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The Red Pencil


The Red Pencil

It’s 2003, and Amira lives in a small Sudanese village with her family. She has just turned 12, which makes her old enough to wear the traditional toob (head cover) and old enough to do more chores around the house.
Her best friend, Halima, recently left the village to attend school in Nyala, which is what Amira wants to do, too. More than anything, she wants to learn how to read and write, but her mother is opposed to the idea. School is not for girls; girls are supposed to stay home and take care of the family. Besides, school is expensive and her family cannot afford the tuition.
[THE RED PENCIL] gave me a different perspective on this particular time period.
Her dream to attend school seems even more impossible when her village is attacked by the Jangaweed, an armed military group that was prominent in Darfur in the early 2000s. Amira’s father is killed during the attack, and she, her mother and her sister must leave the ruins of their village and find shelter in a Displaced People’s Camp.
Amira is so traumatized by the loss of her father she loses her ability to speak, and being stuck in a camp packed with hundreds of thousands of other refugees doesn’t help. But when she receives what seems like an unimportant gift --- a red pencil and a tablet of yellow paper --- a world of possibilities is unlocked for her.
Each chapter of THE RED PENCIL is a separate poem, and most of them are very short. The author, Andrea Davis Pinkney, says that she chose to write the story in this manner because “verse can be a means of insulating young readers form the tragic realities of genocide and could offer a way to make the horrors of war easier to comprehend. Poetry also encourages young readers to express their own emotions and troubles and to find comfort in the most upsetting circumstances.” The author also includes a Glossary/Pronunciation Guide, as well as a Characters/Pronunciation Guide at the end of the book.
I’m not usually a big fan of books written like this, but I think this style worked well with this story. I can’t say I “enjoyed” reading the book because I don’t enjoy reading about people’s hardships and suffering, but I can say THE RED PENCIL was well-written and it gave me a different perspective on this particular time period.

Reviewed by Christine Irvin on April 17, 2015

The Red Pencil
by Andrea Davis Pinkney

  • Publication Date: September 16, 2014
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 0316247804
  • ISBN-13: 9780316247801