The Red Pencil

Book review by
Kate Pavao, Common Sense Media
The Red Pencil Book Poster Image
Moving verse tale of girl's experience in Darfur genocide.

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 3 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Kids will learn about what happened to many families during the genocide in Darfur, Sudan. Also, the author includes in the back matter definitions of some Arabic words. 

Positive Messages

Strong messages about the love of family, resilience, the will to survive, the value of education, and, as author Sharon M. Draper states at the back of the book, the "power of creativity, and the way art can help us heal."

Positive Role Models & Representations

Readers will empathize with Amira, who lost her father, her sheep, and her home. But they also will see her inner strength return, with the help of her red pencil. Amira eventually decides that she must take a risk and leave the refugee camp to pursue her own education. 


Amira's parents warn her about the Janjaweed. Later, the militants attack her village, killing her father and burning her sheep alive. Another boy's parents are killed, and his neck is burned.  


Amira sees a girl not much older than she is who's married to a man; later she sees the same girl pregnant. Amira's parents remember her birth and that of her sister.


Some mention of Fanta drinks.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

The man married to the young girl smokes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Red Pencil is a novel in free verse, by Andrea Davis Pinkney, that describes what happened to a 12-year-old girl and her family during the genocide in Darfur, Sudan. Amira's parents warn her about the Janjaweed. Later, the militants attack her village, killing her father and burning her sheep alive, forcing her mother to flee with her and her sister to a refugee camp. Readers will empathize with Amira, but they also will see her inner strength return with the help of her red pencil. The author includes in the back matter definitions of some Arabic words. She also shares her belief in the "power of creativity, and the way art can help us heal." Illustrations by Coretta Scott King Award-winner Shane W. Evans amplify the text.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byniyahnizzy September 3, 2018

The inner me

I thought this was a really good book also this could really give information about what’s going on now in Sudan darfur you should really take an interest in re... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old March 5, 2020

Absolutely Phenomenal

Amazing book! Andrea Davis Pinkey is a wonderful author with a caliber similar to Kwame Alexander. NOTE: There is one hard scene to read: pgs 108-113. The Janja... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byvolleyball12 August 29, 2019
I loved this book when i was younger i understood all of the writing and it was easy for me to read since the writing is like poetry.

What's the story?

Amira Bright is a 12-year-old girl living with her loving family in the Darfur region of Sudan. In simple free-verse poetry, she recounts life's everyday ups and downs, such as watching her disabled sister learn to play soccer, sleeping with her sheep for comfort after a dust storm, or trying to convince her traditional mother to let her go to school. When the Janjaweed, brutal armed militias, attack her village, her father is killed and her beloved sheep burned alive. She walks with her mother, her sister, and other survivors to a dismal refugee camp, so traumatized she can no longer speak. But then an aid worker's special gift helps her unlock her pain -- and a dream for herself.

Is it any good?

The free-verse style of THE RED PENCIL will help readers move through it quickly, but the novel is quite moving. At one point, a relief worker hands Amira a red pencil and a tablet of paper and Amira says, "A happy quick-beat drums in me." By telling the story of one 12-year-old girl, author Andrea Davis Pinkney helps young readers learn about the Darfur genocide and understand the devastating impact it had on families like Amira's.

Illustrator Shane W. Evans provides pencil drawings of Amira's world, drawing that could come from her own hand, adding more humanity to her story; one particularly powerful image, shown after the attack on her home, shows a delicate young girl with her hand on her heart, framed by a border of harsh scribbles.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Darfur, where Amira Bright lives with her family. What do you know about the genocide there? 

  • Why do you think this book is called The Red Pencil? How did the pencil change Amira's life? What do you think will happen to her next?

  • Have you read other books told in verse poetry? Why do you think the author decided to tell her story this way?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love learning history through stories

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