Tuesday, September 23, 2014
The Red Pencil, by Andrea Davis Pinkney
We begin with Amira's 12 birthday. She is finally old enough to wear a toob yet young enough to enjoy her Dando lifting her to the sky. Amira lives on a farm in South Darfur surrounded by friends and family, but changes are afoot. Amira's best friend Halima and her family are packing their things and moving to the city. They say the city has more opportunities. Amira wishes she could go with them to Nyala and attend the Gad Primary School with Halima. Amira is not so sure about her Muma's old fashioned ways.
"She does not like the idea of Gad,
or any place where girls learn
in Arabic or English
or think beyond a life
of farm chores and marriage." (p. 13 arc)
Soon, the extra chores of 12, missing Halima, and trying to solve the ongoing bickering between her father and villager Old Anwar seem anything but troubling. The relative peace of her village is shattered when the Janjaweed attack, changing Amira's very existence.
Amira and the other survivors must pick up the pieces and leave the ruins of the village to find safety. Their trek takes them to the refugee camp Kalma - the Displaced People's Camp. Amira doesn't like this space surrounded by fences and barbed wire.
"Everywhere I look,
people, people, and more people.
I'm glad to stop walking.
I'm glad we have finally reached who-knows-where.
But already I do not like this place." (arc p. 139)
It would be easy enough to give up in such a desperate place with no real end in sight. Amira and her family have lost so much. But when Amira meets Miss Sabine and is given a gift of a red pencil she discovers some things about herself, her family and those on the journey with her.
Written in free verse, The Red Pencil is a story of family and loss and hope. It was eye opening for me on a number of levels. One is that it is so easy for me not to see what is happening in the world from my perch here in NYC. The horrors of Darfur in the early 2000s seemed so far away in time and place that I wonder how many people in North America are aware of what was happening. I find myself very impressed with the deftness of Andrea Davis Pinkney's hand when it came to writing the passages dealing with the violence. She truly tells the story from a 12 year old's point of view, and the free verse format allows for silences that speak volumes. The illustrations by Shane W. Evans are playful within this serious book and somehow bring a feeling of safety to the pages.
A must read for librarians, teachers and students.