Hot Market for Pencils Help Kids Turn Lead Into Gold

Julie Wernau:

Every kid wants a pencil—especially a carefully carved stub of a pencil called a mini.

Sasha Portnoy, a 9-year-old from Hamden, Conn., is among those playing the market. “One or two mini-pencils for a box of Nerds. Or maybe two or three for an Airhead,” said Sasha, explaining the pencil-to-candy conversion rate.

She says she spends an hour a night sharpening pencils until they are small enough to trade for candy or slime, the gelatinous goop some children knead. She sometimes cuts the pencils in half, doubling her investment.

With smartphones common, pencils are the novelty. Teachers can’t hold on to them. Parents can’t get rid of them. Elementary school students can’t get enough of them.

“They’re a status symbol,” said Nora Rodriguez, an eighth-grader in Peachtree City, Ga. She has grown out of the mini-pencil fad—Because, why? she said with an older-kid attitude. Yet she still has favorites and keeps them in a pencil pouch with her eyelash curler, lip gloss, mirror and brush.

Nora’s friend Olivia—She is always losing her pencil, Nora said—tried to steal a cherished purple pencil during first-period Spanish. “What are you doing?” Nora recalled saying and took it back.