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The Red Pencil

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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.

336 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2014

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About the author

Shane W. Evans

50 books33 followers
Shane W. Evans is the illustrator of several children's books, including Homemade Love by bell hooks and Osceola: Memories of a Sharecropper's Daughter by Alan Govenar. He lives in Missouri.

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5 stars
1,951 (29%)
4 stars
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3 stars
1,513 (22%)
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139 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,004 reviews
Profile Image for Jesse (JesseTheReader).
468 reviews165k followers
March 1, 2017
I tend to struggle with books written in verse, but I quite enjoyed this one! Though I definitely still had some issues here and there. I feel like the beginning part of the story could've been condensed and the ending could've been expanded. Other than that this was a beautiful story about a girl who's faced with with a life changing event and how she keeps herself going & heals.
Profile Image for Melki.
5,676 reviews2,324 followers
July 8, 2017
when you marry,
you will not need to read.
A good wife lets her husband do the reading."

Due to her sex and upbringing, twelve-year-old Amira's options for the future are limited. She is expected to marry young, raise children, and work on a farm in Sudan. But changes are coming.

My father tries to explain something
that is more twisted
than a tangled
skein of raggedy thread.
"Amira, we are living in a time of war."

He uses strange terms:

I understand a little more
when Dando explains,
"There has been fighting for land."

I say,
"It's senseless
to fight over something
Allah has made for everyone."

Because this book is written in poems, I had planned to read it as I do other books of poetry - one or two verses per day. But the story begs to be read like a novel, and is genuinely quite involving. You will have a hard time forgetting this sad, yet uplifting tale of a young girl who desires only what so many of us take for granted - an education, and a chance to choose our own path in life.
Profile Image for Patti .
480 reviews72 followers
March 18, 2015
GO READ THIS NOW. I'll wait. It doesn't take long, but it's also a book to savor and reread. A middle grade novel told in verse, I have never read something so powerful with so few words. The sparse prose worked brilliantly, with not a word wasted. This is especially important because of the subject matter. The illustrations are evocative and rich pencil drawings, and I wish I could insert over 20+images here to prove it's artistic beauty.

Pinkney was deeply moved by the Darfur conflict and wanted to create a novel that made war accessible to young readers. She wished to impart truth in the devastation it causes, but also show that artistic expression can be healing in even the most dire circumstances. The impact that this one red pencil and a few sheets of paper have on twelve year old Amira is overwhelming.

If you don't stop and appreciate the basic comforts in your own life while reading, you might not be seeing the words properly. The arrival of the Janjaweed militants and subsequent death of most of the village forces her remaining family to a refugee camp in Kalma. This is told in stark detail, with words gradually falling off the page as the horrors render her silent for a time.

It isn't all sad. There are games, laughter, small blessings, and above all, hope for a better future. These people aren't depicted as weak, but survivors of unimaginable atrocities.

My favorite illustrations are on pages 26,29,41-43,60, 115, 136, 146, 203. There really aren't any bad ones. Big thanks to Akoss from #MGLitCheerleader YouTube channel for suggesting this as a buddy read. Beyond fantastic!! Comment below if you've read, I'd love to chat!
Profile Image for ✦BookishlyRichie✦.
639 reviews1,038 followers
August 13, 2018
4 STARS!!!

The writing was so beautiful but heartbreaking at the same time. The illustrations were a huge part of his story and blended so well with the verse writing style. Amira is such a strong and determined main character and I admire her so much for her strength and drive, especially during such a horrifying time in her young life. Andrea has a way with words that captivate and dig deep into you and make you feel. I look forward to reading more of her amazing work in the future.

