One of the main aspects that we loved in our junior fiction title The Red Pencil was the figurative language. Some of our favourite similes and metaphors included; “Its golden braids are woven with the promise of a hearty harvest’’ (2), “Words flap from her like giddy chickens escaping their pen’’ (10), “He smiles as wide as a moon’s crescent’’ (26), ““The sun, she has a blistering palm’’ (27), “Muma is shriveling, like a dried-up hibiscus flower page’’ (204), “A lighted ball flaunting plump abundance, high in a so-black sky’’ (272) and “Words leap from me like a grasshopper from a folded palm’’ (260).
We all agreed that the great strength of this novel is the simplicity of its free verse and the sense of time and place that the language evokes. Most of us knew very little about the war in Sudan, aside from what we had seen on television and the news regarding displaced persons’ camps, although some of our schools did have students who were Sudanese refugees. We talked then about the sensitive nature of reading this book with those students in the classroom and the potential for them to be upset by the story. Others felt that it would be very useful to have a text like this on the shelf as it tells the story of a girl who has been displaced from her own country and perhaps it is helpful for children to read stories that reflect their own experiences.
We noted how important it is that our library collections reflect the ethnic diversity of our students and of our country in general. Yet, even if some of our individual schools do not reflect that ethnic diversity, we also believed it was really important that we have these stories from other parts of the world available to our students to learn about culture, politics and society outside of our own narrow world. Some of the relevant educational areas that this novel deals with that are mentioned in the curriculum guide include: social studies – geography of Sudan, ethnicities, history, government, language, religion, education, economy, lifestyle, including family structure and gender roles, recreation and weather patterns (http://media.hdp.hbgusa.com/titles/assets/reading_group_guide/9780316247801/EG_9780316247801.pdf).
We spent some time discussing the relationship between Amira and her mother and the fact that it was her mother who was the more conservative of her parents in not wanting Amira to be educated. We contrasted this with her friend Halima whose parents were not traditionalists and wanted to move to the city to provide further opportunities for their children. We talked about how difficult it is in some communities to embrace change and technology and the fear that accompanies change. As none of our members had put the book in circulation yet we did not know how appealing the book would be to the students and we were going to talk about this next time we met. We wondered who would be the first to check it out of the library as sometimes free verse novels are overlooked. It has a very distinctive and striking cover which certainly appeals to those looking for more diverse characters represented on the covers of their collection.