Pinkney's spare verse powerfully communicates this strong young girl's hopes and dreams even as she expresses the awfulness of what she has been through: "Words, / liked tugged teeth. / Yanked / from every part of me." Scattered through the elegantly designed book are Shane W. Evans's soft gray illustrations, perfectly supporting Pinkney's text, evoking the sense that they were done by Amira herself.
The New York Times Book Review - Monica Edinger
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.” Pinkney faces war’s horrors head on, yet also conveys a sense of hope and promise. Ages 9–up. Agent: Rebecca Sherman, Writers House. (Sept.)
Praise for The Red Pencil:
* "Pinkney faces war's horrors head on, yet also conveys a sense of
hope and promise."
* "Pinkney uses
deft strokes to create engaging characters through the poetry of their observations and the poignancy of their circumstances... A soulful story that captures the magic of possibility, even in difficult times." Kirkus Reviews
* "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 essential purchase." School Library Journal
Bird in a Box will break, heal, and then fill your heart, all in one reading."
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 (S. & S., 2013).—Lalitha Nataraj, Escondido Public Library, CA
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. (author's note, illustrator's note, glossary) (Verse fiction. 8-12)