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Review of The Red Pencil

pinkney_red pencilThe Red Pencil
by Andrea Davis Pinkney; illus. by Shane W. Evans
Middle School    Little, Brown    324 pp.
9/14    978-0-316-24780-1    $17.00
e-book ed.  978-0-316-24781-8    $9.99

The first part of this vivid novel, set from September 2003 to March 2004, celebrates twelve-year-old Amira’s life on her family farm in Darfur, Sudan. Her first-person prose poems and lively childlike sketches focus on her Muma and Dando and little sister Leila; her friend Halima who leaves the village to attend school; her favorite sheep Nali; and the other elements that make up her world: wheat and tomatoes, sparrows and the wind storm called the haboob. But whispers of the Janjaweed (Sudanese militia) infect even this happy childhood, and in a violent attack, everything changes. Dando is dead, Nali is dead, and Amira and her family become refugees, traveling by night to a displaced persons camp. Life there is marked by deprivation, and Amira’s voice becomes choked off by the violence she witnessed. But when an aid worker gives Amira a red pencil and a tablet of paper, Amira’s drawings find a way to lead her out of sorrow and back to life. Pinkney’s verse uses onomatopoeia, rhythm, and prismatic imagery to describe Amira’s feelings. Evans’s illustrations keep on the spare side but provide valuable visual context and a much-needed sense of buoyancy. Throughout, text and drawings make Amira’s experiences seem real to young readers without overwhelming them, allowing them to share in her hardship and eventual renewal. Back matter includes an author’s note, glossary, and pronunciation guide.

From the November/December 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

About Anita L. Burkam

Horn Book reviewer Anita L. Burkam is former associate editor of The Horn Book Magazine.

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