The Red Pencil by Andrea David Pinkney
Illustrations by Shane Evans
Publisher: Little Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: September 16, 2014
Amira is twelve, just old enough to wear a toob although not old enough, or rich enough, to go to school in Nyala. Her life in her serene Sudanese village is simple and full of love. Then the Janjaweed arrives. The murder her father, burn their homes, and Amira is forced to flee along with her mother and sister. Together they travel to a refugee camp where Amira's voice disappears. With the gift of a red pencil though Amira's world begins to open and she begins to dream and speak again.
It is difficult to create a book concerning the genocide in the Sudan. It is even more difficult to make such a topic child friendly. This middle grade novel in verse had some really strong points and some weaknesses, the result being an interesting important topic that didn't really do it for me. This is yet another novel written in free verse, which is a tricky poetry form as I am sometimes left wondering why the author chose to write in poetic form rather than prose. There were a few good poems in this book, but at almost 300 pages there were times when I thought the story would have been better served in prose. With the sparseness of the text, I felt a bit separated from the characters and cut off from the setting. Again, there were moments of beauty, but it wasn't a constant. This made the story itself feel a bit underdeveloped. There is so much attention paid to sheep, Amira's sister, and her mama not wanting her to read, but only two poems set aside for the raid on Amira's village and very little information about who the Janjaweed actually are. Like a too short action scene. I get that the topic is heavy, but you decided to write about the Sudan so embrace it and let us see. Shane Evan's illustrations are beautiful and perfect for the story, but weren't enough to give this story the emotional depth that it needed to make it great.