Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is the author of Brightly’s Book Club for Kids pick The War That Saved My Life, a historical novel for middle grade readers that’s simultaneously poignant, inspiring, funny, and completely riveting. We asked Kimberly about the writing process behind her Newbery Honor book, what she hopes kids can learn from her novel, and which books were read-aloud staples in her family.
How did you come up with the premise of The War That Saved My Life?
You don’t really come up with premises, or plots, all at once — at least I don’t. I started with researching the evacuation of British children during WWII, and then started to think of a character for whom it might have been unmitigated good — for most children it was pretty traumatic, being taken away to live with strangers while their parents stayed put to get bombed — what would make it the opposite?
The War That Saved My Life is a work of historical fiction, set during WWII, but its central characters have proven to be completely relatable to children today. What do you think makes them so compelling to young readers living in the 21st century?
I think that Ada and Jamie are really in danger, and Ada fights back with everything she has — I think modern children relate to the emotions and to Ada’s persistence and courage.
As Ada and Jamie escape from their cruel mother and begin find a new maternal figure in Susan, the book reexamines the concept of what makes a family. What does family mean to you?
I’ve been married 27 years to someone who challenges me and loves me every single day — he and the children we’re raising are the heart of everything to me.
At the beginning of the book, Ada is restricted from leaving her mother’s one-bedroom apartment because of her twisted foot, but over the course of the story she leaves that apartment and teaches herself to walk, to ride a pony, and to read. What did you hope readers might learn from Ada’s determination?
That no one is entirely powerless.
Language plays a prominent role in the book, and Ada learns many new words that help her grow and change. What was one of the first big words you remember learning and loving?
The book deals with some mature themes, yet has been hailed as a fan-favorite by children and adults alike. How do you find the balance between writing a story for children and providing a realistic portrayal of the characters’ experiences?
I think children face hard things all the time. The best gift I can give them is honesty about the struggles in their lives and in my character’s lives.
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