What a lucky person I’ve been this summer – so many fabulous books to dive into and enjoy in a way that is entirely summer reading bliss. As always, I’m so grateful that we have such gifted authors writing books that teachers like me can read, appreciate, and then pass on to our students knowing that they will come to share the love, too. This was certainly the way I feel about Kimberley Brubaker Bradley’s book, The War That Saved My Life:
Here’s the jacket copy:
Nine-year-old Ada has never left her one-room apartment. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn’t waste a minute—she sneaks out to join him.
So begins a new adventure of Ada, and for Susan Smith, the woman who is forced to take the two kids in. As Ada teaches herself to ride a pony, learns to read, and watches for German spies, she begins to trust Susan—and Susan begins to love Ada and Jamie. But in the end, will their bond be enough to hold them together through wartime? Or will Ada and her brother fall back into the cruel hands of their mother?
As a work of historical fiction, the novel is a slice of history that we really don’t get to hear much about – the hardships endured by English families during the long war years when the threat from Hitler’s Germany was oppressive, imminent, and then dreadful to experience. Many families believed that it was safer to sent their young children off to the country where they would be safe from the bombing raids that were certain to come, a decision that must have caused further heartache and hardship for those that sent their children away, and those that had to take on the responsibility of new mouths to feed – war-time is full of compromise and sacrifice for the greater cause, after all.
The author writes vividly, bringing these historical details to life. We get a sense of war-time London as well as how the relative safety of the country proves to be equally dangerous. But I loved the story that is set within this historical framework so much, too, and the three main characters: Ada, her brother Jamie, and Susan. Ada’s mother is one of those unspeakable monsters, a truly cruel and ignorant people who have no business having children because they are simply not equipped to care for them. And yet, Ada, who suffers indignity as well as physical punishment, is a strong and resilient soul. She is a character that my students need to read about – they will learn much about persistence and courage from her. She chooses to fight and find a way to free herself and her brother from their mother’s grasp, and these traits help her later on as they adjust to the country and their new life.
Susan, the woman who is forced to take them on as past of her war duties, is also a wonderful character. She has shut herself off from the world in grief after the death of her dearest friend in the world, and it is beautiful to see her character come alive and return to itself once the children are her responsibility.
In the interview below, the author speaks about the healing power of love that is really the foundation of this story:
The War That Saved My Life is another book that I can’t wait to share with my students. This will definitely be a selection for our historical fiction genre studies – perhaps the book that I will use as our readaloud to launch our journey.