By Stephanie Watson
Zora loves to draw. She has an itch in her arm, her ‘voom’ as she calls it, which is only satisfied when she is drawing, producing countless pictures inspired by time spent with her Mom and little sister Frankie, at her house, nearby Lake Superior, Frankie’s beloved horses, anything at all, which leads to pictures of robots with lightbulbs for heads, hamsters in pyjamas, and a seven legged horse. But when Zora’s Mom gets cancer and dies, Zora’s voom leaves her too. Sent to live with distant Grandmother Wren in Pittsburgh, far away from everything she loves, Zora is miserable, devastated by grief, and convinced that it was her fault that Mom died. After all, when Mom insisted that she was going to get better, Zora drew sick Mom as she really looked, shattering Mom’s belief in her own recovery. Zora had even stormed off in anger, and Mom had died shortly afterwards.
Things come to a head on Frankie’s seventh birthday when instead of the riding lessons Mom promised, Grandmother Wren offers a bus tour of the city, and instead of fancy birthday cake and balloons, there is only…ugly cake. It’s too much for Zora, and in her rage, she grabs her green colouring pencil and destroys all her drawings, including what Frankie sweetly calls ‘the permanent collection’ by scribbling all over them.
But Zora’s voom is pretty special and all her drawings actually come to life in a place called Pencilvania, which means her angry scribbles lift off the page and whisk Zora and Frankie into Pencilvania. Worse, Zora’s angry scribbles have turned many of the now-alive-drawings bad, including a horse called Viscardi who is determined to erase ALL the inhabitants of Pencilvania – together with Frankie.
Sometimes a story just hits all the right notes and Pencilvania did that for me. I felt for Zora so much in this story, and Frankie is such a sweet little sister. The world of Pencilvania is imaginative, the story, although it has a relatively simple plot, is cleverly done, the pacing spot on, and all the characters encountered are endearing (maybe with the exception of Viscardi!). An added bonus is the fabulous illustrations peppered throughout the book.
This is my second middle grade story in recent weeks where the protagonist is pulled into a world they have drawn. Zora’s Pencilvania is very different from Kiki’s Mysore, Zora is at the younger end of middle grade, Kiki at the older, but I love both stories. Zora is working through her grief, and her journey to rescue Frankie is emotionally painful as she has to face her drawings, but it’s very worthwhile. I also like that Zora’s anger is obviously destructive, and she has to face its consequences too.
All in all a great story, which I heartily recommend. TOTP and I agree that Pencilvania shines like ten diamonds out of ten.
Here’s a link to my review of Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom, in case you missed it.
Thanks to publishers Sourcebooks for sending me a copy of this great book.