- Richard
Profile Image for Steph.
504 reviews261 followers
February 21, 2021
this is the story of amira, a sudanese girl whose young life is disrupted by war when the janjaweed invade her home in the midst of the darfur conflict. the novel-in-verse remains playful and hopeful, even as amira struggles with trauma, displacement, grief, and being denied an education.

i think novel-in-verse is usually an ideal format for children's historical fiction about heavy topics, but i really struggled to engage with this story. amira is 12, but she reads as MUCH younger. i can't tell if this is due to the verse style, if it's cultural, or if it's because of the author's audiobook narration, but it often distracted me from the story. if the book had been exactly the same, except amira was 8 or 9, then it would have been more believable.

the author's note at the end of the book provides some really helpful context for the story. davis pinkney talks about her research process and how she wanted to write about the war in darfur in a way that would be accessible to young readers. this isn't a perfect book, but i think she succeeded in writing a powerful and very readable novel. it'd make a great gateway to learning more about the war. the simple illustrations are a great addition too!

important to note: this story takes place in 2003 and is classified as historical fiction, but as of 2021 the genocide is ongoing.
1 review1 follower
December 15, 2015
The one thing I enjoyed about this book is even though it was written in verse, it explained so much about each scenario Amira was in. When Amira lost her voice from being traumatized, she was given the red pencil which represented her gaining her voice back. She was also given a chance to have an education but girls didn't have the same right as boys to go to school. I was inspired by the idea of how someone can gain something small but it can change their world. The plot and theme were very well developed and interesting because the author went to Africa and talked to people who experienced the Darfur genocide and that’s why the story felt so real .I would recommend this book to anyone who likes enjoying true life stories, who also enjoy reading in verse.
Profile Image for Ellen.
979 reviews22 followers
July 22, 2018
My low rating is mostly due to the fact that I never clicked with the writing style. In the author's note, she explains why she wrote it in that style and it's for good reasons, so I kind of feel bad that I couldn't get into it. Basically, even though it didn't work for me, I don't want to discourage others from reading it. This is a children's book about the Darfur conflict in Sudan, and I do think the author did a good job showing the severity of it on a child's level, also giving hope at the end.

2018 challenge: a book with your favorite color in the title
Profile Image for Jaanaki.
130 reviews37 followers
May 8, 2019
Before I even start discussing about the book,I would request all my fellow bibliophiles to pick this up and read it .This is a book everyone should read.
This is a fictional story based on the Darfur conflict in Sudan- a war for land and property from 2003 that has led to genocide and the uprooting of thousands of innocent people from their homes and farmlands to refugee camps.Thousands have been massacred in the name of a cruel war that seems to have no end, and what initially began as a land war has now escalated to an Arab -African conflict that does not look to end anytime soon. 🌹🌹🌹🌹🌹🌹🌹🌹🌹🌹🌹🌹🌹🌹
The story follows Amira ,a girl whose soul soars like a sparrow . Anita loves to draw on the sand with her precious twig and leads a happy and peaceful life on her farm with her family.All that changes in a split second ,when the Janjaweed ransack her village ,murdering everyone in sight ,including her father .The family moves to a refugee camp and she loses her voice due to the shock .The story is about how a red pencil heals her and brings back her voice and confidence .
The narrative is written in the form of poetry and it was haunting.I am not much of a poetry person ,but I loved this book.The simple poetry moved me and I wanted to pray for a better ,brighter future for Amira .A future where she will get a good education and lead a life, free from shackles and unwarranted fears ,with a roof on her head that she may call her own and food that is clean and edible everyday.
This is a book ,I will cherish on my shelf ❤️
Profile Image for Brenda Kahn.
3,647 reviews53 followers
June 14, 2014
An important addition to any middle school collection. Pair with Serafina's Promise. Both eloquently portray courage in the face of diversity. The art by the great Shane W. Evans enhance the immediacy of the poems.
Profile Image for Sunday.
889 reviews45 followers
November 30, 2014
Pinkney's language is delicious, worthy of reading and rereading as she creates a vivid picture of the placid family-filled life of 12-year-old Amira and then a life that is tragically devastated by the Janjaweed militia and Amira's escape to a dead-end refugee camp.

I can't read realistic fiction that takes place in a real place that is still at war without wanting to know more and this might be an opportunity for students to do the same. I fell in love with Amira, her life, her losses, and her plight and immediately started researching the issues in this area of the world. To start, the refugee camp in the book - Kalma - still exists ten years after this story takes place and seems to be the permanent home of 130,000 displaced refugees. Schools for girls like Kalma have been started there. I also was intrigued by the details about Amira's life on a farm before the Janjaweed burned her home and village - the traditions, the foods, the ways of life--all so vivid because of the well written text. I'd like to read more about this as well.

