Pax by Sara Pennypacker

Some books grab hold of your heart from the first page and don’t let go, even when you’ve reached the last page.  When I first heard about Pax by Sara Pennypacker I knew that it was going to be one of those books and from the moment I picked it up I knew I was going to love it.

PaxPax and Peter have been inseparable ever since Peter rescued him as a kit. But one day, the unimaginable happens: Peter’s dad enlists in the military and makes him return the fox to the wild.

At his grandfather’s house, three hundred miles away from home, Peter knows he isn’t where he should be—with Pax. He strikes out on his own despite the encroaching war, spurred by love, loyalty, and grief, to be reunited with his fox.

Meanwhile Pax, steadfastly waiting for his boy, embarks on adventures and discoveries of his own.

Pax is a beautiful heart-breaking story about the connection between a boy and his pet fox.  Sara Pennypacker makes you feel this connection between Peter and Pax and you read the story with hope that they’ll find each other but dread that they might not. Pax is also a story about never giving up, even when the odds are stacked against you.  Both Pax and Peter face many challenges but they are determined to find each other.  Sarah Pennypacker grabs you from the first chapter, giving you an immediate connection with Peter and Pax.  It’s a very emotional start to a story (that will probably make you cry) and you have to know what will happen to Peter and Pax.  Jon Klassen’s illustrations are stunning too.  His illustration style perfectly captures the tone of the story.

The story starts with Peter leaving Pax in the woods at the side of the road and driving away.  Peter’s father is going off to war so Peter has to go and stay with his grandfather.  This means he is not allowed to take Pax with him and his father tells him he has to set him free.  As you can imagine, this would be hard for any child to do, and you feel how hard it is for Peter to do this.  Peter found Pax clinging to life as a kit.  Peter’s mum had just died and so he found Pax when he really needed a friend.  They had been inseparable ever since, until this day that Peter is forced to leave Pax.  The story alternates between Peter and Pax’s point of view and we follow both of their journeys to find each other again. There are times that you wonder whether they will both actually survive long enough to do so.

I loved the characters of Peter and Pax, especially their determination.  They will stay in my head for a long time and I already want to go back and read their story again.  My favourite character though was Vola, a woman that Peter meets and who helps him.  She’s a really interesting character because she has been damaged by war and is used to living alone.  I love the way that her character develops just through her relationship with Peter.

Pax is an amazing story that I can’t praise enough.  It is perfect for those who like stories with animals, for fans of Michael Morpurgo and highly recommended for those who have read The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate.




The Nest by Kenneth Oppel

The Nest by Kenneth Oppel and illustrated by Jon Klassen has to be the strangest, most unsettling book that I have read this year.  There had been lots of hype leading up to its release and there were starred reviews popping up all over the place, so I had to read it and find out why.  When you have two very talented storytellers like Kenneth Oppel and Jon Klassen collaborating on a book it is bound to stand out.

My first thoughts on looking at the book and flicking through were that it was a wonderful production.  The cover, with the transparent dust jacket, is stunning and Jon Klassen’s black and white illustrations inside give the book a suitably eerie feeling.  This feeling became stronger as I started to read Kenneth’s story.


The first time I saw them, I thought they were angels.

The baby is sick. Mom and Dad are sad. And all Steve has to do is say, Yes to fix everything. But yes is a powerful word. It is also a dangerous one. And once it is uttered, can it be taken back? Treading the thin line between dreams and reality, Steve is stuck in a nightmare he can’t wake up from and that nobody else understands. And all the while, the wasps’ nest is growing, and the ‘angel’ keeps visiting Steve in the night.

Reading The Nest was like slipping into a strange dream that I just had to see through until the end.  It unsettled me and made me shiver but I had to know how it ended.  I really felt for Steve and his predicament.  His parents are distracted with his baby brother and he just wants his brother to be healthy so that his parents have time for him.  Steve is given the chance to make his brother healthy and all he has to do is say yes. If I was in Steven’s situation I probably would have done exactly the same thing.  The story is tense right from the start but Kenneth Oppel ramps it up until right at the end of the book.  I didn’t know how it was going to end but it was satisfying.

I know that adults will enjoy this book but I’m not sure what children I would recommend it to.  It would be best for children who like dark stories or maybe even fairy tales.  It would probably work well as a read aloud in a class, as there could be a lot of discussion about it.

Check out the book trailer below and you can read an excerpt here.


Picture Book Nook: The Dark by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Jon Klassen

What do you get when you bring together the author of weird and wonderful stories, Lemony Snicket, and the award-winning illustrator Jon Klassen?  You get The Dark, a whimsical tale with stunning illustrations about a boy who is afraid of the dark.

Laszlo is afraid of the dark.  He lives in a big house, with a ‘creaky roof, smooth, cold windows and several flights of stairs.’  The dark also lives in this house and it hides in lots of different places. Laszlo thinks that if he visits the dark in the dark’s room, maybe it won’t come and visit Laszlo in his room.  However, one night it does come and visit Laszlo and tells him that it has something to show him…down in the basement.

The Dark is a unique take on the theme of being scared of the dark and it’s a wonderful collaboration between these two very talented people.  Jon Klassen’s illustrations are the perfect match for Lemony Snicket’s delightful and humourous text.  I really love Jon’s illustration style as he achieves so much with very little detail.  The way that he has contrasted the light and dark in this book is spectacular.  The dark is a character in the story and I love the way that Jon has portrayed this, especially when the dark is hiding in the cupboard or behind the shower curtain.  Some of the pages are almost completely black, apart from Laszlo and the details that we see in the beam of his flashlight.  The text has a uniquely Lemony Snicket style and tone, and it certainly took me by surprise.  I love the language that he uses to describe the house and the dark itself.

