Genre: Animals

The Heart of a Fox: Pax by Sara Pennypacker (2016)

The Heart of a Fox: Pax by Sara Pennypacker (2016)Pax by Sara Pennypacker, Jon Klassen
Published by Balzer + Bray on February 2nd 2016
Genres: Animals, Fantasy, Middle Grade
Pages: 304
Goodreads
five-stars

Pax was only a kit when his family was killed, and “his boy” Peter rescued him from abandonment and certain death. Now the war front approaches, and when Peter’s father enlists, Peter has to move in with his grandpa. Far worse than being forced to leave home is the fact that Pax can’t go. Peter listens to his stern father—as he usually does—and throws Pax’s favorite toy soldier into the woods. When the fox runs to retrieve it, Peter and his dad get back in the car and leave him there—alone. But before Peter makes it through even one night under his grandfather’s roof, regret and duty spur him to action; he packs for a trek to get his best friend back and sneaks into the night. This is the story of Peter, Pax, and their independent struggles to return to one another against all odds. Told from the alternating viewpoints of Peter and Pax.

Remember all those Middle Grade ARCs I acquired at ALA Midwinter? Well, PAX was one of them, and I am happy to say that it was one of my first 5 Star reads of 2016 in the world of Middle Grade!

Thank you, HarperCollins, for providing me with the opportunity to give my honest review of the book.

What I Loved:

This was a beautiful and heart-wrenching book, sensitive in its depiction of the animal world and the relationship between a young person and his beloved pet. There were many things I loved about this book I’d like to share with you:

-The way the book switches between the perspectives of Pax (the fox) and Peter (Pax’s owner). When Pax and Peter are separated, they (and the reader) want to be reunited, but will Peter be able to find Pax in the woods where he was force to leave him? This is the question…

“You going back for your home or for your pet?”

“They’re the same thing.”

-The sensitive way Pennpacker depicted Pax’s first encounter with the great outdoors.

-The relationship between Peter and Vola, and the multi-dimensional nature of Vola’s character. There was so much to her, and these layers were revealed as the story unfolded.

“I was so lost, I needed to find out all the true things about myself. The little things to the biggest of all: what did I believe in at my core?”

-The depiction of the other foxes Pax encountered and the development of their relationships. Trust me, this aspect of the book was marvelous! I absolutely adored Gray, Bristle, and Runt. I think you will too.

What Was Heartwrenching:

-Peter’s struggle to let Pax go in the beginning of the story–obviously his father was forcing him to do this, and that made it all the more painful to read about.

-Pax’s feelings of confusion that Peter left him in the woods.

-Peter’s journey to finding Pax with its delays and challenges.

-Pax’s interaction with the other foxes in the woods.

BUT NO SPOILERS WILL BE ILLUMINATED HERE…

You can definitely read Pax in one sitting, but it’s also a book you can read over the course of a few days, which I did. Either way, I think you will appreciate the pace and the journey of both Peter and Pax. You may not expect the conclusion, or you might…regardless, this is the kind of story that may stick in your head for quite awhile after you’ve read it.

Some Ponderings:

As I reflected on the story before I was even finished, I’ve considered how reading a book from the perspective of a fox has made me more aware of how the growth of our world (of humans) has affected the animal and natural world.

One area I’m really interested in is how children’s literature can nurture a passion in young readers to care for the natural and animal world. How can books speak to us in a meaningful way so that we take action for the good of our world, in terms of our natural spaces and animal life?

These are some of the questions and ponderings I had as I was reading Pax and I’m looking forward to hearing what other readers are thinking and how this book might be a springboard for discussion and action around these issues for both young and old readers. Have you read Pax? What did you think?

five-stars
What Katie Read

Bookish Illuminations: Rain Reign (2014) by Ann M. Martin

Bookish Illuminations: Rain Reign (2014) by Ann M. MartinRain Reign by Ann M. Martin
Published by Macmillan on October 7th 2014
Genres: Animals, Dogs, Middle Grade, Realistic, Social Issues, Special Needs
Pages: 240
Goodreads
five-stars

Rose Howard is obsessed with homonyms. She’s thrilled that her own name is a homonym, and she purposely gave her dog Rain a name with two homonyms (Reign, Rein), which, according to Rose’s rules of homonyms, is very special. Not everyone understands Rose’s obsessions, her rules, and the other things that make her different – not her teachers, not other kids, and not her single father.When a storm hits their rural town, rivers overflow, the roads are flooded, and Rain goes missing. Rose’s father shouldn’t have let Rain out. Now Rose has to find her dog, even if it means leaving her routines and safe places to search. Hearts will break and spirits will soar for this powerful story, brilliantly told from Rose’s point of view.

