9780316247818The Red Pencil
By Andrea Davis Pinkney
Illustrated by Shane Evans
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

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“A soulful story that captures the magic of possibility, even in difficult times.” —Kirkus Reviews  (Starred Review)

“Amira, look at me,” Muma insists.
She collects both my hands in hers.
“The Janjaweed attack without warning.
If ever they come– run.”

Finally, Amira is twelve. Old enough to wear a toob, old enough for new responsibilities. And maybe old enough to go to school in Nyala– Amira’s one true dream.

But life in her peaceful Sudanese village is shattered when the Janjaweed arrive. The terrifying attackers ravage the town and unleash unspeakable horrors. After she loses nearly everything, Amira needs to dig deep within herself to find the strength to make the long journey– on foot– to safety at a refugee camp. Her days are tough at the camp, until the gift of a simple red pencil opens her mind– and all kinds of possibilities.

New York Times bestselling and Coretta Scott King Award-winning author Andrea Davis Pinkney’s powerful verse and Coretta Scott King Award-winning artist Shane W. Evans’s breathtaking illustrations combine to tell an inspiring tale of one girl’s triumph against all odds.

Reviews & Accolades
“Told in free verse and set in the South Darfur region of Sudan in 2003 and 2004, this potent novel from Pinkney (Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America) is built around the distinctive voice and drawings of 12-year-old narrator Amira. The first half of the novel examines Amira’s life in her rural village, where she helps out with farm chores, wishes she could attend school, and has a close relationship with her father, Dando, who “sees what is possible in me.” After Janjaweed militants invade, inflicting great loss, Amira flees to a refugee camp, where she expresses her creativity through art, after a teacher gives her the pencil of the title. Evans’s (We March) loosely drawn and deeply affecting line illustrations heighten Amira’s emotional reality; in one image, accompanying the poem “Shock,” a simple figure surrounded by a violently scribbled border demonstrates Amira’s despair: “My whole heart./ A sudden break./ My Bright,/ turned black.”  —Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

“A 12-year-old Sudanese girl struggles for survival after a janjaweed attack on her town forces her family to seek safety in an overcrowded refugee camp. Amira Bright has a dream: to leave her South Darfur farm and attend Gad Primary School, where girls are accepted. Muma, her mother, is a traditionalist about girls’ roles, while Dando, her father, and Old Anwar, a lifelong neighbor, are more supportive. Dando and Amira even have a favorite game called “What Else is Possible?” But when militia attackers suddenly upend her life, Amira is overcome with silent heartache. Relief comes when an aid worker at Kalma refugee camp offers her a yellow pad and a red pencil, eventually restoring her free expression. Telling her story in first-person verse, Pinkney uses deft strokes to create engaging characters through the poetry of their observations and the poignancy of their circumstances. This tale of displacement in a complex, war-torn country is both accessible and fluent, striking just the right tone for middle-grade readers. Evans’ elemental drawings illuminate the spirit and yearnings of Amira, the earnest protagonist. A soulful story that captures the magic of possibility, even in difficult times.—Kirkus Reviews  (Starred Review)

“Gr 5–7—Set during the early years of the Darfur conflict, this stunning collaboration between Coretta Scott King Award winners Pinkney and Evans tells a moving story of the scarring effects of war but also brings a message of hope and inspiration. Twelve-year-old Amira wishes to attend school, but her mother, “born into a flock of women/locked in a hut of tradition,” does not support the girl’s aspirations and expects her to only marry and bear children. In contrast, Amira’s father praises her talents and gifts her with a special “turning-twelve twig” that she uses to sketch her dreams in the goz (sand). These dreams are brutally shattered when the Janjaweed militants invade and cut a swath of terror through her village. After enduring a heartbreaking loss, Amira and her family must rally their strength in order to make the treacherous journey to the Kalma refugee camp. There, the girl is given a red pencil; this simple gift reveals a world of endless possibilities and imbues the tween with a strong sense of agency. Amira’s thoughts and drawings are vividly brought to life through Pinkney’s lyrical verse and Evans’s lucid line illustrations, which infuse the narrative with emotional intensity. An engaging author note provides background on the political situation in Sudan and explains the powerful motivations for telling this story. An essential purchase that pairs well with Sylvia Whitman’s The Milk of Birds—School Library Jounral

Groups Represented

Art Therapy
Education & Literact
Family Death
Family Relationships
Fleeing Persecution
Gender Roles


Engagement Projects
An Educator’s Guide can be found here.

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