The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley may be the most widely loved novel in the Advancing Readers section of our store right now. Children, their parents, and their grandparents come in to tell us how much they loved it. When someone picks it up to look at the back cover, other customers lean in to say how great it is. It has been a staff pick by our junior booksellers. That’s how much people adore the Newbery Honor Award-winning story of Ada, a brave girl who starts out trapped by her own cruel mother in a London flat during World War II and journeys to a new life in the countryside. It’s an amazing novel, and now the highly anticipated sequel, The War I Finally Won, is almost here.
The public will get their hands on Bradley’s new book when it officially comes out on October 3, 2017, but you can get an early copy — which Bradley will sign for you! — at the book signing party hosted by the Midsouth chapter of the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) this Friday, September 29, at the Embassy Suites in Cool Springs. (Details below.)
Meanwhile, I had the opportunity to ask Bradley a few questions. I hope you’ll enjoy this interview, and I can’t wait for you to discover her new book.
– Rae Ann Parker
Parnassus bookseller for young readers and author of The Devil’s Backbone
Did you know when you were writing The War That Saved My Life, that there would be a sequel?
Actually, I did. I’d never written a true sequel before, but I felt all along that Ada’s was a two-book story. You can actually see that on page 3 of the first book, where Ada says, “This story I’m telling starts out four years ago, at the beginning of the summer of 1939—.” She’s retelling both stories from the end of the what would be the second one, in May of 1943. I thought that the first book would show Ada’s journey toward safety, and the second would show her journey from safety to healing. That said, it was WAY harder to write the sequel than I ever thought it would be. It took me a full nine drafts — nine times where I went all the way through the manuscript, moving scenes, deleting scenes — really big revisions. I didn’t anticipate that . . . which is probably good, because it kept me from being afraid to do the work.
And can I say how much I love that readers are loving my book? I really mean this. Awards etc. are super, but having children love Ada is so much better.
Horses are very important to the main character, Ada, and her journey. I know you have horses on your Tennessee farm. Why was it important to you that horses be a pivotal part of Ada’s growth?
At the start of the story, Ada doesn’t know how to respond to people other than her brother Jamie, and she’s very aware of and accustomed to being judged and found lacking. But the pony, Butter, doesn’t see her shabbiness or her club foot. He responds to her both emotionally and non-verbally, and Ada can understand him. (He’s a very kind pony. We have one just like him, a 30-year-old quarterhorse named Pal.) Horses also give Ada the ability to move without pain. They give her the freedom to explore the countryside, and they’re a way for her to meet Maggie Thorton as an equal. They’re very useful to my plots in a number of ways — but also, I just love them, and I knew Ada did too.
Ada’s use of words and her protective feelings for her younger brother and their guardian, Susan, make some very interesting word play in the novel. Did Ada as a character come to you fully formed or did you get to know her as you wrote her story?
I had to get to know her — and that took a long time. Capturing Ada’s voice was the key to the first novel. I wrote the first few chapters half a dozen times before I was on firm enough ground to continue. I knew who Ada was, but figuring out how to tell readers who she was, that was tricky.
What was your favorite part of researching The War I Finally Won?
Reading The London County Council Bomb Damage Maps, 1939-1945. It’s a map of the entire city of London, as the streets were in 1939 (no modern roadways), with every building drawn to scale and then colored in with different markers if it was damaged by bombs — pink for broken windows all the way to black for utterly destroyed. It was a real map that took up the whole wall of an office in London throughout the war, and now you can buy copies bound into a book. I used mine over and over to imagine war-torn London and to find the street where Ada once lived.
If you could travel back in time to spend one day with Ada, what would she tell you
She’d say, Thank you for listening. And I would say, Always.
What advice would you give young readers who aspire to be authors?
Don’t be afraid to suck. Really. My favorite baseball team, the Chicago Cubs, won the World Series at long last with the slogan, “Try Not To Suck,” but for writers, the opposite is true: the first draft of anything will be hideous. If you try to make a pretty first draft you sort of write yourself into a corner and you can get stuck, but if you let the first draft be ragged and ugly it’s a lot easier to poke little holes into all the bad places, and discover how to make them good. Talent is overrated. Persistence wins. Also? Fan fiction is gobs of fun.
And finally, we ask everyone: what’s your favorite thing about indie bookstores?
I love the way bookstores smell like fresh books. I love that indie bookstores curate their selections — that you can find weird books you’d never stumble upon anywhere else. I love indie bookstore employees, who get to know both books and bookstore customers as individuals. Honestly, I especially love Parnassus, because y’all have always treated me like I’m one of your hometown writers. You’re certainly my hometown bookstore, even if I do live as far away as I possibly could while still being in Tennessee.
Thank you for finishing Ada’s story, Kim. The ending of the book is spectacular. I
love it. Thank you for writing The War I Finally Won.
Thank you for reading it. And thank you for loving Ada.
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Friday, September 29, 7:30-9:30 p.m. – Please join Parnassus Books and the Midsouth chapter of the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) for this FREE event, open to the public, at the Embassy Suites in Cool Springs. Meet more than 25 amazing authors and illustrators, get books signed, and shop Parnassus’s incredible selection of autographed books in the conference bookstore! A portion of the proceeds will benefit SCBWI Midsouth.
Authors and illustrators signing include not only Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, author of The War That Saved My Life and The War I Finally Won, but also David Arnold, New York Times bestselling YA author of Kids of Appetite and Mosquitoland; Debbie Dadey, author of the popular Mermaid Tales chapter book series; and Amanda Driscoll, picture book author of Duncan the Story Dragon and Wally Does Not Want a Haircut. A complete list of authors and illustrators who will be signing, along with some of the authors whose autographed books will be available for purchase, can be found here.