Suggested age range: 9 and up

If you read my Friday 56 post, you’ll know that today I plan to share with my thoughts on Ann M. Martin’s Middle Grade stand alone, Rain Reign.  Happy Monday and Enjoy!

Illuminations

First things first.

I loved Rose’s relationship with her dog, Rain. When things became difficult between her and her father, Rain was a source of comfort and protection. Rain was also a joy for Rose’s classmates to see the day she follows Rose into her classroom–this created a space for Rain to talk about something with her classmates beside homonyms.

When Rain is lost in a big storm about halfway through the book, things get a little tense, and like many other readers, I’m sure, I was hoping against hope that Rain would be found. Rose finds out what one must do to search for a lost pet after a storm, and she is remarkably adept and detail-oriented; she does what she has to do. What makes the book so fantastic is the way the reader gets a true glimpse into Rose’s thought processes by hearing her side of things. As someone who reads a lot of children’s and young adult literature, I’m endlessly fascinated by the notion of an adult author trying to portray the perspective of a young person. Will it work or won’t it? I like what Ann M. Martin has done here, with this story, but it’s always helpful to remember that this is a work of writing by an adult. Raising this point makes for interesting discussion, that’s for sure, and it’s a point that is unique the world of children’s literature.

With that in mind, getting close to Rose’s voice and her dreams and disappointments is an important part of the book. Even though readers may not come into contact with children with Asperger’s on a daily basis, reading Rose’s story can raise readers’ awareness, and though it’s fiction, the story gives us the opportunity to develop compassion for a young character who possesses a unique perspective on her surroundings. This brings up something that I think good fiction can accomplish: it can affect our social sensitivity.

Rose’s mother is absent from her life, and her father is often at the bar after work. But Rose’s uncle and Rose share a significant relationship, and he spends time with her. So, though Rose’s parents aren’t there for her as much as she needs, her relationship with her uncle fills a gap, and this is crucial.

Who Should Read This Book

Fans of Lisa Graff’s Absolutely Almost will definitely appreciate this book. As I was reading it, I couldn’t help but think about Albie in Graff’s newest novel. It’s interesting that I read both of these books fairly close to one another. They both feature rich and authentic child protagonists who are making sense of themselves and those around them.

Both books highlight heartwarming narratives that are uplifting, but they don’t skate around the sad things that happen to Rose and Albie. Sometimes it can seem difficult to find books with protagonists living with autism, but Graff and Martin have provided two 2014 books that provide such books for readers.

Rose announces that she has been diagnosed with Asperger’s in the second chapter of the book—this isn’t something hidden from the reader. Rose is an endearing character, and just as Albie’s perspective is provided for the reader, making it easier to understand him, Martin does the same in the narrative for Rose. Because we get a deeper glimpse into Rose’s thought processes through the story, we feel more compassion for her and what she’s going through. And so many of us know what it’s like to be searching for a lost pet! In that respect, the book is relevant to a huge spectrum of readers.

And just look at that cover! The title (a homonym—and you know, Rose is obsessed with homonyms) and the cover image were enough to draw me in to read the book. The hues, the silhouette of Rose and Rain, and the font style of the title certainly caught my eye. What I felt: Mystery, excitement, and hope for what was beyond the storm. (If seeing that Ann M. Martin wrote it hadn’t been enough!)

The Final Illumination

I grew up reading all of Ann M. Martin’s Babysitter Club books. Though I read series books as well as stand alones and a huge variety of genres, I appreciated the comfort and the patterns in the Babysitter Club plots. I followed the lives of Kristy, Mary Ann, Dawn, Stacy, and Claudia, and loved the fact that they would be the same girls every time I started a new book. Ann M. Martin was definitely an important author to my young reader self.

More recently, I’ve read one of her Doll People books, but no other stand alones she’s written. Now that I’ve read Rain Reign, I plan to hunt down the others—because she’s not just talented at writing series books. With Rain Reign she’s crafted a beautiful, but not overly sweet story about a girl learning to navigate the world of home and school, while facing challenges that many children never have to deal with. Her story is an important one, and though I had pretty high expectations for this one, I was even more blown away by Ann M. Martin’s ability to pull me into Rose’s world, and feel tremendously sad as I turned that last page. (Sad, at least, that I was saying goodbye to Rose!)

