A Cape Eye On Books: This Month’s Featured Author, Sara Pennypacker

Anne LeClaire

Anne LeClaire

“Sorry I’m late calling but I have a good excuse,” Sara Pennypacker said when I answered the phone. She had told me she was expecting a visit from her daughter but wasn’t sure exactly when Hillary would be arriving.

“I know,” I said.

“Not that,” she said. “I have some wonderful news.”

We’ll get to her news in a bit, but first, for those of you unfamiliar with Sara, more about her: A painter and writer who splits her year between Cape Cod and Florida, Sara has been writing for children for the past 22 years and has written one adult novel under the name Sara Young.

Her eight-book Clementine series has won awards and appeared on the New York Time’s best seller list. Her other books have won acclaim from librarians and teachers across the country.
Sometimes an author may write many books – best-selling and award-winning books – and then a story or a character comes along and there is that strike of lighting that changes everything, a book that is destined to become not only a best seller, but a literary classic. Such a book is Sara’s latest book. “Pax,” a novel for middle schoolers that was published early in February. It debuted at No. 2 on the New York Times bestseller list and then moved to No 1. Critics hailed it as a masterpiece.

Sara Pennypacker's new book 'Pax'

Sara Pennypacker’s new book ‘Pax’

“It is the book of my life,” Sara said, “and not just because it took me six years to write or because of the way it has been received.”

Asked to explain, she went on, “There are two things that I have wanted to write about for a long time. The first is the unfairness of adults to engage in wars in which children have absolutely no input and the cost they have to pay for it. The second is the incredible bond a child can form with animals. Children have no boundaries on whom they love and they form bonds that deny species or boundaries. A bird. A fox. It can be any wild creature.”

She couldn’t see a way in which to combine those two things or how they could belong in the same book when, on a visit to a school in Oklahoma and waiting to enter the classroom, a chance remark by a librarian showed her the way.

The result is “Pax,” a compelling and heart-wrenching story of courage, discovery and the cost of war. It is about a boy and the fox he rescued as a kit and raised until the day his father enlists in the military and makes him return the fox to the wild.

Asked about what makes a book so compelling the reader can’t put it down, Sara said, “Something in it has to matter.”

She recalled reading “Heidi” as a child. It mattered to her tremendously that Heidi get soft bread for Peter’s blind grandmother who couldn’t eat hard rolls.

“I worried about that,” she said. “It mattered.”

Another aspect of a compelling read for her is that it have an environment that sweeps you away. “So that you forget where you are and what you should be doing,” she said.

See five books below, set in the Alps, Rome, Japan, Holland and New Guinea, that did exactly that for Sara.

Oh, about that good news that delayed our phone call. Sara was occupied with signing the contract for the movie deal for “Pax.” The production company also produced “The Kite Runner.” Read more about Sara on her website www.sarapennypacker.

Here are her picks for March:

Sara Pennypacker

Sara Pennypacker

“Heidi” by Johanna Spyri: The children’s classic of an orphaned girl and her friend Peter the goatherd set in the Swiss Alps.Like another classic, “The Secret Garden,” it is a story of loss of family and a girl’s power to heal the hearts of others.

“The Girls With The Pearl Earring” by Tracy Chevalier: A novel created around the artist’s model set in Vermeer’s 17th century Delft.

“Shogun” by James Clavell. A sweeping narrative set in 16th Century Japan and the conflict between a Japanese warlord and English adventurer, it is a sweeping narrative of conflict, love, power and lust.

“Beach Music” by Pat Conroy: Conroy’s follow up to “Prince Of Tides”about an American living in Rome with his young daughter following his wife’s suicide.

“Euphoria” by Lily King: An imagining of Margaret Mead’s time in 1930s New Guinea and a complex and seductively told story of a love triangle between three anthropologists.

Anne LeClaire is the best-selling author of eight novels, the latest of which is “The Lavender Hour.”

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