Back to Pinkney's text - it's just stunningly beautiful, filled with poetic, figurative language, written in narrative verse to help the reader access Amira's experience. Just flipping back through the book, I wanted to stop every few pages and read again. This book would be worthy of just enjoying reading, of studying for content, and of studying for language or as a mentor for writing.

Profile Image for K..
3,595 reviews1,001 followers
June 12, 2016
3.5 stars.

A heartbreaking younger-end-of-the-YA-market novel written in verse about a 12 year old girl living in rural Sudan. Her life is turned upside down when the Janjaweed attack and her father is killed. She, her mother, and her younger sister - who has birth defects - make their way to a refugee camp. The trauma she's been through causes Amira to effectively lose her voice, and it doesn't return until an aid worker gives her a notepad and a red pencil.

As I said, this really is heartbreaking. Some of the poems are so evocative and emotional, and it gave me a lot of feelings. But at the same time, it took about two thirds of the story to actually get to the part with the red pencil. And then the ending was ridiculously abrupt. Like...one minute Amira's talking about wanting to go to school, the next, it's the author's note. So that was a little unexpected.

That said, it did a wonderful job at showing the fear and change that happened in a very brief period for the people of Darfur, and it's clear that Pinkney spoke to a lot of refugees in the course of writing this. Amira's voice is wonderful, and the illustrations were a lovely addition. So. It was good, but also a little lacking.
Profile Image for Mary.
78 reviews1 follower
May 12, 2016
This book is a wonderful story that could be used in many ways. It could be used for lessons on Figurative Language, it could be used as an introduction to a research project-being realistic fiction, students could research what is currently happening in Darfur and Sudan to see how the story matches up to real life events, along with the details about how people live their daily lives there, which was described in so much detail in the book. I also loved the pictures that accompanied the story.

One of my favorite parts of the story was in the beginning when Dando and Old Anwar were arguing over their tomatoes. Amira compares this silly contest to a war. Dando then teaches her a lesson about war which she innocently dismisses with her thinking that there is enough land for everyone. I think she makes Dando see that even an innocent argument can affect his daughter. How will this war really affect her?
Profile Image for Barbara.
462 reviews42 followers
July 3, 2016
Amira is a young Sudanese girl who lives on a farm with her loving family. Unfortunately, war ravages her village and she loses almost everything she holds dear. Forced to walk many miles at night with what is left of her family, Amira finally reaches the safety of a refugee camp.

A story for middle grade readers that uses prose poems and pencil illustrations to convey the realities of a family caught in the middle of a war. Extensively researched by the author, this is a story that deserves to be read by readers of all ages.

For educators, the text provides examples of alliteration, figurative language, prose poetry, descriptive language, character development, and many other poetic and literary devices. This would be a good choice for cross curricular activities including character education, social science, geography, and language arts.
Profile Image for Manika.
372 reviews
April 10, 2017
What a quietly poetical and soothing story.
Red Pencil tells the story in free verses of Amira, of her desire for more, her hunger to learn, to discover. Through her eyes we are told the story of her parents, her family, her village, Sudanese war.
I found myself more and more attracted to middle grade books written in verse, it conveys so much with little words. This one was no exception for me. The poetry was not breathtaking but always tender, sweet and heartbreaking at times.
I am so happy my edition has a kind of behind the scene because after finishing the book I wanted more so I was happy to find a little bit more.
Profile Image for Heather Moore.
543 reviews4 followers
May 13, 2019
Covering a topic like genocide in a middle grade novel sounds like a daunting task, but leave it to Andrea Davis Pinkney to do it in the best way possible. I absolutely adored Amira — her playfulness and love of drawing reminded me so much of my own 11 year old. This was a beautiful and gentle way for children to begin to understand world issues today while keeping the human spirit at the heart of the story.
Want to read
March 6, 2018
16 reviews1 follower
January 14, 2020
I thought this book was good I didn't personally LOVE the book but I thought it was very interesting I felt a bit worried for my characters at times especially with them moving to get to where they wanted to go
Profile Image for Laurie.
864 reviews
December 26, 2018
Interest Level: 3-6; Reading Level: 4.6

