Pencilvania by Stephanie Watson took me by surprise. I went into this middle grade novel with mid-level expectations, but this book was so much more than I bargained for.

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The summary, from Amazon:

In this illustrated, modern take on The Phantom Tollbooth meets Harold and the Purple Crayon, author Stephanie Watson beautifully explores grief and creativity through an unforgettable fantasy world.

Ever since she first learned to hold a crayon, Zora Webb has been unstoppable. Zora draws hamsters wearing pajamas and balloons and Lake Superior and pancakes and hundreds of horses. Her drawings fill sketchbooks and cover the walls of the happy home she shares with Frankie and their mother.

But when Zora’s mom is diagnosed with leukemia, everything changes. After months of illness, she dies, and with her goes Zora’s love of creation. Desperate to escape the pain, Zora scribbles out her artwork. Her dark, furious scribbles lift off the page and yank Zora and Frankie into Pencilvania, a magical world that’s home to everything Zora has ever drawn. And one drawing―a scribbled-out horse named Viscardi―is determined to finish the destruction Zora started.

Viscardi kidnaps Frankie, promising to scribble her and all of Pencilvania out at sunrise. Zora sets out to rescue her sister, venturing deep into Pencilvania―a place crawling with memories, dangers, and new friends. If she is to save Frankie, Zora will have to face the darkness that both surrounds her and is inside of her.

Buy Pencilvania here.

Zora and Frankie’s mom dies of leukemia, and with her death, Zora also loses her love of drawing. In a fit of grief, Zora scribbles over all her drawings. But the scribbles pull Zora and Frankie into the magical realm of Pencilvania, a world made up entirely of everything Zora has ever drawn. A horse Zora has traced when her inspiration failed her, Viscardi, has taken over and plans to scribble out all of Pencilvania, including Frankie, whom he kidnaps. Zora must confront her memories in the form of her drawings to save her sister and her art.

This was such an emotional read. The best part, for me, was the illustrations. The drawings are very evocative of what a kid would make and give such a realistic feel to an otherwise fantastical story. I loved the character development of Zora falling back in love with her art. There’s also some great humor. For example, in one scene, Zora wants to fly a plane. However, she can’t, because she drew all planes to scale as tiny specks in the sky of her drawings and cannot fit into any of them. Overall, this was a 5 star read that I think a lot of kids will be drawn to (haha) due to the fun illustrations.

Find out more about how I rate books here.

PencilvaniaPencilvania by Stephanie Watson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Quick read. Love the “realistic for a kid” illustrations. Great story about processing grief.

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Book Club Questions

  1. Why did Zora give up drawing?
  2. Why does Frankie like when Zora draws?
  3. What was your favorite piece of Zora’s art? Why?

Interested? Buy Pencilvania.
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