The fox and his boy: Pax by Sara Pennypacker

Pennypacker, Sara. Pax. Balzer + Bray, 2016. 276 pages. Hardcover $14.59, ISBN 978-0-06-237701-2; PLB $20.46, ISBN 978-1-53792-339-0

TL;DR: Do I recommend this book? Yes!

Genre: Realistic fiction

Part of a series? No.

Plot Summary:

When Peter’s father announces that he must go to war, it means that Peter must move in with his silent grandfather … and give up his beloved fox, Pax. Pax is puzzled by his boy’s sadness that day in the car, and when his boy throws the toy soldier far into the woods, Pax thinks it’s a game of fetch. Instead, both fox and boy are crushed as Peter is forced to rush into the car and leave his fox behind. After his first day with his grandfather, Peter realizes he can’t leave Pax on his own in the wild. Peter sets off on foot to cover the distance to find his fox. Pax realizes that living in the wild is much harder than living with his boy. Can Pax learn to take care of himself? Will he be alone forever? Will Peter make it to his fox?

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This book KILLED ME. I have a “no books with animals on the cover” rule because if the book is meant to be serious, I KNOW I’ll be ugly-sobbing by the end. Pax definitely delivers on that front! On his adventures, Peter meets Vola, a war veteran with one leg. Vola is a powerful character, and I loved her chapters. Pax’s voice as a narrator is clear and beautiful. Ultimately, this is a great book that I know I will never read again (TOO MUCH CRYING). I would absolutely hand this to a fan of wilderness, survival, and animal stories.

Grade Level: 3-6

Awards and Starred Reviews:

Booklist starred, 11/01/15

Kirkus Reviews starred, 11/01/15

Publishers Weekly starred, 11/16/15

School Library Journal starred, 12/01/15


Illuminating, indeed: Flora and Ulysses– the Illuminated Adventures

DiCamillo, Kate. Flora & Ulysses — the Illuminated Adventures. Illustrated by K. G. Campbell. Candlewick Press, 2013. 231 pages. Hardcover $15.34, ISBN 978-0-7636-6040-6; 2015 Tr. $7.69; ISBN 978-0-7636-7671-1; 2016 Tr. $5.99, ISBN 978-0-7636-8764-9; 2015 PLB $13.61, ISBN 978-1-48985-703-3; 2016 PLB $12.01, ISBN 978-1-53790-222-7


TL;DR: Do I recommend this? Yes


Genre: Fantasy/Animal Story


Part of a series? No.


Plot Summary:

Flora’s vocabulary is a mix of high-scoring SAT words and comic book exaggeration, but it’s a delightful blend. Ulysses (a squirrel so named for the vacuum that nearly killed him and ends up imbuing him with superhero strength) is a poetry-writing, cat-fighting, high-flying squirrel determined to live life to its fullest. Will Flora’s mother (Ulysses’s arch-nemesis) successfully kill Ulysses? Or will Ulysses show everyone the power of love?


Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

Holy Bagumba! Another gem from DiCamillo, this book is utterly absorbing. I’m not the only one to think so; my copy from the library has annotations as a previous reader or two puzzled out the meanings of DiCamillo’s heftier vocab words. There are also annotations translated words and phrases into Chinese characters. While many might take pause at having a written-in library book, I was actually really happy to see that a reader was working through the text and making it work for them.


Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

This would be a wonderful book club book, and it could also be a good branching-out title for a reluctant reader. While not a graphic novel, it is “illuminated” with comic-strip interludes showing the action in a new way. It could be a good read for kids who are trying to read titles that aren’t quite Diary of a Wimpy Kid in style but that still incorporate a lot of illustration. (Idea from myself)


Grade Level: 3-6


Awards and Starred Reviews:

ALA Notable Children’s Book, 2014

Booklist starred 6/1/13

Kirkus Reviews starred 7/1/13

Newbery Medal 2014

Publishers Weekly starred 6/24/13

School Library Journal starred 8/1/13


Reviews referenced:

Bird, E. (2013, June 10). Review of the day: Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo (Review of the book Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures). School Library Journal. Retrieved from  Eisenhart, M. (n. d.). Flora and Ulysses: The illuminated adventures (Review of the book Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures). Common Sense Media. Retrieved from


Does the Squirrel Die? :   NO


Tags: comics, squirrels, vacuums, belief, writers, love, animal stories, superheroes


Of Mice and Music and Darkness and Thread and Soup: The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo


DiCamillo, Kate. The Tale of Despereaux. Candlewick, 2003. 272 pages. Paperback $17.99 ISBN 9780763617226


Despereaux is named for the despair he causes his mother at his birth — the only of the mouse litter to survive, he is also born with his eyes open, marking him from the very beginning as “different.” While the mouse community sees his differences as negative ones — ultimately banishing him from their society — the narrator helps readers to see that Despereaux’s “lack of conformity” is the very thing that makes him our little mousie hero. Despereaux braves certain death, rats, darkness, and a cook’s knife on his quest for the one he loves … will he be successful?

DiCamillo’s narration is gorgeous; it feels as though someone is sitting beside you, telling you the whole tale. The “Coda” at the end of the book reinforces this feeling, as the narrator asks that we imagine that we are like Gregory the jailer listening to Despereaux’s story in the dark. Truly, this book fills up a reader like light can brighten a bad day and soup can warm a person. This would be a fantastic book for book clubs or reader’s theatre — encouraging students to swap turns as narrator and perhaps having students “act out” the characters could be a lot of fun. There is also a great deal of space to discuss universal truths — fear, goodness, kindness, bravery — when reading through this book in a group. Despereaux is often fearful, but he works through his fear for the good of others. Roscuro is no doubt a bad guy … but we can see what made him that way. DiCamillo’s small lesson on “empathy” is perfectly packaged and will make for some great class or club discussions.