It may be hard to imagine growing up as a young girl in Sudan, raking cow plop, but with gentle restraint, award-winning author Andrea Davis Pinkney brings readers into the heart and mind of Amira, whose life is forever changed by the Janjaweed’s attacks in Darfur.
Pinkney chose an unusual format for The Red Pencil, calling it “a novel of poems, pictures and possibilities.” The cadence of the language and evocative line drawings by Shane W. Evans draw the reader into the warmth, traditions and superstitions of village life in Sudan and foreshadow a time when the “evil men on horseback” will appear.
Readers meet Dando; Muma; Amira’s disabled sister, Leila; her friend Halima, who’s lucky enough to go to school; and their family friend, Old Anwar. Amira is 12 and wears a colorful toob like her Muma, but she thinks Muma’s traditions are backward. Amira longs to attend school, and Old Anwar teaches her to read. When the Janjaweed kill her father and the villagers flee, Amira survives a treacherous journey to a refugee camp and loses her voice. An aide worker’s gift of a red pencil and tablet allow Amira to heal and to follow her dreams.
Although Pinkney’s form is untraditional in this important book, her poetry, merged with Evans’ vibrant drawings, takes hold and successfully transports the reader to Darfur.
Billie B. Little is the Founding Director of Discovery Center at Murfree Spring, a hands-on museum in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.