Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group
I Am a Pencil

I Am a Pencil

A Teacher, His Kids, and Their World of Stories

Sam Swope

Henry Holt and Co.



A teacher discovers how reading, writing, and imagining can help children grow, change, and even sometimes survive

A few years back, children's-book writer Sam Swope gave a workshop to a third-grade class in Queens. So enchanted was he with his twenty-eight students that he "adopted" the class for three years, teaching them to write stories and poems. Almost all were new Americans (his class included students fom twenty-one countries) and Swope was drawn deep into their real and imaginary lives, their problems, hopes, and fears. I Am a Pencil is the story of his years with this very special group of students. It is as funny, warm, heartbreaking, and hopeful as the children themselves.
Swope follows his colorful troop of resilient writers from grades three to five, coaxing out their stories, watching talents blossom, explode, and sometimes fizzle, holding his breath as the kids' families brave new lives in a strange big city. We meet Susie (whose mom was a Taoist priestess), Alex (who cannot seem to tell the truth), and Noelia (a wacky Dominican chatterbox). All of the children have big dreams. Some have big problems: Salvador, an Ecuadorian boy, must cope with a strict Pentecostal father; Soo Jung mystifies Swope with sudden silences - until he discovers that her mother has left the family. Preparing his students for a world of adult dangers, Swope is astonished by their courage, humanity, but most of all by their strength.

Christopher Awards - Winner, Christopher Awards - Nominee


Praise for I Am a Pencil

“It's really hard to communicate the sheer pleasure in teaching, and really connecting with, students like the ones Swope describes in such rich and generous detail. Is there a book that more convincingly demonstrates that any students, anywhere, from any backgrounds or surmounting any obstacles, can be led to love poetry, to read like madmen, to write compulsively and be open to the possibilities of the word on the page? I Am A Pencil should be read by anyone who wants to find inspiration in today's students, teachers and the Sam Swopes that enhance the lives of both.” —Dave Eggers, author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

I am a Pencil is a magical journey. Sam Swope clearly has a gift for inspiring in others the make-believe, and so it's a treat to watch as he taps the imaginings of his immigrant students, and in doing so discover the realities of their newfound lives here.” —Alex Kotlowitz, Pulitzer-prize winning author of There Are No Children Here

Reviews from Goodreads

About the author

Sam Swope

Sam Swope is the author of several very well-received children's books, including The Araboolies of Liberty Street, The Krazees, and Gotta Go! Gotta Go!, and of the soon-to-be-published Jack and the Seven Deadly Giants. He lives in New York City.

Sam Swope

Sam Swope