What would you do if almost everything that mattered to you was taken away? What if you had to flee from your home in order to save your life? Amira had a happy life - she just turned twelve and that means she is old enough to wear a toob (a long piece of fabric worn by a Sudanese woman as an outer garment to wrap her whole body), she gets more grown-up responsibilities, and the possibility of going to school. Her mom will not hear of the talk of school, but her dad wishes they had the money to send her. They live a very simple, happy life but they live in a time of fear from the Janjaweed, a militia group that can come in at any time to forcibly take over their land. When this does happen, Amira loses much more than she ever expected and they have to flee from their land. Life is hard as they are forced to walk across desert land in the heat to find refuge in a displaced people's camp. This is not a life that Amira wants to live and she still dreams of going to school one day. Her neighbor from the old village decides one day to secretly teach her how to read and write. Amira is thrilled with the progress she makes until her mother finds out and is furious. Will Amira live all of her life in this camp working hard for very little, or will she be able to break away and one day be able to go to school? Do not miss this incredible story of friendship and family, love and loss, and determination to make more of yourself despite the odds against you.

I loved this story! You can not help but fall in love with Amira from page one. When she faces the hardest day in her life, you will cry with her. And when she begins to learn to read and write, you will cheer her on. This is a must read story for anyone who is going through a rough time in their life to see the determination in Amira. Don't miss it!
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Profile Image for Joyce Yattoni.
298 reviews23 followers
July 14, 2017
Beautifully written in verse about the human condition of war. Amira is a young adult with a bold spirit from Darfur Africa when her small village is attacked by the Janjaweed militia. Her father is killed and the family is forced into a refugee camp. She has never been educated due to the beliefs of her people, however she longs to be. The human condition is explored extensively. The reader walks away with great empathy as to how it feels to lust after drink and food, to be caged in a camp with no hope and the devastation and horror of seeing your father violently killed. It seems like the Darfurian people have been sheltered from the world. A TV is called a "flicker box". The children have never seen a pencil or a yellow legal pad, or touched a book. A sugary drink, orange Fanta, has a drug-like effect. Keep in mind that the setting of this tragedy is within the last 15 years. The author uses figurative language to communicate these thoughts and ideas. One of the more enlightening uses was a metaphor the "Sudanese Flowers". The author used this metaphor to describe the garbage that consumes the camps. She describes the "flowers" in different colors and how when the wind blows they get strewn about. This novel is for anyone ready to explore a different culture.
Profile Image for Gus Preston.
10 reviews3 followers
January 2, 2018
Written in prose from the perspective of 12 year old Amira, "The Red Pencil" is about a girl whose whole life seems to be predetermined for her from birth. According to her parents she will get married and start a family, but this doesn't seem like enough for the brave, creative, and driven Amira. She wants a different life for herself, craving education and literacy, a thirst for knowledge atypical of girls in her town in South Darfur. The book depicts her struggle between wanting to obtain an education and upholding the traditional values that seem so important to her mother. A story covering themes from family, to tradition, to education, as well as life in the time of war, this book is an important read for young readers who may not have been exposed to how individuals lives are affected by these things around the world. Not to mention, Shane W. Evans' illustrations add a layer of complexity and bring the reader into the creative mind of Amira. I will say that despite being a lovely story, I found the ending to be a little disappointing, especially for a book geared toward a younger audience. It seemed like there was more of Amira's story to be told, and the end left too much to the imagination for my taste.
Profile Image for Ashley.
192 reviews3 followers
March 15, 2017
I remember being in high school when the conflict in Darfur became big news in the states. I remember hearing words like 'genocide' and 'militia' and 'resistance fighting' and not completely understanding what was happening. Being a teenager, my attention was on concerns more immediate to myself, like my grades or the latest gossip.

I wonder if I had read a book like this in 2005 if I would have cared more about the terrible things happening in Sudan. Since reading The Red Pencil, I've researched the conflict and my heart is heavy with everything I've learned. I don't blame myself for being an ignorant teenager. But I do see it as my mission as a librarian and a citizen of the world to educate others. I'm using this book in a middle school book discussion group, and I hope that they take these events to heart and consider the world in a broader scope.

