I fully expected to NOT enjoy The Red Pencil because I had just finished another YA novel in this format. I was very pleasantly surprised to become caught up in Amira’s world and love this novel. The book opens peacefully enough as Amira celebrates a lovely,simple twelfth birthday celebration. She lives with her family in a picturesque village in Darfur. Amira’s biggest problem at the opening of the novel is convincing her parents, mainly her mother, that she needs to an academic education. Her mother is convinced that girls only need to learn to care for the children and home, traditional skills. Amira has a thirst for knowledge and wants to go to school.
There is talk of war, even in the carefree opening pages. Amira’s father says, “Brothers are killing each other…” He prepares his family for the possibility of an invasion. Sadly and predictably, the invasion happens fast and furiously and the remainder of the book is set in a refugee camp. Similar to Anne Frank, Amira’s family adjusts to this new and limited living arrangement, and the usual family conflicts persists.
This book is ripe with lesson plans. Teachers can compare and contrast the two main settings, as well as meaningful discussions of all other plot elements. The characterization is done very well for main and minor characters. What is the theme? United States’ students will benefit from discussions about differences in education around the world, especially how some cultures do not value academic education for girls. The resolution is ambiguous which will make for excellent discussions.