Author Stephanie Watson asked herself: what if everything you had ever drawn, from doodles to sketches came to life and went to live in a magical world? That, she says, is the big idea behind her newest middle grade novel, PENCILVANIA, illustrated by Sofia Moore. In this modern take on THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH meets HAROLD AND THE PURPLE CRAYON, Watson explores a child’s grief through a fantasy world of the child’s own creation.
Since she was little, Zora has liked to draw. Whenever she puts a marker, or a crayon, or a pencil to the page, something inside her takes over – her Voom – it starts as a single spark and grows to countless balls of light zooming around inside of her. Her mother, also an artist, recognizes her daughter’s gift and encourages her need to create. Art is the thing that most connects Zora to her mother . . . until she is diagnosed with leukemia. When she dies, Zora and her sister Frankie leave their beloved Lake Superior behind and move to Pittsburg to live with their Grandmother Wren. Though loving and well-intentioned, Grandmother Wren is ill-equipped to deal with the depth of Zora’s grief. In a fit of rage, Zora scribbles out her artwork and she and Frankie fall through the pages into a world comprised of all the animals and creatures Zora has ever drawn. Viscardi – a scribbled out horse – is determined to finish the destruction that Zora began. He kidnaps Frankie and Zora is challenged by her determination never to draw again – when drawing is the only thing left to save them.
Watson has a keen understanding of childhood grief. Her shimmering descriptions of Zora’s artful world and the animals that inhabit it are brought to life by Moore’s illustrations. Zora’s pain is palpable and may be overwhelming for sensitive readers, but her fierce devotion to her sister Frankie, coupled with her courage in the face of grief, will inspire young artists and encourage readers who have faced similar losses and challenges. The message of the power of love and art to heal the brokenhearted will transcend all generations.
I recommend Pencilvania for fans of Sheila O’Connor’s Sparrow Road and Counting by 7’s by Holly Goldberg Sloan.
This is Lin Salisbury with Superior Reviews. Listen to my author interviews on WTIP Radio, 90.7, Grand Marais, Minnesota and on the web at wtip.org.