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 “prose poems,” each poem is an essence. All background clutter is removed, scenes cut to the bone. The reader, spared much of the horror of war, is immersed in the experience of one girl and discovers the power of the human spirit. The simple illustrations enhance the story and feel as if the main character is drawing it for us 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 book 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
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 mind– and all kinds of possibilities. … More The Red Pencil

Fancy Words – Building Children’s Vocabularies

One of the questions that often comes up among writers of children’s books concerns the use of higher level vocabulary.

Whether a child is a native English speaker or is learning English as a second language, he/she needs exposure to rich, varied and challenging language. Children acquire most words through their daily encounters, using context to understand meaning. But acquiring a new word is not automatic. They must be engaged and interested.

So for all the writers – YES! Use some fancy words. They’re fun!

Vocabulary learning is crucial to reading comprehension and success in school. The keys to expanding a child’s vocabulary are

multiple purposeful exposures,
explicit instruction,
interactive activities,
acquiring strategies and
opportunities to use new words.
I’ll leave you with some great VOCABULARY ACTIVITIES for the CLASSROOM on my Parent/Teacher Resource page, and two sources on vocabulary instruction – one focused on the research and the other modeling instruction during a read-aloud.

A Review of the Current Research on Vocabulary Instruction from the National Reading Technical Assistance Center, RMC Research Corporation, 2010

“Bridging the Vocabulary Gap: What the Research Tells Us about Vocabulary Instruction in Early Childhood” from Young Children, July (2010): 84-91. National Association for the Education of Young Children. … More Fancy Words – Building Children’s Vocabularies

Hokey Pokey

So many books, so little time. I’ll be posting recommendations for picture books as a part of Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book Fridays (resuming in September), but also want to share some great middle grade books as well.

Because I loved my years with those irresistible middle schoolers, let’s start off with a special middle grade novel – Jerry Spinelli’s Hokey Pokey. It might stretch the joys of summer break juuuust a little bit longer. Spinelli creates a world that is pure fun, populated with a cast of characters that will touch the heart.

For writers, it’s a great example of “world building” and full of lessons on craft.

In the classroom, the rich language offers opportunities to explore literary skills, and multiple themes invite critical thinking. Readers will easily connect the text to themselves and the world. With its high interest level, struggling readers and English Language Learners (ELLs) who may need a more accessible reading level will find it enjoyable and relevant.

And…. As a thank you for coming along with me as I start this online reading and writing journey, I’d like to offer a FREE LITERATURE UNIT for this novel on my TEACHER/PARENT RESOURCE PAGE. Please share this with anyone who might be interested.
More Hokey Pokey