The War That Saved My Life

by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Grade 4-7


Ten-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 for 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?

Discussion questions SOMN

  • Describe Ada. Name three qualities that she shows throughout the book. What does Ada really want in life?
  • 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?
  • 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.
  • 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?
  • Describe Miss Smith. How does she empower both Ada and Jamie in different ways? How do Ada and Jamie help her?
  • Do you like the ending? If you were the author, would you change the ending of the story?

Classroom activities from SOMN

  • On page 258, Ada says, “there was a Before Dunkirk version of me and an After Dunkirk version.” Have students consider: How did Ada change through the experience of the Dunkirk evacuation? Invite students to listen to audio and view primary source photographs. Have students explore the oral histories from the Dunkirk evacuation.
  • Provide students with the following choices of writing prompts. Have them choose one and write an essay to explore the question, citing evidence from the text to support their thinking.
    • As Ada felt cared for and understood by Miss Smith, how did Ada’s thoughts about who she was, her capabilities, and how she belonged in the world begin to change? How did she change physically? Emotionally?
    • As Ada begins to see herself through the eyes of others who value her and treat her with respect, she at times feels like an imposter and experiences confusing feelings. At what points in the story does she truly believe in herself? When does she feel worthy? How do you know?
    • How do our experiences, or lack of experiences, shape our identity or how we see ourselves? How do Ada and Jamie teach us this?
    • Is Ada’s clubfoot to blame for her suffering? Are individuals to blame for her suffering? Is society to blame for her suffering?
    • How do role models change the way we see ourselves and the way we see the world? Consider the moment when Ada and Susan look alike. Did Ada ever experience herself acting like Mam?
    • There’s more to be told about Susan’s life and why she didn’t always feel that she belonged. Tell the untold story of Susan’s life as you imagine it might be.
    • Why was it important for Ada to confront Mam about whether or not she truly wanted Ada and Jamie? How does the truth set her free? (p. 305)
    • Why do you think Kimberly Brubaker Bradley decided to title the book The War That Saved My Life? In what ways did Susan save Ada’s and Jamie’s lives? How did Ada and Jamie save Susan’s life?