Book Review: The Pencil
By Allan Ahlberg
Illustrated by Bruce Ingman
Many of the picture books I read are firmly “of the times” – characters, dialog, and illustrations all combine to declare modernity. I envision kids reading these books for a few years and then, well I’m not sure. Some of them will have longevity and some won’t – it’s often hard to tell. Much more rarely do I encounter books that successfully rise above the here and now. Their combination of story and images displays a timelessness that will likely appeal to readers for years to come. “The Pencil” is one such book. One of my favorite picture book titles to be released this year.
As the title suggests, it all begins with a pencil. The first thing it draws is a boy named Banjo. Banjo requests a pet dog, so Bruce is sketched. Bruce wants a cat, so Mildred is whipped up. From there, the pencil starts getting creative. A town is sketched, along with a house and a family for Banjo. When they get tired of all the black and white, the pencil cleverly draws a paintbrush to add some color. Then the complaints start rolling in. The pencil’s creations are not pleased with the way things look and want some changes. The solution? An eraser.
However, the eraser soon starts rubbing out everything in it’s path. With the fate of his world in jeopardy, the pencil comes up with the perfect way to save Banjo, his family, and his town.
The storytelling is subtle. It doesn’t yell at the reader, but confidently lets the plot unfold. There are touches of humor. Everything the pencil draws wants to be named. This leads to a rubber ball going by “Sebastian”, and the endpapers filled to the brim with swing sets named “Claudia” and other various, named objects. Suspense is also used to great affect. When a problem arises, the reader must wait until the page is turned to discover the solution.
Ingman’s spare illustrations add much to the uncomplicated feel of “The Pencil”. Rendered in acrylics, their simplicity is integral to the story of the inexperienced pencil, drawing for the first time.
Not a title that will necessarily jump out at readers, “The Pencil” is a modest gem. Maybe not an obvious pick for story time, but don’t let that deter you – this book should be a read-aloud hit. The kind of book you can be proud to share.
Find this book at your local library with WorldCat.
Filed under: *Best New Books*, Reviews
About Travis Jonker
Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.
SLJ Blog Network
One Star Review, Guess Who? (#187)
Ellen Myrick Publisher Preview: Fall 2023/Winter 2024 (Part Five – Berbay, Cicada & Creston Books)
Recent Graphic Novel Deals, Late May 2023 | News
A Case for Fun and Games, a guest post by Andrew Auseon
The Classroom Bookshelf is Moving