cover image The Red Pencil

The Red Pencil

Andrea Davis Pinkney, illus. by Shane W. Evans. Little, Brown, $17 (336p) ISBN

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.)