The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Shane W. Evans
Amira is an artist who spends her free time drawing with sharp sticks in the dirt. She has just turned twelve and is now old enough to wear a toob. Amira longs to go to school, but her mother doesn’t believe that girls should go to school. So Amira stays on the family farm with her parents and younger sister who was born with misshapen legs. Then the peace is shattered when their farm is attacked and Amira’s beloved father is killed. Now they must leave their farm behind and head to a refugee camp where people are crowded into a small space and hunger is constant. But when Amira is given a red pencil, her mind once again is able to escape into her art and she starts to once again dream of a different future and how to get there.
Set in Sudan, this verse novel is filled with power, wrenching written. The brutality of the attack is captured clearly on the page as is the shock of loss that continues to ripple and tear at the small family remaining. Pinkney captures grief on the page, writing with a clarity and beauty that is stark at times and layered and subtle at others. Her verse speaks to the power of dreams to lift people out of where they are trapped and make a difference.
From waves of wheat on the page to the family together, Evans’ illustrations support the powerful verse. As the tone of the poems shift, so does his art which moves from playful to dramatic along with the text. My favorite images capture small pieces of life, little glimpses of what makes a home and a day.
An impressive novel in verse, this book offers a strong survivor of a protagonist who uses art as a force to lift herself. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.
Sequoia by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Wendell Minor
This is a poem about Sequoia, a giant and ancient tree and how he lives through the year. As the seasons change, Sequoia opens his arms and gathers different things to him. He gathers owls to him in the springtime when he is cloaked in green. When fires come in the heat of summer, he gathers flames to him. As the birds fly away in the autumn, he gathers one last crow. In the winter, he gathers snow. He also listens quietly and deeply to the nature around him and shares stories that he has gathered over time with the smaller cedars. This picture book is a celebration of ancient trees and this one sequoia in particular.
Johnston uses repetition very skillfully in his poem. It is enough of a structure to allow children to have something to lean on when reading, but the poem is also free too. It’s a strong mix of structure and freedom that is perfect for a tree poem. As the seasons change, children will see nature change as well. There is a joy to this work, a dedication to preservation of trees like this, and a thrill in the wildness of nature. Johnston uses gorgeous imagery throughout that further ties the wild to this tree and how he feels.
Minor’s illustrations are exceptional. They carry the beauty of the verse to new heights as readers get to see the glory of this single sequoia standing so tall above everything else. Yet Minor also makes sure that Sequoia is part of the nature around him. The light is beautiful in these images streaming through the trees in beams, bright dawn on other pages, and the softness of twilight at others.
A wild and beautiful poetic celebration of a tree, this book is less about the facts of sequoia trees and more about the experience of one. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.