C&C: Two Novels about Sudanese Refugees

A comparison and contrast of two similar middle grade books.

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Last summer, N and I read two novels about Sudanese refugees.

One was A Long Walk to Water: A Novel Based on a True Story by Linda Sue Park.  Although this was reviewed first, I actually read it second.

The other was The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Shane Evans.  I read this one first and then traded with N, who had read Long Walk to Water first.

A Long Walk to Water

One book is a novel closely based on a true story, while the other is a wholly fiction novel in verse with illustrations.  The main character of The Red Pencil is a girl who is displaced within Sudan, while A Long Walk to Water follows a boy who is displaced outside of Sudan.

The two characters face very different pressures within the same conflict.  Both witness the traumatic deaths of family members.  Both are survivors who try to hold on to hope and be a force for good in the world.  Both suffer.  Both lose their homes and most of their families and feel like they have lost their country.  Amira finds her religion as a source of hope, while for Salva the idea of improving other people’s lives motivates him.  Salva is forced to flee further and faster because for him the consequence is to be forcibly conscripted as a child soldier if not outright murdered.  Amira is able to flee more slowly and keep some family and neighborhood connections because women and female children were aggressively pursued in a different manner, which is glossed over in this children’s book.  Both characters are in danger of their lives, and both are surprised when the violence suddenly erupts in their hometowns.

Both of these books are written by marginalized authors, but neither are written by a Sudanese refugee.  One of these is written by a Korean-American, closely referring to the true story of one Sudanese refugee and American immigrant.  The other is written and illustrated by African-Americans.

The Red Pencil cover resized

Which do I recommend?  Well that depends.  By reading both of these within a close time period, I felt like we got a decent overview of Sudanese refugees from two different viewpoints.  Together, they gave us a broader viewpoint than we would have gotten with only one.  However, we didn’t find a middle grade nonfiction text, which I would have liked to supplement these books.

The Red Pencil is better suited to younger readers, because while it does contain suspense and incredibly sad and awful events, the narrator is “safe” (we know she survives to write the story) and the violence is comparatively downplayed.  I probably wouldn’t use it in the classroom with students below fourth grade, but it could be appropriate for individual children who are younger.  This book could be read up into middle school, and probably even high school.

However, I didn’t enjoy the poetry and the illustrations didn’t balance that out.  It doesn’t seem to translate well into adult reading (as, for example, A Time to Dance or When the Mountain Meets the Moon do).

A Long Walk to Water works as an adult read, but it is very suspenseful and includes more graphic violence.  I’d use it with middle and high school students but would be cautious about using it with younger students.  Both books are appropriate for middle school students, and a comparison between the two could make for an interesting class discussion.

Generally speaking, both books were interesting, although I preferred A Long Walk to Water.  N enjoyed both books, although I find it telling that she stopped in the middle of The Red Pencil and put it down for an extended period of time.

Any books about Sudan or refugees that you recommend?

Review: The Red Pencil

This illuminated novel in verse tells a story of internal displacement for middle grade readers.

The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Shane Evans.
Little, Brown, and Company, Hachette Book Group, New York, 2014.
Middle grade novel in verse, 331 pages including extras but not excerpts.
Lexile:  HL620L  (What does HL mean in Lexile?)
AR Level:  4.2 (worth 3.0 points)  .

Amira is a young village girl who dreams of going to school and learning to read the Koran.  But her mother desires a more traditional life for her.  Then the Janjaweed attack, and it seems like all dreams, and words, are gone forever.  Can a gift restore hope?

The Red Pencil cover resized

This one was a bit of a gamble.  I have yet to dislike a book by any of the Pinkneys – individually and collectively they are so talented that the name alone can sell me on a book.  Plus I have loved Shane Evans’ work, and the kids find his illustrations appealing too.

But.  This is a novel in verse.  I wasn’t actually aware that it was illuminated until after purchasing, and Shane Evans’s illustrations did take the edge off.  But as I’ve said before, novels in verse rarely work for me.  I love poetry and novels, but feel that the combination usually loses something.  For this reason, I don’t often seek those books out unless they come highly recommended or with an author/illustrator team I can’t ignore.

Continue reading “Review: The Red Pencil”

Web: The Pinkney Clan

Did you know that six members of the Pinkney family are artists, authors, or publishers?

I’m going to hope that everyone with an interest in diverse children’s books has at least heard of Jerry Pinkney.  However, did you know that much of the rest of his family is involved in art or literature as well?

Continue reading “Web: The Pinkney Clan”

Board Book Review: Pretty Brown Face

Our 44th board book has a wonderful message for brown-skinned toddlers.

Pretty Brown Face by Andrea and Brian Pinkney.
Red Wagon Books, Harcourt, 1997.
Board book, 16 pages.

A young child discovers the wonders of fir own face.

Pretty Brown Face cover resized

This simple but well made book is sure to appeal to a wide variety of families and childcare professionals.  There are only two characters – a small child encountering a mirror and a male caregiver (presumably father, but never named as such).  At first I assumed the child was male, but no pronouns or male references are used, so this book could work nicely for a child of either gender.

Continue reading “Board Book Review: Pretty Brown Face”

#DiverseAThon January 2017

I don’t normally post these sorts of things, but Naz at ReadDiverseBooks was very convincing about the need to promote the #DiverseAThon and maybe I have a few readers who might not know about it yet.

It runs from January 22nd to the 29th and “The goal of Diverse-A-Thon is simply to celebrate diversity in literature by reading diverse books all week and engage in thoughtful discussions on Twitter under the #DiverseAthon hashtag. The readathon will largely remain the same. It is low-stress and there no challenges – just read as many diverse books as you are comfortable reading in 7 days. There will be daily chats on Twitter this time around as well, so be sure to follow the @Diverseathon Twitter account to stay updated on all future news regarding the chats.”

challenge-cropped-resized
January 2017 #DiverseAThon TBR

It takes me ages to plan and write a review (I’m not great with cameras), and some of these I might not review, so just like last month’s book haul, this is what I’m (hopefully) reading and what you might see reviewed in the distant future.

Continue reading “#DiverseAThon January 2017”