Kimberly Brubaker Bradley's first children's book, "Ruthie's Gift," was published in 1998. She has 15 more children's books to her credit, but her latest one has been her most successful.
"The War That Saved My Life," her newest book, was chosen as a Newbery Honor winner. The Newbery is "the equivalent of an Oscar or an Olympic medal in my field," she says. "It doesn't get any bigger than this."
The award provided national recognition "and along with that a platform, a sense of responsibility toward the field of children's literature as a whole. It's hard to explain, but that's the main thing. It's also sold very well - we've had something like 20 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list so far, and it's been translated into 13 foreign languages, which never happened with one of my novels before. The financial success is not necessarily because of the Newbery Honor. The platform is," she says.
"The War That Saved My Life" also won the Schneider Award, a major award for disability representation. Bradley learned her book had received that award on a Sunday morning, and the following day learned about the Newbery.
"There'd been a lot of discussion about my book in the weeks leading up to the Newbery announcement, but award committees are notoriously unpredictable. All children's writers know the date the awards will be announced - but I learned this book won the Schneider Award on Sunday morning, so in a way that took some of the pressure off. I got a phone call from the Newbery committee at 6:30 on Monday morning, a couple of hours before the news went public."
She says that winning the award felt "absolutely fantastic."
The award-winning book is set in World War II and tells the story of children who were moved across England during the war to avoid being injured during battles. The main character is 9-year-old Ada, whose mother always kept her indoors to hide her clubfoot. When her brother, Jamie, is shipped out of London, Ada sneaks out to join him. The story follows Ada, Jamie and Susan Smith, the woman who takes the children in. Ada experiences life outside a one-room apartment for the first time in her life and begins her own fight for freedom.
"War is a dark topic, but I think children need to be taught how to deal with dark topics. Our children are raised in a challenging world, often with difficult family situations. Books can help them realize they aren't alone. From a plot perspective, what really drew me into this story was the idea of the evacuation of schoolchildren from British cities, and how for one character that could turn out very differently than it did for most," she says.
Many of Bradley's books are historical fiction written for middle-school children and require an immense amount of research. She's written books set in the time of Thomas Jefferson, World War I America, World War II France, Marie Antoinette's France, Teddy Roosevelt's U.S. and the Southwest Territory. She also has written children's books and a series of science books for children.
Writing about science was natural for Bradley who trained as a chemist. She has a degree in chemistry from Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts.
"I studied chemistry in college because that was what I most loved to learn, but it's not what I most love to do, and I knew that even then. I remain always grateful that my sophomore roommate talked me into taking an Introduction to Children's Literature class, and that the teacher of that class, Patricia MacLachlan, not only encouraged my earliest writing, but helped me join a writer's group and learn both the art and the business of writing for children. Jane Yolen ran that writer's group; I remain forever grateful to her as well.
"I worked as a freelance writer for equestrian magazines in college, and later as a part-time editor. While my husband was in medical school, I worked as a research chemist, but wrote at night, on weekends, and sometimes in the very early morning. From freelancing, I moved onto ghostwriting. Fortunately, I began to get enough work that I could quit being a chemist at exactly the same time as I found out I was pregnant, with my son, Matthew, born in 1994," she says.
Not long after that, her family moved to Bristol, where her husband Bart joined an ophthalmology practice. Their daughter Katie was born in 1998. They live on a 52-acre farm with ponies, dogs, cats, sheep, goats and lots of trees.
Telling the stories of ordinary people, not famous ones, inspires Bradley. She enjoys writing about what she calls "ordinary heroes." She is following up on Ada in "The War I Finally Won," which will be released in October 2017. Her next project is a novel set around the discovery of King Tutankhamun's tomb.
Her books are available in bookstores and at Amazon.com. For more information, visit www.kimberlybrubakerbradley.com.
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