The War That Saved My Life
If there’s any book that we’ve given short shrift to this past year, then perhaps it’s THE WAR THAT SAVED MY LIFE, a popular favorite–it dominated our Top Five Tally and is ranked second on the Goodreads Poll–has also generated great buzz (three starred reviews translated into three best of the year lists), and just kind of feels like a Newbery book in many ways.
I’ve recruited Valerie McCurdy to give the book a fuller treatment here on Heavy Medal. Valerie McCurdy is an up-and-coming Youth Services Librarian in Florida. She has a background in STEM education having worked as a science museum educator, and has worked with underprivileged and at risk youth since she was seventeen. Valerie is currently my mentee in the ALSC mentoring program. One of her goals is to start a blog about YS Librarianship, and this is a step in that direction.
If you’re anything like me, you may have come across “The War That Saved My Life” this year and thought, ‘Oh no, not another World War II book for kids.’ Well, I’m here to tell you that this is not just another WWII book. While war was the vehicle with which Bradley drove her characters together, the heart of the book is about two children – Ada and Jamie – that strive to overcome disability (clubfoot), poverty, neglect and the inherent distrust that comes with facing these obstacles. In the vein of books like “Wonder” and “El Deafo” I was glad to see the narrator of this book as a believable ten-year-old girl with a physical affliction and a strong character. Ada’s narration appeals to any child that may feel stupid or left out because she is different, while her inner thoughts and the development of her character reinforce that her “bad foot’s a long way from [her] brain. (p. 277)” Despite a few bumps in the road the reader can invest in Ada’s journey from never having seen grass to becoming a local hero, without thinking that Ada is simple minded or age inappropriate.
In her writing, Bradley demonstrates a profound understanding of a child that affects disinterest to avoid false hope. Ada’s story offers a unique glimpse into the mind of such a child, and into how she learns to overcome these affectations once she finally feels loved and accepted. I think this book is an excellent contender for the Newbery. However, if I had one request to make to the author, I would have liked more conflict between Ada and her mother near the end of the book before the story resolved itself. Call me crazy considering all of the trials Ada and Jaime faced in this story, but I felt a sense of unfinished business when the story appeared to wrap up in a neat little bow. I am glad Ada and Jaime got a happy ending, but as a reader I felt there was still danger that their happy ending could be taken from them given the way things were left. All in all, however, I am happily going to recommend this book to readers in my library. I look forward to your thoughts on this book.
I’ll chime in first. I know several people mentioned they were looking forward to a review of this book on Disability in Kid Lit. Did that review ever happen?
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About Jonathan Hunt
Jonathan Hunt is the Coordinator of Library Media Services at the San Diego County Office of Education. He served on the 2006 Newbery committee, and has also judged the Caldecott Medal, the Printz Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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