter sets out to find his fox with a jar of peanut butter because it’s Pax’s favorite food. I don’t blame him — peanut butter is delicious. It’s even better when you bake it into cookies, so whip up a batch before book group with this amazing recipe.
- Eggs: Pax discovers eggs early on in the book, and you can make the best scrambled eggs in a few short steps. Be grateful you don’t have to eat them raw!
- GORP: The perfect traveling food, GORP (“good old raisins and peanuts”) is lightweight, delicious and gives you plenty of energy to start a journey to find a lost friend. Start with this basic recipe, and personalize it with your favorite bite-sized treats.
The Book Club Discussion
Pax is a book about the power of relationships and how those relationships shape us. During book club, you have a chance to talk about extraordinary stories with the people you love. Use the opportunity to make those relationships even stronger by really listening to each other and hearing each other’s point of view. Discuss what motivates certain characters to act the way they do, and consider their perspective before you judge their actions. It will help you understand the book, and it’s also good practice for life.
- At its heart, this book is about a relationship between a boy and his pet. What is that relationship like, and how did it develop? Have you ever had a special connection with an animal?
- Discuss the relationships Peter has with Vola, his father, his grandfather, and Pax. How are they similar? How are they different? Which do you think is the most important to him, and why?
- Why do you think the author chose to write the book from alternating points of view? How did that help you understand the story?
- What happened when Pax met the other wild foxes? Why did they accept him? How did meeting them change Pax?
- In Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince, a fox tells the prince, “You become responsible forever for what you’ve tamed.” How does this relate to Peter’s relationship to Pax? Is there a difference between having a pet like a cat or a dog and domesticating a wild animal?
- War affects all the characters in the story, but the war itself isn’t named, and the author doesn’t tell you where the story takes place. Why do you think she chose to do that? How does war touch each character, both physically and emotionally, in the book?
- Adults make decisions in this story that affect children and animals. Is that fair? Should children have a say in decisions like going to war, or where to live?
- Did the ending of the book surprise you? What did Peter learn about himself and Pax that led him to make his decision?
- What does the last line in the story mean to you?
- What was your favorite scene or moment in this book, and why? Compare your answers.
Kick It Up a Notch
Games and Activities:
- Run Away Together: Fill your bindle (yep, the same one you put your book in) with your most valuable possessions. Think about what you’d really want to take with you if you were running away from home. Come together as a group and talk about what each person chose, and why. Were you surprised by what anyone picked?
- What Does the Fox Say?: Foxes vocalize in a unique way. If you wonder how Pax “talked” to his new skulk mates, search the internet for sites (like this one) that explore animal communication and see if you can figure out what the fox says.
- Have a Catch: Pax and Peter’s favorite game is fetch, so celebrate them with a game of catch or Frisbee in the yard or a local park.
- Volunteer at an Animal Shelter: Every year thousands of animals are abandoned by their owners. Local animal shelters devote time and money to caring for them until they find new homes. See if your local shelter takes volunteers, and spend time as a group helping out. You’ll be surprised by the difference you can make. (Quick tip: You can look up animal shelters near you here.)
- Take Me Out to the Ball Game: Peter and Vola talk a lot about baseball, so take a trip to the ballpark and watch a game together. The minor leagues are family-friendly and tickets are plentiful and inexpensive. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon.
- Put on a Puppet Show: No need to carve elaborate puppets like Vola — simple sock or paper bag puppets will do — but try your hand at story-telling in this form. Retell Peter and Pax’s journey, a classic fox fable, or a new, made-up story of your own. The sky’s the limit!
- Celebrate Fox Day: Every year in April, Rollins College in Florida celebrates Fox Day. On a day “too pretty to have class” the university’s president surprises the students with a day off. Now, we’re not advocating skipping school or work (wink, wink), but consider spending a beautiful spring day together doing something you enjoy together. Make sure to have plenty of snacks (Rollins College offers doughnuts, pancakes and an afternoon picnic), and be spontaneous!
What to Read Next
Want more fantastic stories about animals and their amazing bonds with the people who love them? Try these other titles:
This is the unforgettable story of the powerful connection between Billy and his dogs Old Dan and Little Ann. These three companions become the best hunting team in the Ozarks until tragedy changes everything.
When Alec Ramsey is shipwrecked on a deserted island, he discovers the only other inhabitant is a wild stallion. Alex tames the Black and forges a friendship that will see them through their rescue to an eventual place on the racetrack running against the world’s fastest horses.
When six-year-old Ben gets lost one summer day in 1870 on the vast prairie, it’s unlikely he’ll survive. Six months later he’s found, saved by an unlikely relationship with a wild female badger who protects and nurtures this shy young boy.
Mowgli the man-cub was raised by wolves, protected by Bagheera the panther and Baloo the Bear, and hunted by Shere Khan the tiger and Kaa the python. Here is the epic story of a young boy living entirely in the wild and the relationships he forges with the animals around him.
Travis and Old Yeller didn’t exactly hit it off when they first met, but Travis soon grows to see that Old Yeller is brave, clever, and devoted — all qualities that a young boy living on the wild Texas frontier needs in a dog. (Known for its tearjerker ending, you’ll want to make sure your child is ready for the emotional impact of Old Yeller before you dive in.)
Miyax, a young Eskimo girl, runs away from home and ends up lost in the Alaskan wilderness. Her only chance of survival? Acceptance into a wolf pack. Discover how Miyax navigates life among the wild wolves, and her eventual return to civilization.
Let us know what you think of Pax and share your own ideas for Book Club for Kids in the comments below!