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Full Text Reviews:
Booklist - 10/15/2014 *Starred Review* As Amira’s twelfth birthday approaches, she finds herself distracted from her daily responsibilities on the family farm: doing chores; looking after her little sister, Leila, who was born with special needs; and caring for her little lamb, Nali. She dreams of school, but that is not the traditional way for girls in Sudan. Life is hard, with scarce food, distant water, and the looming obligation of marriage and motherhood. Still, she scratches out her thoughts and dreams in the dirt with a precious twig, wishing. Then the Janjaweed arrive and decimate the village in an attack that kills her father and Nali. After the remaining family members and their friend Old Anwar relocate to a refugee camp, Amira’s spirit is sorely tested, but the gift of a pad and a red pencil restores her sense of agency and offers the promise of learning. Pinkney’s short, clipped verse expresses the harsh difficulties and intimate beauties of daily life—dust storms, orange soda, family devotion—in broken lines that capture Amira’s breathless anxiety and hope. And if the evocative poetry is the novel’s beating heart, Evans’ spare, open, graceful line drawings are its breath, recalling Amira’s own linear musings, drawn on the ground or in her own tablet. Ultimately, this is an inspirational story of the harrowing adversity countless children face, the resilience with which they meet it, and the inestimable power of imagination and learning to carry them through. - Copyright 2014 Booklist.
School Library Journal - 07/01/2014 Gr 5–7—Set during the early years of the Darfur conflict, this stunning collaboration between Coretta Scott King Award winners Pinkney and Evans tells a moving story of the scarring effects of war but also brings a message of hope and inspiration. Twelve-year-old Amira wishes to attend school, but her mother, "born into a flock of women/locked in a hut of tradition," does not support the girl's aspirations and expects her to only marry and bear children. In contrast, Amira's father praises her talents and gifts her with a special "turning-twelve twig" that she uses to sketch her dreams in the goz (sand). These dreams are brutally shattered when the Janjaweed militants invade and cut a swath of terror through her village. After enduring a heartbreaking loss, Amira and her family must rally their strength in order to make the treacherous journey to the Kalma refugee camp. There, the girl is given a red pencil; this simple gift reveals a world of endless possibilities and imbues the tween with a strong sense of agency. Amira's thoughts and drawings are vividly brought to life through Pinkney's lyrical verse and Evans's lucid line illustrations, which infuse the narrative with emotional intensity. An engaging author note provides background on the political situation in Sudan and explains the powerful motivations for telling this story. An essential purchase that pairs well with Sylvia Whitman's The Milk of Birds (S. & S., 2013).—Lalitha Nataraj, Escondido Public Library, CA - Copyright 2014 Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and/or School Library Journal used with permission.