Abe in Arms – Child Soldiers

Abe in Arms

Pegi Deitz Shea

PM Press (Reach and Teach), 2010,  YA Fiction

Suitable for:  Ages 12 and up

Themes: Child Soldiers, War, PTSD, Courage and Hope

Opening/Synopsis:  “What’s your name boy?  He stares into the mirrored sunglasses.  Words don’t come out.  I’ll tell you mine, then you tell me yours.  What’s behind those mirrors?  All he can see is himself.  What’s inside the camouflage uniform?  My name is Grant.  See, it’s easy.  Now tell me yours.  He finds a voice.  It comes out:  James.”  Abe in Arms is a gripping novel about a teen who has survived the war in Liberia, escaped the rebel army,  is adopted by an American doctor and his loving family.  Abe may have survived the war and started a new life, but his scars are so deep that his senior year begins to unravel as he deals with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  This is a story you will not easily forget, or want to forget.   It evokes a powerful response within you.

Abe is a high school senior on his ways to a Division 1 Track scholarship.   He is an honor student, has a girlfriend and has developed a close relationship with his brother, Niko, and parents.  Abe is at a track meet at the starting line with the other runners when he hears the gun “BANG.”  Abe leaps forward, but is suddenly  transported to another place and time where he hears the BANG of rebels guns shooting randomly at people in his village.  He has collapsed at the starting line and is curled in a fetal position.  His coach is shouting his name.   Abe is rushed to the hospital.  Over the following months, Abe suffers disabling flashbacks and seizures as he relives the events of his young life in war-torn Liberia, where he loses his mother and sister.  At home, his brother Niko, observes his flashbacks at night and his explosive temper over silly things.  At school he is zoning out in classes.  He fights with another runner and knocks out his teeth.  He distances himself from his girlfriend.  His father, Dr George Elders, recognizes Abe is in trouble and has him work with a therapist who specializes in PTSD.  Abe journeys into a dark world where he has suppressed his memories.  He finds himself facing the demons of his past life as a boy soldier — something he wants to bury.  This action-packed novel is full of suspense, twists and turns, surprises and hope.

Why I like this book:   Pegi Deitz Shea has written a powerful book for teens about young boys forced to become soldiers in war-torn countries like Africa.  She isn’t afraid to take her readers to complicated and uncomfortable places.  These boy soldiers suffer unimaginable violence and are made to do things by rebel armies that are horrific.  They are robbed of their childhoods.  How will those who survive, ever live normal lives?  Abe in Arms is just one shocking story about a teen coming to grips with his past.  Fortunately, Abe is grounded by the support and love of  his family who long to see him heal.  Click here on the Reach and Teach  resource link for Abe in Arms.  This site has information from Amnesty International, resources, lessons plans, ways to get involved and a very moving video about a boy soldier.  Published reports estimate that there are approximately 250,000 children enslaved as soldiers around the world.

Pegi Deitz Shea is an award-winning children’s author, who has brought the worlds of refugees, immigrants, child laborers and historical figures into the minds of readers of all ages through books that include The Whispering Cloth, Tangled Threads, Ten Mice for Tet, The Carpet Boy’s Gift, Patience Wright, and Noah Webster: Weaver of Words.

About Patricia Tiltonhttps://childrensbooksheal.wordpress.comI want "Children's Books Heal" to be a resource for parents, grandparents, teachers and school counselors. My goal is to share books on a wide range of topics that have a healing impact on children who are facing challenges in their lives. If you are looking for good books on grief, autism, visual and hearing impairments, special needs, diversity, bullying, military families and social justice issues, you've come to the right place. I also share books that encourage art, imagination and creativity. I am always searching for those special gems to share with you. If you have a suggestion, please let me know.

30 thoughts on “Abe in Arms – Child Soldiers

  1. I so enjoy reading a good YA novel, and I am convinced this would grip me. I have read quite a bit bout child soldiers in Africa and it is a harrowing topic. Thank you for this persuasive review.


    • Joanna, I’m glad you liked the review. It is such an important topic knowing there are so many children losing their childhood and lives. The author did her research and really captured life afterwards for one of these kids. The big question is how do they heal? Few are adopted and have that chance.


  2. This book seems interesting. I didn’t ever hear of PTSD. I asked my Mom what PTSD was and I understand the summary of the book better. It makes sense that someone would have problems after having something very bad happen to them. I’d like to learn more about it. I’ll check out the book.


    • Erik, this book is based on a lot of truth. Abe remembers a lot of terrible memories (flashbacks) of things he was forced to do as a child soldier. You may want to have your mom check it out on the sites I listed on the post first or talk it over with me if you decide you want to read it. It is an issue the world needs to know about. That’s why I wanted to share it. I lost a grandson to the war in Iraq and he suffered major PTSD.


      • I am very sorry you lost your grandson. It has to be horrible being in a war. My great-grandfather was in World War II and he can’t talk about it. My Mom looked at the book and she thought it is a little too old for me right now. Do you know of any books on PTSD that would be OK for a younger kid? I’d like to learn more. My mom is going to try to find information for me too.


      • Erik, there are no winnners in war — on either side. You might look at the Reach and Teach website to learn a little more about the book and activities. I’m not familiar with books for young kids on PTSD. The organization Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivers (TAPS) may have something more. They have been very helpful to our family. Will check for you. It’s not unusual for WWII veterans to not share their stories with families. I saw a documntary on the History Channel months ago, where a group of veterans got together to talk for the first time. Some Vets had children who didn’t know they’d been to war. It was the first time ever that some actually spoke — but they were with veterans who understood. PTSD goes back to the Civil War.


