Brightly’s Book Club for Kids:
The War That Saved My Life

by Kari Ness Riedel

Our latest book club selection is a Newbery Honor winner from bestselling author Kimberly Brubaker Bradley that has received rave reviews from kids and adults alike. We hope you’ll find it as inspiring and engaging as we do. The story is told from the perspective of Ada, a 9-year-old girl living in poverty in England during World War II, and recounts the adventures and life changes she and her brother experience while living with an educated woman in the country. If you are looking for a gripping tale that stimulates rich discussion and provides a window into a different world, this is the perfect book club pick!

About the Book

Best For: Kids ages 9 – 13

You’ll Like It If You Like: Historical fiction, Adventure, Empathy-building stories

It’s About: Set in England during World War II, this is the emotionally charged story of Ada, a 9-year-old with a clubfoot who has been made to feel that she is unworthy of love and a normal life by her own mother. When she flees London, and the coming bombing raids, with her younger brother, Jamie, and the other poor city kids who are being sent to live with families in the countryside, she gets a taste of freedom she has never experienced. Living with her benefactor, Miss Smith, Ada realizes she has more value and potential than she was led to believe in her old life. Historical wartime events and facts are beautifully woven throughout this heartfelt story of transformation and redemption.

Why We Picked It: The riveting events of the story are told in cinematic prose that will capture the attention of young readers while also introducing them to an important time in history. The grit and persistence demonstrated by the main characters, despite significant adversity, inspires and builds empathy as readers put themselves in the shoes of Ada, Jamie, Miss Smith, and even Mam. This book does what all great art or literature does — provokes deep discussions, sparks new ideas, and provides a window to another time and place.

What Kids Are Saying: 
“It was hard to not cheer Ada on throughout this wonderful, beautiful, and inspiring story.” –Alina, age 12

“This book was amazing. It really shows the difference between poverty and regular living. This book shows that in the darkest of times there is still a way to be saved.” –Amanda, age 11

“A fabulous book about family, love, bravery, and courage. I loved it because it was so detailed that I felt like I was there with Ada, Jamie, and Susan. It showed that you can learn and overcome anything. And there is always somebody by your side.” –Paige, age 11

“This book made me laugh and cry! It takes you away to a different world when you’re reading it. I love Ada and Jamie. I have always been interested in riding horses so the parts about Butter made me smile.” –Marin, age 9

The Book Club Meeting

Reading Tips:
This book can be read aloud to young readers over a series of days or weeks or read independently by older kids in the weeks leading up to a group discussion. Since it takes place in World War II England, a time and place that most young readers are unfamiliar with, having adults provide some context about the war and this period of history will help the discussion.

This layered novel addresses serious topics including war, physical and emotional abuse, self-discovery, and the meaning of freedom. It offers a roller coaster of emotions that can cause readers to tear up one moment then wince with pain or even laugh out loud the next. The beginning of the book can be particularly hard for sensitive readers as we experience how brutally Ada is treated by her own mother. Setting aside time to let young people share how they felt while reading this book, and how it impacts their view of the world, is important.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Describe Ada. Name three qualities that she shows throughout the book. What does Ada really want in life?
  2. What is a clubfoot? Why did Mam think Ada was “bad” because she was born with a clubfoot? How did meeting other people help Ada gain a different perspective on her disability?
  3. Describe the relationship between Ada and Jamie. Why does Jamie want to go back home to Mam?
  4. Freedom is a major theme in this book. Look at page 86 where Miss Smith and Ada talk about the meaning of freedom. Why is freedom important in this story? What does freedom mean to you?
  5. Describe Miss Smith. How does she empower both Ada and Jamie in different ways? How do Ada and Jamie help her?
  6. Why was Butter so important to Ada? How did Butter help her learn persistence and confidence? Do you have a pet or a hobby that makes you feel like Ada feels when she rides Butter?
  7. Ada, Jamie, and Miss Smith tell several small lies to each other in this story. Discuss if or when it is okay not to tell the truth. What is the difference between telling lies and being a liar?
  8. How does the war change people, regardless of their social class? What role did women play in the war?
  9. How did you feel at the end of the story? Which characters do you have empathy for? Who changed the most from the beginning to the end of this story?
  10. The title of the book seems like a paradox since we often associate war with loss of life. Discuss how this war saved Ada’s life.
The War That Saved My Life Discussion Questions
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Diving Deeper into The War That Saved My Life

  • World War II Exploration: This book is set during the time of the Dunkirk evacuations and the aerial bombings of the Battle of Britain. Help kids learn more about the history of World War II with this collection of educational videos or dive deeper into the place and time Ada lived with these photographs from the BBC, oral histories from evacuation survivors, and images of UK Victory Gardens. If you have family or friends that lived during World War II, invite them to talk with your readers directly.
  • Role Play Activity: From clean tablecloths to shoes that fit, everything seems new and foreign to Ada and Jamie when they move from the city to the country. What would it be like if they moved to your hometown today? Act out a typical day in your hometown and what Ada and Jamie might think and feel if they spent a day doing what you do.
  • Show Kindness: During the war, many people volunteered their time and money to help others, even when their own resources were shrinking. Brainstorm ways that you can help in your local community or perform a Random Act of Kindness. Here are some great ideas for the whole family from Think Kindness and more service project ideas from Kid World Citizen.
  • Craft a Sequel: What do you think happens next in Ada’s story? Make predictions of specific plot points then write your own version of the opening pages of the sequel. Mark your calendar for October 2017 when Ada’s story continues in The War I Finally Won.
  • Make a Book Trailer: Kids love using iMovie (or other apps) to make trailer videos. Have them make a “book” trailer video to tell others why they should read this book. Check out these tips for making a book trailer.
  • Explore British Vocab: Find and define some British English words used in this book that are not often used in American English (e.g. flat, loo, posh, shillings, nicked.) Check out this fun list from Time For Kids for further Brit vs. American vocabulary exploration.
  • Listen to the Award-Winning Audiobook: Experience Ada, Jamie, Susan, and their incredible story in a whole new way by listening to the audiobook. Winner of the 2016 Odyssey Award, and read by award-winning narrator Jayne Entwistle, this wonderful telling captures and amplifies the novel’s unforgettable characters, momentous events, and emotional depths. Author Kimberly Brubaker Bradley said of the audio: “I could not have been more pleased about Jayne Entwistle’s version of The War That Saved My Life. She got every nuance exactly right — Ada’s grit, Jamie’s innocence, Lady Thorton’s upper-crust accent, Susan’s cultivated Oxbridge one.”
    Listen to a clip:

What to Read Next

If you loved this book, here are some other adventure-filled, historical fiction stories for upper elementary and middle school readers:

Let us know what you thought of The War That Saved My Life in the comments below!