Cover image for The red pencil
The red pencil
Pinkney, Andrea Davis, author.
First edition: September 2014.
Publication Information:
New York : Little, Brown and Company, 2014.
Physical Description:
308 pages : illustrations, map ; 21 cm
"After her tribal village is attacked by militants, Amira, a young Sudanese girl, must flee to safety at a refugee camp, where she finds hope and the chance to pursue an education in the form of a single red pencil and the friendship and encouragement of a wise elder"--
Reading Level:
HL 620 Lexile.
Geographic Term:
Added Author:
Format :


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Central Library J FICTION Juvenile Fiction Childrens Area
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Frank E. Merriweather Library J FICTION Juvenile Fiction Open Shelf
Julia Boyer Reinstein Library J FICTION Juvenile Fiction Open Shelf

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"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.

Author Notes

Andrea Davis Pinkney is the New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of more than 20 books for children, including Bird in a Box and several collaborations with her husband Brian Pinkney, including Sit -In, Hand in Hand, and Martin & Mahalia . She lives with her family in Brooklyn, NY.

Shane W. Evans is the illustrator of many books for young readers, including Underground: Finding the Light to Freedom , which won a Coretta Scott King award, and Nobody Gonna Turn Me Round , which was nominated for an NAACP Image Award. His website is

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* As Amira's twelfth birthday approaches, she finds herself distracted from her daily responsibilities on the family farm: doing chores; looking after her little sister, Leila, who was born with special needs; and caring for her little lamb, Nali. She dreams of school, but that is not the traditional way for girls in Sudan. Life is hard, with scarce food, distant water, and the looming obligation of marriage and motherhood. Still, she scratches out her thoughts and dreams in the dirt with a precious twig, wishing. Then the Janjaweed arrive and decimate the village in an attack that kills her father and Nali. After the remaining family members and their friend Old Anwar relocate to a refugee camp, Amira's spirit is sorely tested, but the gift of a pad and a red pencil restores her sense of agency and offers the promise of learning. Pinkney's short, clipped verse expresses the harsh difficulties and intimate beauties of daily life dust storms, orange soda, family devotion in broken lines that capture Amira's breathless anxiety and hope. And if the evocative poetry is the novel's beating heart, Evans' spare, open, graceful line drawings are its breath, recalling Amira's own linear musings, drawn on the ground or in her own tablet. Ultimately, this is an inspirational story of the harrowing adversity countless children face, the resilience with which they meet it, and the inestimable power of imagination and learning to carry them through.--Barthelmess, Thom Copyright 2014 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Starred Review. 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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

School Library Journal 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 (S. & S., 2013).-Lalitha Nataraj, Escondido Public Library, CA (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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