  3. It’s bad enough that grown men must deal with war, but children? An absolute tragedy. I’m very interested in reading this one.

    PTSD features in the Civil War book I’m writing right now, but it’s for ages 8-13, so I’m just barely touching on some of it. And of course it wasn’t diagnosed back then.

    I’m very sorry to hear about your grandson, Patricia. I tremendously appreciate and honor his sacrifice for us.


    • Michelle, I read this book in one day. It was so good I couldn’t put it down. These are 10-year-old boys. It is very detailed, but it needs to be for teens so they grasp the atrocity of what is happening in countries like Africa and the Middle East. These children realy suffer.

      I’m glad your touching on it in your book for younger readers. Erik was trying to learn more about it. So you’re book will be perfect. As I told Erik, the documentary I saw on PTSD on HBO, dated it back to the Civil War. Interesting how each war puts a different name to it – shell-shock, etc. At least its being recognized. I’ll be interested in reading your book.

      Received your first book. Look forward to reading it.


  4. I just found a news article about therapy dogs helping soldiers with PTSD. It was interesting how the pets help people that have PTSD. My PPBF book is about a therapy dog, not for PTSD but another kind and I found the article when I was learning about therapy dogs. My mom said we’ll look at the Reach and Teach site this weekend. Thank you for answering my questions!


    • Yes, I’ve heard a lot about therapy dogs helping people with PTSD. There are programs for soldiers working on a ranch with horses too. Glad you’re reviewing the book. I have a friend who trains dogs. Will look forward to reading your review. My PPB is for kids about “Playing War.”

      Erik, I have a website about a social media movement that is underway to put pressure on our government to help Ugandan soldiers capture the rebel leader Joseph Kony who has captured 30,000 children and made them soldiers. Give this website to her, because the man behind the Kony movement, has a young son and it shows how he explains the subject to his son. Promise me you’ll let your Mom come back here and check out the video. It’s called the Invisible Children: http://www.youtube.com/user/invisiblechildreninc?feature=watch/ I posted it on FB today, and so have others.


  5. I am a little familiar with PTSD, being a clinician. One of my earliest research projects back in the late 90s had to do with wounded healers – as they suffer vicarious/secondary victimization from the people that they heal. I was just thinking that this would have been a good companion book for all the academic manuscripts/journals I was reading then. 🙂


  6. Oh my Pat, this is such a moving story. I have been watching the news and there has been a separate program on tv about J Kony and what those kids went through is horrific. Your review is captivating to say the least. Will certainly check this out.


    • Diane, I knew this story would strike a chord in you — especially with your multicultural interests. This book really opens your eyes to the problem!Glad you liked the review. Yes, I posted something on FB yesterday on Joseph Kony and the huge movement to stop him. Hope you check it out. The link is in my comment to Myra below. Again, thanks for stopping.


    • Stacy, I hadn’t thought about this book in terms of if being helpful to soldiers with PTSD. When I think of my grandson, I think it may have been helpful. I’ve often thought that we teach our kids to share, be compassionate, and to not fight. But, we (and the military) don’t teach them how to handle the emotions of killing someone if they happen to be a gunner or soldier patroling. Most of the soldiers sent over by the Army are 18-20 years of age — boy soldiers. Can’t even begin to imagine how a 10-year-old child handles this horror. Thus, the reason for “Abe in Arms.” What he deals with emotionally is horrific. Thanks for bringing up that point.


  7. Patricia, Thank you for having Erik tell me about the Kony video. I was unaware of this particular movement but am aware of the appalling practice in many African countries of abducting children and forcing them to fight or enslaving them. I went to graduate school with several Nigerians and a wonderful man from Ghana. I heard stories from them that still haunt me years later. I think that in many cases, including Uganda, the governments are often as culpable as the “rebel” forces in the country with the innocent caught in between. I often think about this and feel completely helpless, there’s just so much. The Invisible Children movement, while focusing on just one “bad guy,” is serving the vital purpose of making people aware. It is an important movement and I thank you for making me aware of it. I am going to pass this information along to others and support this cause in ways I can.

    I am almost through “Following Ezra” and found it very inspiring and encouraging. I will be handing it to Erik to read next. Thank you for the recommendation.


    • Ginny, I was unaware of the Kony video and the social media movement until this week. Actually, it has gone viral on the internet and FB, and Brian Willimas did a lengthy segment about it on the NBC Evening news last nigt. It does move one to want to do something. I would imagine that knowing stories first hand must be haunting. I knew it was happening in Africa and the Middle East, but I didn’t know how many kids were involved. That’s why I wanted to share “Abe in Arms.” and the PPB today on “Playin War.” I’m s happy you read and liked “Following Ezra.” – Pat


  8. Pingback: Playing War – Perfect Picture Book « Children's Books Heal

  9. Hi Patricia,
    Now a week later I finally get to your blog. There are so many comments I could make about the three posts I have read. The koni video has gone viral as you know. I saw about it on PBS but have not seen the video because I just couldn’t put all those horrific images in my head. I appreciate your compassion for Erik and am sorry for your loss. I appreciate your introducing us to books covering the subject of war and boy soldiers and children at and of war.
    I am putting this book as one on my wish to read list and will get it out of the library or Amazon on my next visit.
    I also want to tell you that you have won the Kreatif and Sunshine awards. Please go to my blog to pick them up.


    Congrats, Clar


    • Clar, my timing was pefect when I released my reviews on “Abe in Arms” and “Playing War.” I think it is important we are all informed, especially parents so that they can answer questions from their kids. With Kony on the news every night, kids are bound to see it. Abe was one of those child soldiers, but escaped. His healing was remarkable. Thank you for the awards.


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