The Classroom Bookshelf
Inside The Classroom Bookshelf


Written by Sara Pennypacker Illustrated by Jon Klassen
Published in 2016 by Balzer + Bray
Grades 4-8
ISBN: 978-0-06-237701-2
Book Review
With eloquent prose and gripping plot development, Sara Pennypacker guides readers through a tumultuous and tender story about love, loyalty, grief, and the complex interdependence between humans and animals. Pax was a vulnerable kit alone in the woods when Peter rescued him. Years later, when Peter’s father enlists in the military to fight in an encroaching war, Peter, now an adolescent, must return his beloved fox to the woods and move in with his surly grandfather 300 miles away. Chapters alternate between Pax’s quest to find “his boy” in an unknown landscape and Peter’s rigorous pursuit of Pax after regretting the abandonment of his beloved pet. Peter sustains an injury on the first night of his journey and is taken in by Vola. While Vola nurses Peter back to physical strength, she begins to heal from her own post-traumatic stress disorder associated with her service in a previous war. At times, descriptions of the consequences of war are graphic and painful. Jon Klassen’s black-and-white pencil illustrations heighten our understanding of select moments giving readers an opportunity to pause and reflect on the loneliness, uncertainty, and unwavering hope that drive the story. A luminous read aloud or independent reading selection, Pax offers countless opportunities to discuss empathy building and our human need to find belonging as well as cross curricular connections to studies of animal behavior and adaptation.