Did you read this 2014 realistic novel? Did you like it as much as I did?

five-stars
What Katie Read

A Silverback’s Promise: The One and Only Ivan

A Silverback’s Promise: The One and Only IvanThe One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
Published by Harper Collins on January 17th 2012
Genres: Animals, Apes, Monkeys, etc, Fantasy, Friendship, Middle Grade, Social Issues, Zoos
Pages: 336
Goodreads
five-stars

Winner of the 2013 Newbery Medal and a #1 New York Times bestseller, this stirring and unforgettable novel from renowned author Katherine Applegate celebrates the transformative power of unexpected friendships. Inspired by the true story of a captive gorilla known as Ivan, this illustrated novel is told from the point-of-view of Ivan himself. Having spent 27 years behind the glass walls of his enclosure in a shopping mall, Ivan has grown accustomed to humans watching him. He hardly ever thinks about his life in the jungle. Instead, Ivan occupies himself with television, his friends Stella and Bob, and painting. But when he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from the wild, he is forced to see their home, and his art, through new eyes.The One and Only Ivan was hailed as a best book of the year by Kirkus, School Library Journal, and Amazon, demonstrating it is a true classic in the making. In the tradition of timeless stories like Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little, Katherine Applegate blends humor and poignancy to create Ivan's unforgettable first-person narration in a story of friendship, art, and hope. An author's note depicts the differences between the fictional story and true events.Supports the Common Core State Standards

Suggested age range: 8 and up

When the Newbery winner was announced for 2012, and I realized I had not read the awarded book, I quickly remedied the situation and settled down to read Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan. The story reminded me a little of The Magician’s Elephant, another fantasy novel you would do well to read, if you have not. Currently, we are reading Applegate’s book aloud in my 8th grade English classroom.

First, however, a few words about Ivan.

“I was born in a place humans call central Africa, in a dense rain forest so beautiful, no crayons could ever do it justice.”

Ivan is a gorilla. He is a friend to an elephant and a stray dog, an observer of humans, and an artist. He lives in a mall.

“I have been in my domain for nine thousand eight hundred and fifty-five days. Alone.”

If you haven’t met Ivan, you can expect your life to be changed when you do. This novel about a gorilla who lives at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video arcade is truly a winner. It’s heartbreaking and hopeful. It’s humorous and moving. It is a work of children’s literature that will engage your heart—it is a story with the potential to nurture the spirit of the reader.

“I know what most humans think. They think gorillas don’t have imaginations. They think we don’t remember our pasts or ponder our futures.”

Ivan is no ordinary gorilla. He watches television, spends time with his dear friends, Stella, an old elephant who also performs at the mall, and Bob, a stray dog. The trio bond as each day illuminates the same routine—show after show, day after day–for the humans who come to view the animals. Stella is an important figure to Ivan as she mentors, encourages, and challenges him.

“Stella says she is sure I will see another real, live gorilla someday, and I believe her because she is even older than I am and has eyes like black stars and knows more than I will ever know.”

Furthermore, Ivan is an artist. He loves to draw, and his drawings catch quite a penny in the mall gift shop. In this first person narrative, Ivan’s thoughts and observations about the world reflect a character we quickly grow to love.

At one point in the story, the animals realize a new arrival is on its way—another friend to join them. When Ruby, a young elephant arrives, Ivan takes it upon himself to be her protector. With Stella’s encouragement, Ivan begins to wonder whether there is another life for Ruby—a life beyond the monotony of performing for humans at the mall in show after show, day after day. Will Ivan’s friendship and his artistic creations be enough to help Ruby?

“ ‘I’ve always been an artist. I love drawing.’ ‘Why do you love it?’ Ruby asks. I pause. I’ve never talked to anyone about this before. ‘When I’m drawing a picture, I feel…quiet inside.’”

How will the different relationships Ivan has cultivated at the mall change as the story unfolds? These are questions for you, dear reader, to ponder as you experience Applegate’s novel. Rather than share my thoughts about the end of the novel, I will refrain, so that you can be surprised.

The One and Only Ivan raises multiple significant themes, including the idea that compassion for others leads to action and intervening on their behalf. The story suggests that expressing our creativity in surprising ways can lead to transformational experiences that bring hope and love to others. The relationships among the characters communicates the idea that our connections with others are vital, life changing and can affect us in ways we do not expect.

You will surely want to meet The One and Only Ivan, winner of this year’s Newbery medal.

five-stars
What Katie Read
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