Skip to main content

The City Journals

One pen can change the world

Mar 07, 2018 01:24PM ● By Jessica Ivins

Emily White with “Malala’s Magic Pencil” and book at Howard R. Driggs Elementary. (Jessica Ivins/City Journals)

Emily White’s idea for her art literacy grant started on a sleepless night. 

“We need the future problem solvers, the sixth-graders at our school, to experience what it’s like to give and to teach,” White said. “They need to feel like their education is their voice.” 

Meanwhile, she had reread a speech from a professor of social economics at Harvard University, Arthur C. Brooks, on “Why Giving Matters.”  His words resonated with White when he said, “You have been given the gift of giving. Help others by giving them the gift of giving.” 

Emily wanted to create this ripple effect of giving in her school with a multicultural voice, but wasn’t sure how. Then she found “Malala’s Magic Pencil,” a picture book about a child in Pakistan who wishes for a magic pencil. It was written by Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai.

White received the “One Pen Can Change the World” grant from Holladay Arts Council.  She is the PTA art chairperson at Howard R. Driggs Elementary and will participate with Lincoln Elementary in South Salt Lake for the project. Her enthusiasm for her project is contagious. She had to persevere and campaign for others to see the empowering effects of the magic pencil. 

“Now the project is snowballing and the momentum is tremendous,” White said.

In collaboration with Read Across America and Literacy Week, there was a school-wide reading of “Malala’s Magic Pencil” Feb. 12–16 with parents and school librarians. Then on Feb. 20–21 Howard R. Driggs advanced sixth-grade students and the Lincoln Elementary art specialist, Sheryl Thorell, reflected how Malala created solutions to solve problems with her magic pencil. The classes discussed problems and solved and created their own artistic solutions to a problem using a piece of paper and a pencil. As Malala says in her book, “One child, one teacher, one book, one pen” can change the world.

One problem a child chose to solve was about the struggle with depression. The illustrated solution was heading outside, saying “hello” and going to the park with a friend. It is simple and that is what White likes about the project. It gets children critically thinking and solving with their voice through art.

Another problem discussed was a child did not have a large enough family boat. A child’s problem is never repudiated, however, as a brainstorming session led to the boat being used to deliver food to Ghana. 

Libraries are increasing their circulation of Malala’s book for White’s project. She will have the daunting task of choosing one piece of art from each classroom. Forty-five pieces of artwork will be displayed at Millcreek Library April 5–13. Each recognized child will receive a donated copy of Malala’s book. In addition, there are partner schools locally and worldwide that will be showcasing their artwork through a video presentation.  

White’s goal is to “use this project as a model for many educational communities.” It can be taught by a classroom teacher, an art specialist, or students to one class or an entire school. It is inexpensive and only requires paper and pencils. 

After the program has finished, White will have the winning students write to the Future Problem Solving National Organization about why they should change their name to Current Problem Solving. 

If White continues to have more restless nights, who knows what other benefits her students might see.