Teaching Ideas / Invitations for Your Classroom:
Grades 4-8
Exploring and Expressing Empathy. Explore with students what empathy means. In what ways are human and animal characters empathetic in Pax? Discuss the ways Grey, Runt, and Bristle are each eventually empathetic towards Pax in different ways. Compare and contrast the ways the foxes express empathy with how Vola and Peter express empathy towards one another. How is the empathy of others necessary for the survival of both Pax and Peter? Start an expressing empathy campaign in your classroom either through daily journaling or through a class empathy wall where students can record and share the ways others are empathetic towards them and the ways they, in turn, are expressing empathy towards others.
Persistence as Power. Discuss with students the ways in which Peter and Pax are persistent in their quests to find one another.  Support students to discuss with text evidence the ways in which persistence is a necessary mindset given their surroundings?  What are the ways in which persistence gives them power under harsh conditions? Encourage students to consider the ways in which they are persistent in their own lives and how it makes them powerful in the face of obstacles.
Internal Thinking Craft Study. Sara Pennypacker brings us inside the minds of Pax and Peter through the wide use of descriptions of their internal thinking throughout the book. Consider having internal thinking a central craft study throughout your students’ reading of the book. Engage students in discussion of the ways in which internal thinking offers essential insight into Peter but especially Pax. Have students create their own animal and human characters crafting lines of imagined internal thinking to bring the characters to life.
Humans and Animals Text Set. The world of children’s literature has many powerful stories about the relationship between humans and animals. Consult with your school or local librarian and gather some of your favorites for text clubs or as available independent reading selections. In particular, consider Katherine Applegate’s One and Only Ivan, Lois Sepabhan’s Paper Wishes, Ann Martin’s Rain Reign, E.B. White’s canonical Charlotte’s Web, Ginny Rorby’s Hurt Go Happy: A Novel. Pair these fictional works, with narrative nonfiction texts about humans who have devoted their lives to the study of animals including books about Jane Goodall and Alan Robinowitz.
Duet Model: Paxand The Wild Robot as Survival Stories. Paxand The Wild Robot by Peter Brown are both books published in 2016 that explore the nature of survival against the odds. Use both of these books as class read-alouds or have students engage in book clubs reading with a contextual lens to better understand the nature of how the characters survive and adapt to new and changing environments. Following this duet text study, have students work in small groups to present the key plot points of these survival stories and the ways in which the characters rely on the care of others to adapt.
Duet Model: Paxand Maybe a Fox. Pair Paxwith Kathy Appelt and Alison McGhee’s Maybe a Fox. Discuss with students the ways in which both books include the perspectives of foxes and the issues of war and loss. In what ways do the foxes in both books sense danger? How is hope portrayed in each book? Have students compare the genres of both books noting the ways in which Maybe a Fox is an example of magical realism.
Contrasting War and Peace Text Set. War is a constant presence throughout the book, although not always a central plot point. Engage students in a discussion of the ways in which war is present throughout the book. How does the impending war affect the human characters? How does it affect the foxes? Have students research the etymology of the word “pax”. In what ways is Pax himself an important symbol of peace? In what ways do Pax and Peter serve as symbolic contrasts to the war engulfing their landscape? Compare the impact of the unspecified war in Pax with World War II in the debut novel Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk and in Kimberly Brubaker Bradley’s The War that Saved My Life. How are the communities similarly affected? What are the differences in the ways in which war is portrayed?
Redefining Family.Explore with students the complex relationship between Peter and his father. What are the ways in which Peter is determined to be different from his father? Further this discussion by engaging in a lyric study of songs that focus on father-son relationships such as Cat Stevens’ “Father and Son”, Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle”, Neil Young’s “Old Man”, and Bruce Springstein’s “My Father’s House”. Discuss with students the father’s motivations to make Peter leave Pax in woods. Have students engage in a debate about whether they think Peter’s father had known there were landmines in the woods where they abandoned Pax. Have students consider the ways in which Vola becomes family for Peter and vice versa. Likewise, what are the ways in which Grey, Runt, and Bristle become Pax’s new family.
Puppets as a Tool for Healing. Discuss the ways in which Vola’s puppets offer a way for her to escape from the pain she feels about her own service in war. Why does she keep them and herself hidden from others until Peter’s arrival? How does sharing of the puppets at the local library serve as a pathway towards her own inner peace? Research with students the art of puppetry and the ways in which puppetry is used in post-traumatic stress therapy today. Support students in small groups to engage in their own creative process of making puppets to perform stories. Consider having students create puppets to reenact Pax by focusing on the ways in which they want to communicate the story and the feelings the characters experience.
Author Study. Sara Pennypacker’s work is as varied as it is beloved. Gather several of her books for students to explore such as Summer of the Gypsy Moths and the Clementineseries (see Further Investigations below). Listen to her interview with National Public Radio and view her site with students to learn more about her life, her writing process, and what inspires her. Engage in a shared or interactive writing session to document questions students have for Sara Pennypacker that are not already listed on her site or post a shared message to her online guestbook available through her author’s site.
Illustrator Study. Like Sara Pennypacker, Jon Klassen’s work is varied, award-winning, and far reaching. Gather some of his books (see Further Investigations below) for exploration and to more closely study his techniques as an illustrator. View his Tumblr page to engage in a class study of visual literacy noticing the use or absence of color, his use of materials and methods, and the overall tone of his work using visual evidence.
Critical Literacy
Animal Activism. Consider issues of power and perspective throughout the book. Who is powerful and who is not? In what ways do humans hold power of the animals in the story? Engage in class research about animal activism, especially on the parts of children using sites such as Animal Hero Kids, Friends of Animals, PETA Kids, and The Humane Society.   Consider actions you can take as a class to aid in wildlife issues in your local area such as writing letters to your local newspaper or creating public service announcements about endangered animals in your area. 
Further Investigation
Online Resources
Author’s Site
Illustrator’s Site
National Public Radio Interview
Pax Discussion Guide
Animal Hero Kids
Friends of Animals
The Humane Society
Puppeteers of America
Applegate, K. (2012). The one and only Ivan. New York, NY: Harper Collins.
Appelt, K. & McGhee, A. (2016). Maybe a fox. New York, NY: Atheneum.
Brown, P. (2016). The wild robot. New York, NY: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
Bradley, K. B. (2015). The war that saved my life. New York, NY: Dial Books for Young Readers.
Klassen, J. (2011). I want my hat back. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press.
Klassen, J. (2012). This is not my hat. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press.
Klassen, J. (2016). We found a hat. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press.
Martin, A. (2014). Reign rain. New York, NY: Feiwel and Friends.
Pennypacker, S. (2013). Summer of the gypsy moths. New York, NY: Balzer + Bray.
Pennypacker, S. (2014). Clementine and the spring trip. New York, NY: Disney-Hyperion.
Rabinowitz, A. (2014). A boy and a jaguar. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Rorby, G. (2016). Hurt go happy: A novel. New York, NY: Tor Teen.
Sepahban, L. (2016). Paper wishes. New York, NY: Farrar Straus Giroux.
White, E.B. (1952). Charlotte’s web. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Wolk, L. (2016). Wolf hollow. New York, NY: Dutton Books for Young Readers.  
Katie Cunningham About Katie Cunningham

Katie is an Associate Professor of Literacy and English Education at Manhattanville College. Her work focuses on children’s literature, joyful literacy methods, and literacy leadership. Katie is the author of Story: Still the Heart of Literacy Learning and co-author of Literacy Leadership in Changing Schools. Her book Start with Joy: Designing Literacy Learning for Student Happiness will be released September 2019. She is passionate about the power of stories to transform lives.


  1. A powerful and poignant book!