‘The voice of the dark was as creaky as the roof of the house, and as smooth and cold as the windows, and even though the dark was right next to Laszlo, the voice seemed very far away.’

If you know a child that is scared of the dark, The Dark, is the perfect reassuring story to read to them.  It’s also the perfect book for Jon Klassen fans who will be drooling over his illustrations.

This is Not My Hat Blog Tour – Interview with Jon Klassen

Jon Klassen is an incredibly talented author and illustrator from the US.  He writes and illustrates his own books, as well as illustrating others’ books.  The first book he wrote and illustrated, I Want My Hat Back, has won many awards, including a Theodor Seuss Geisel Honour Award.  His latest book, This is Not My Hat, is one of my favourite picture books of the year (you can read my review here).  Today I’m joined by Jon Klassen on his This is Not My Hat Blog Tour.  I asked Jon about his illustrations, his obsession with hats, and humour in his books.

How do you create your illustrations?

For I Want My Hat Back and This Is Not My Hat, I made the shapes of the plants and animals with black chinese ink and cut them out and scanned them into the computer and added color and detail to them afterwards. It’s a nice process because it lets you be loose and try a lot of things out and then choose your favorites and put them together in one illustration later.

Your illustrations have a very limited colour palette. Why do you choose these colours?

I don’t think I choose a limited palette on purpose, it’s just what I like, but for these stories it is useful because there are things that can get emphasized by strong color when it’s needed. Also I just like things to feel a little calm. I think you can get interesting stories that still feel like the colors aren’t firing on all cylinders all the time.

Both of your own stories (I Want My Hat Back and This Is Not My Hat) have focused on hats. What is your fascination with hats?

I try not to tie too much of myself into the books, but I do wear a hat a lot of the time. But I think, for these stories, hats are great because they are kind of unnecessary. The stories are about characters that want the hats badly, but not for any practical reason, so it becomes really emotional. Also, for younger readers, they are an easy thing to spot and a fun thing to see on a character who wants to put it on.

Your books feature subtle humour that children and adults love. How important is humour in picture books?

Thank you! I don’t think humor is totally necessary, but I think it’s hard to find a good picture book without it because the format sets up jokes so nicely with turning the page. It’s a great way to time a joke. Plus it’s hard to keep younger kids’ attention without either making them laugh or scaring them. I also think it’s a good sign when a story makes you laugh because it means other things are working well too, most of the time.

As well as an author and illustrator of picture books, what other hats do you wear?

I work on animated projects sometimes, though mostly as a concept or background illustrator, and sometimes I do editorial illustrations for newspapers and things. Last year I taught a class at Calarts, but those kids are too good.

Do you prefer writing and illustrating your own books or illustrating others’ books?

I like both. I think if you get an idea you like on your own, doing it all yourself is more exciting because you can really fine tune both sides of it, but I always really enjoy seeing the stuff that comes out of illustrating other people’s stories. Getting an assignment is always a different sort of challenge than just coming up with whatever you want, and you can dive into the illustrating right away.

Are you more of a big fish or a small fish?

It depends on the day, I guess, but if I’m honest, there are probably more small fish days than big fish days.

Thanks for joining me Jon!  Make sure you join Elizabeth O. Dulemba on her blog tomorrow for the next stop on Jon’s blog tour.


Picture Book Nook: This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen

When a tiny fish shoots into view wearing a round blue topper (which happens to fit him perfectly), trouble could be following close behind. So it’s a good thing that enormous fish won’t wake up. And even if he does, it’s not like he’ll ever know what happened…

This Is Not My Hat is a perfect picture book. The story is quirky and captures children’s attention, the illustrations are wonderful and the ending is unexpected.  The thing that really makes this picture book stand out for me is that the illustrations tell a slightly different story to the text.  Tiny fish tells us that Big Fish probably won’t wake up for a long time and that he probably won’t notice that his hat is gone, but the illustrations tell us that this is not the case.  The humour of the story comes from these mismatched illustrations and text.  This just goes to show you what an incredibly talented story teller Jon is and the wonderful things that can be achieved in the 32 pages of a picture book.

Jon’s illustrations are quite basic, but he has managed to convey so much humour and emotion on each page.  I love the way that Big Fish’s expression changes when he realises something isn’t quite right and he figures out pretty quickly what has happened.  Jon uses a very limited colour palette in his illustrations (mostly brown, green, blue, grey and black) and these set the tone of the story.  It’s not all bright and colourful so you know straight away that it’s not going to be a bright and happy story.  I like the way that the story moves with the fish (swimming away towards the right) and the way that Jon shows this movement through the bubbles that follow each of the fish.

My absolute favourite thing about This is Not My Hat is the surprise ending that shocks you and also makes you laugh.  After reading I Want My Hat Back I kind of expected a shocking ending but it still made me laugh, and I’m sure children will too.  If you want a picture book that you will enjoy even more than the children you’re reading it to, get a copy of This is Not My Hat from your library or bookshop now.

5 out of 5 stars

Join me tomorrow when I host Jon Klassen on his This is Not My Hat blog tour.  I’ll be asking Jon about being an author/illustrator, how he creates his illustrations, and what he does when he’s not working on books.

Celebrate Jon Klassen’s new picture book This is Not My Hat

This week I’m celebrating the release of Jon Klassen’s new picture book, This is Not My Hat.  Jon is an incredibly talented author and illustrator and his books are fantastic!  The last book he both wrote and illustrated, I Want My Hat Back, has won numerous awards, including a Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Award.

Tomorrow I’ll be reviewing This is Not My Hat and on Wednesday I have an interview with Jon Klassen as part of his This is Not My Hat blog tour.  Check out the book trailer: