Tag Archives: Sara Pennypacker

Politically Incorrect Book Reviews

Although I’ve been reading, I’ve been so wrapped up in the downfall of western civilization that I haven’t stopped to review. While the barbarians continue their Twitter wars, here are some thoughts on two recent reads.

StilettoI will not tease you with a full-length review of Daniel O’Malley’s long-awaited second novel, Stiletto, since it does not arrive on shelves until June, and that is just too much torture. However, if you have not read The Rook, then you should go ahead and do that now while you put your name in the queue for Stiletto, as I can assure you that it will be difficult to get your hands on a copy of The Rook in a couple of months. If you like The X-Files, Dr. Who, Fringe, or even Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you will be a Daniel O’Malley fan. Very British, very weird, and action-packed. Love it.

PaxPax is the first work by Sara Pennypacker that I didn’t love—and I was even a fan of Summer of the Gypsy Moths, a story of two girls trying to keep a corpse fresh so that they won’t go into foster care. Pax is all covered with starred reviews and is on track to compete for the Newbery Medal next year, but this story of a boy separated from his pet fox had some themes and an underlying worldview that I found uncomfortable.

Peter is being sent to live with his grandmother while his single father goes off to war—right in their area. On the trip to Grandma’s house, the father forces Peter to leave his fox, Pax, in the woods, where he will be in danger, since Peter rescued him as a kit. Thereafter, the story is divided into two parts. One storyline follows Peter, who runs away from his grandmother when he is seized with anxiety over Pax’s safety, and the other narrative shows Pax’s gradual transition from pampered pet to wild fox. Both stories are poignant and thoroughly engaging; the writing is powerful, and all of the main and secondary characters— both human and vulpine— are believable.

However, although the foxes and other creatures in the woods fight with one another, their skirmishes are shown as necessary in order to survive or protect loved ones, which makes it odd that the fox’s name is Pax. The war that Peter’s father is in was never explained, except that it seems to have something to do with water rights. I can imagine justification for such a battle, but that was skimmed over. Another soldier regrets her participation in a previous war, but we do not know the cause or outcome of that conflict. There is no room to explain that humans sometimes fight to protect their loved ones, too. It would be difficult to hand this one to military children. I’m sure that Ms. Pennypacker intended to write a discussable novel about war and peace for children, but she has precluded discussion by showing only one side of the argument, which is unfair to her young readers. While she created some beautiful and memorable characters, her moral categories are too simplistic and may suffer from political correctness. Stick with the glorious “Clementine” series instead.

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Disclaimer: I read advance reader copies of both of these titles. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Clementine and the Spring Trip, by Sara Pennypacker; illustrated by Marla Frazee

ImageClementine is the most charming little heroine in chapter books today. In this episode, she and her third grade class are headed to Plimoth Plantation for their spring trip. Clementine’s life is complicated. Her mother is expecting her third child; her fourth-grade friend, Margaret, has convinced her that the fourth graders on the trip will not countenance any eating noises during lunch; and the new girl, Olive, who has a food name like Clementine, has won the hearts of all of her classmates. Furthermore, Olive has taught them all how to speak Olivese, a made-up language that is a delight to everyone but Clementine. Oh, the drama of an eight-year-old existence.

My favorite ingredient of all of the Clementine stories is her thoroughly likeable parents. Her mother is a loving stay-at-home mom and her dad is hilarious. He maintains their apartment building in Boston and includes Clementine in many of his projects. Margaret tells Clementine that her divorced mother is going to marry her boyfriend, and Margaret is glad, since right now they kiss all the time, but she remembers that when her parents were married, they never kissed, so she expects all the kissing to stop when her mom and her boyfriend marry. Clementine thinks that Margaret might be disappointed, since her parents are married and they kiss all the time. Happily married people in a kid’s book! Amazing.

Clementine does blame her parents for not naming her little brother a food name, and so she goes through a succession of vegetables whenever she talks about him—never the same name twice. On one page he is Watercress, on another Snap Pea, and on a third Summer Squash. Pets, on the other hand, are named after items found in the bathroom, so her cat is named Moisturizer. It could be worse.

This is another young chapter book that is mentioned for Newbery nomination. Although I do love Clementine, I just don’t see this competing with the more literary contenders. If it did win, though, I wouldn’t complain. No little girl should grow up without meeting Clementine.

Highly recommended for fluent readers seven and up.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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