How Drawing Saved the World: A Review of Penvilvania by Stephanie Watson

by Stephanie Watson
Illustrated by Sofia Moore
Sourcebooks/Sourcebooks Young Readers
October 5th, 2021
Ages 8+

Twelve-year-old Zora Webb has always loved to draw, encouraged by the support and kind words of her mother—she calls her wish to draw the “Voom.” But when Zora’s mom dies after a months-long battle with leukemia, the Voom disappears completely. All Zora wants to do is scribble over the drawings that her mother had loved so much. When she does, they come to life, dragging Zora and her sister, Frankie, into the magical realm of Pencilvania, a land filled with everything Zora has ever drawn—including the scribbles, which are wreaking havoc on all the other drawings. When a scribble captures her sister, Zora goes on a quest across Pencilvania. With the help of a seven-legged horse, hamsters in pajamas, and a collection of her past self-portraits, Zora saves her sister, her love of drawing, and the rest of the realm.


Pencilvania is an insightful middle-grade fantasy novel chronicling the journey of Zora Webb through a land of her own making. Written in simple text supplemented by onomatopoeia interjections and visual renditions of Zora’s drawings, Pencilvania is an accessible and oftentimes humorous look at grief and healing. Complicated emotions are conceptualized using color and shapes, allowing young readers to visually track the changes in Zora’s drawings and emotion, and inviting them to look at their own emotions in a new way. The copious illustrations—a combination of childlike pencil drawings, more sophisticated illustrations, and collage-like renderings—faithfully detail Zora’s story. Though she is writing for an elementary school audience, Watson does not shy away from difficult topics; she represents and resolves anger, fear, and hopelessness truthfully and completely, while still leaving room for humor and joy. The human cast is presumed white with a varied (and oftentimes silly) group of living drawings that help Zora on her way back to hope and, ultimately, forgiveness.*

* Reviewed from an Advanced Readers’ Copy