The Red Pencil


When war devastates her village and she is forced to flee to a refugee camp, a young Sudanese girl finds the hope necessary to keep her dream alive. Written in free verse, each “prose poem” is an essence, inviting more thought on the part of the reader than traditional prose. All background clutter is removed, scenes cut to the bone. The reader is spared the graphic horror of war and, instead, is immersed in the experience of one girl. It’s about hope, resilience, possibility and the power of the human spirit. The simple illustrations feel as though the main character has drawn them as she shares her journey. The first person narrative flows in long ribbons and short spurts, rushing and halting, just as our thoughts and emotions do.

Andrea Davis Pinkney effectively and sensitively introduces young readers to important issues affecting children in many troubled regions of the world. As the Lexile HL indicates, the high interest content is accessible for struggling readers or those with limited English (ELLs). The issues are timely and relevant to readers beyond the middle grade age range listed. This is a truly beautiful and important story that goes straight to the heart.

For Teacher/Parent Resources, click here.

The Red Pencil
Written by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Illustrated by Shane W. Evans
Little, Brown and Company, 2014
Fiction in free verse
Lexile: HL620L
Age: 9-12 years
Summary: (from

          “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 mindand all kinds of possibilities.

Stay tuned for picture book recommendations and resources here when Perfect Picture Book Fridays starts back up in September. 

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