The prose in this book was lovely, and the drawings really added to the feeling of the story. Everyone should read this short book.
15 reviews
March 14, 2017
I think this book was good because it was easy to read because it was in poetry form. Also the book is really interesting to me because it talks about a girls life and how it changes when the girl receives a red pencil. This book was about how the jajaweed invaded their living place and brought them to their own territory also known as jail but in the old days and it's the little girl's dream to get her and her family out of their. I would recommend this book to teenage girls who want to learn how to fight against bad people and how to face up to them and take a stand.
Profile Image for Jencarey1.
201 reviews17 followers
April 9, 2021
Heartbreaking. I wish I had had the physical book so I could see the art work that went along with the story.
Profile Image for Barry.
191 reviews1 follower
October 13, 2022
it's sad that it is such a struggle for some kids just to get an education.

I very much dislike people who take their education for granted.

However, that ending really confused me- like, what happened? Was it supposed to be open? Or sad? Or happy? It really threw me off, not gonna lie.
8 reviews1 follower
November 6, 2019
The Red Pencil would be a great book to use as an introduction to poetry for grades four and above. The book follows Amira, a young Sudanese girl, while her village and family experiences war. Due to the traumatizing events, Amira loses her voice and begins to lose her hope too. Overtime, she is gifted a red pencil and this allows her to find her voice again and pursue and education.

Amira dreams of attending school one day, and her red pencil helps her achieve this dream. I would want my students to use their pencils to draw a dream that they want to achieve on day and we can post them around the classroom.

This book can also be used as an introduction to metaphors and similes as many were used throughout the novel. I would compile a list of 10 metaphors and ask the students to tell me what they were describing/trying to get across.

The Red Pencil is a wow book because both the poetry and illustrations are so lively that they draw you in. It is also about a young girl who is determined to do what is best for herself even though others may not agree, and it's a book about gaining your hope back when you thought all hope was lost.
Profile Image for Ameya.
164 reviews5 followers
January 19, 2023
Some beautifully written poems that aren't afraid to show the realities of war in Sudan while still creating a message of hope and resilience.

(Reading the World: Sudan)
Profile Image for Grace Allyn.
124 reviews
March 4, 2019
POETRY- Every time I put this book down, I found myself still thinking about it! Wow... some of the most beautiful and vivid writing that I have ever read. The book follows the path of a young Sudanese girl who has a longing desire for education, yet is not allowed to read in her culture. The storyline is set up through poems which portray her emotions and thoughts as if we are inside sweet Amria's head. As readers we are able to follow her through this battle that she has with choosing family or education. Something I loved about the book were it's amazing detailed illustrations every few pages that tie the story together and made the chapters truly come alive. Throughout the poems we see detailed metaphors between Amira's religion, family, and desires. "The Red Pencil" also dives into the importance of religion in her life and how she came to see that as one of her guiding lights. I found myself immersed in a mixture of sadness and joy through each poem as I rooted for her success and mourned over her hardships.

This book is most appropriate for 6th graders and up as it covers tough topics like war and death. This is a great book to show world view of how terrorism impacts other countries and what children there. I think this book would be amazing to pull certain poems out of and analyze their literacy devices such as imagery and metaphors. This could even be done in younger graders with some of the less serious poems. This book is a great opportunity to delve into research on genocide and persecution. Students can see a child's view of what this was like and compare to other genocides across the world. This also brings into the study of what displaced people face and was it means to live in a refugee camp .6.G.1.2 Explain the factors that influenced the movement of people, goods, and ideas and the effects of that movement on societies and regions over time (e.g., scarcity of resources, conquests, desire for wealth, disease and trade). This book can be analyzed with this standard to discover why this group of people were forced to move and how the refugee camp would effect the supply and demand chain as well as the economy. This book could also bring in discussion of gender roles and how those are present in our own cultures and other cultures. Girls get education in America, but what other gender stereotype do we have that often holds people back?

I want to read this book over and over again! I am still in awe of the gorgeous writing and Amira's determination to conquer her dreams. I even became teary eyes when Amira declared that she did not want to be a wife, or mother, but in fact wanted to be a teacher and teach others the wonders of words and math. The last poem left me wanting to know more and such a vivid imagine in my mind.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,004 reviews

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