Have you ever been uninspired? What do you do? My Pencil and Me, a recommended graphic novel from the Texas Library Association Little Maverick list, is a story of a girl who is ready to write a story, but has no inspiration. Her dog suggests she asks her pencil for help, who happily complies. From here, they begin an adventure, in this case, a baseball game of friends of all shapes and forms. Throughout this writing experience, Sarah runs into dilemmas, doubts and questions and her friends help her throughout. The reader is led by Varon through a journey of growth mindset, imagination and journey as a writer and artist. The graphic art utilized in this book effortlessly tells the story.
EVALUATION OF BOOK
The cartoon style of the graphic art with the dialogue makes the story clear and understandable. In one frame, for instance, the dog, pencil and Sarah are having a conversation. Each of their eyes, and faces are turned to whoever they are talking to. It is clear what is going on, even as we have talking dogs and pencils. Other examples of telling a clear story is that she labels items to inform the reader of its name. In many scenes, she might at dotted lines (Image 2) to show her subject as she draws, or dotted lines to show motion of an object, such as a baseball. This makes it clear to the reader, even as all this action is taking place in one big frame, as opposed to many frames.
While her art is digital two dimensional art with mostly light and bright colors, there are moments where she includes texture via three dimensional images. When the reader opens the book, they see one digitally drawn pencil with a smile, nose and eyes surrounded by many different pencils that Varon might actually use to sketch. The epilogue of the book has a photo of Varon, dressed in the same outfit as her narrator, with a pencil in hand and her dog. If the audience looks closely, however, sitting beside her on the left, are two of her imaginary friends in their digital format. Varon’s graphic art may remind young people with older siblings or parents who are fans of Bob’s Burgers, which is an animated comedy show. The protagonist has three identifying features, lipless mouth, a protruding ‘c” shaped nose and huge eyes. This depiction of a person, and the only is adorable, normal and sweet.
The most important theme of this graphic novel is one of growth mindset. Dweck, known for her work in the idea of mindsets (fixed and growth) suggests that if a child believes that they can develop their intelligence and consequently, “growth their brains,” it has many benefits, such as increased achievement and positive association with learning and failure (2015, para. 2). At one point, Sarah asks, “What if it turns out terrible?” to which her pencil replies, “Well, you’ll never know if you don’t try!…Id doesn’t need to be perfect.” (Varon, 2020, p. 12). This is a perfect model for young children who may have started feeling the pressure of needing to get a certain grade, or have immediate aptitude for a skill or subject. This might be due to cultural, social or family pressures. When I hear students tell me they hate school, I often ask when they started feeling that way? They always say, in 3rd grade, when they started giving us grades and we started taking the STAAR test (State assessment). While this is a frightful norm of many children, books like this can help counter those effects and encourage trying new things, creating for the sake of creating and embracing non-perfectionism.
My Pencil and Me is a delightful story of inspiration and growth mindset. Even people who are passionate about something, such as drawing, can be at a loss of a new and exciting vision. Varon delights the reader by depicting her self, but surround herself also with talking pencils, dogs and more. She encourages that it is alright to make mistakes and more important to do.
Dweck, C. (2015). Carol Dweck revisits the growth mindset. Education Week, 35(5), 20-24.
Varon, S.(2020). My Pencil and me. First Second.