The gift of a simple red pencil gives a girl in war-ravaged Sudan the opportunity to express her feelings and overcome her grief. This is the story Andrea Davis Pinkney tells in The Red Pencil: A Novel Told in Poems, Pictures, and Possibilities (Little, Brown, Sept.), which features illustrations by Shane W. Evans. Relayed in verse, the narrative offers a composite portrait of children coping with the devastating effects of a war that has shattered their lives.

“As I watched the struggles in Darfur and Sudan unfold, I felt compelled to present the horrific side of war to young readers in a way that they could understand,” explains the author. “I felt as though children in this country cannot understand a lot about what is happening, and I felt a desire to contextualize that for them.”

Though The Red Pencil centers on a fictional 12-year-old girl, Pinkney emphasizes that “this is not just her one story, but it is many children’s stories,” gleaned from news accounts of young people growing up amid the turmoil of war and from interviews with rescue workers. “I learned about workers who go into refugee camps and give these children writing and drawing implements to let them express themselves,” she continues. “That creative outlet really helps those living in such a dark situation.”

The author hopes that her novel will not only inform middle-grade readers but will encourage them to similarly express themselves creatively. “Part of my thinking was that a child will see that if he or she is struggling with any darkness, any sad or tragic situation, it helps to use creative expression as a healing tool. So many children do that anyway, and my hope was to validate the use of that process.”

Calling The Red Pencil “part novel, part historical narrative, and part sketchbook,” Pinkney emphasizes the importance of Evans’s contribution to the book. “Shane did a wonderful job channeling the story,” she says. “My role as author is to create the voice of this character, and his role is to create her visual voice, which he did so effectively.”

A children’s book editor and publisher as well as author, Pinkney is a seasoned BEA attendee, and a grateful one. “I know this sounds corny, but I come to BEA to meet my heroes, those booksellers who place books in the hands of readers every day,” she says. “I think we cannot overestimate what they do, and I love having the chance to sing their praises to their faces.”

Booksellers will find Pinkney signing ARCs of The Red Pencil this afternoon, 1:30–2:30 p.m., at Table 11 in the Autographing Area.