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Liberia in the News - Abe in Arms

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With the election in Liberia potentially ushering in a new era with a potential for peace in a long-troubled nation, the legacy of war has left many scars that will take a long time to heal. Among the tragedies of Liberia's long civil war was the enslavement of children as child soldiers. Abe in Arms. Reach And Teach's first YA novel, brings the tale of child soldiering to light, while also showing how the love and commitment of a family, friends, and community can help bring someone back from the worst of all possible pasts. For the next two months, Reach And Teach will donate $2 from the sale of each copy of the book to the UNICEF fund for their work in Liberia.

We're extremely honored that Pegi Dietz Shea selected Reach And Teach to publish this important novel.She debuted the book at the American Library Association (ALA) conference and we are thrilled to announce that Teens Read Too gave it their highest praise, a 5 Star Gold Award! Lyn Miller Lachman, acclaimed author of Gringolandia (a 2010 ALA Best Book for Young Adults), praised Abe in Arms as "a gripping tale that takes its place in the sad but necessary literature of Africa's child soldiers."

Please use the links below to jump directly to sections of this story.

About the Book
Preview the Book

Praise / Reviews

About the Author
Child Soldiers: Facts, Resources, Lesson Plans

Take Action / Get Involved

Buy the Book


About the Book:


Abe in Arms by Pegi Deitz Shea - Published by Reach And Teach

A senior in high school, Abe's got a Division I track scholarship awaiting him, a hot girlfriend, and a loving and wealthy adoptive family, including a brother his age. But suddenly, horrific flashbacks and seizures rip him back five years ago to war-torn Africa, where he lost his mother, his sister, his friends, and almost his own life to torturous violence. In therapy for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Abe uncovers even darker moments that make him question why he's still alive.

This contemporary young adult novel portrays the pressures of teens to live a normal life, let alone succeed at high levels; while facing mental illness and--in Abe's case--a past that no one could possibly understand…or survive.

Pegi Deitz Shea has written a suspenseful, action-filled book that will open teens' eyes and hearts to the lives of young people exposed to violence around the world.



Buy this book now at Reach and Teach


From The Pirate Tree - Social Justice & Children's Literature - September 2011

Excerpt... Click here for the full review.

...The adult literature on child soldiers in various countries in Africa is extensive, encompassing Ishmael Beah's memoir of fighting in Sierra Leone's civil war, A Long Way Gone; What Is the What, Dave Eggers's fictionalized account of Sudanese child soldier Valentino Achak Deng; and the late Ahmadou Kourouma's novel Allah Is Not Obliged, set in the Ivory Coast. Both A Long Way Gone and What Is the What also address what happens afterward, when a young man who has lost his childhood fighting in a brutal war comes to live in a foreign culture with the promise of safety and a new life.

What happens "after" is the focus of a recently published young adult novel featuring a former a child soldier. Pegi Deitz Shea's Abe in Arms (PM Press/Reach and Teach, 2010) is the story of 17-year-old Abe Elders, adopted from a refugee camp in Liberia at the age of 13 by a well-to-do African-American family living in Maryland. In his senior year of high school Abe seems to have the perfect life-a loving family, a brother to whom he is close, an adoring girlfriend, good grades, and the possibility of a Division I track scholarship. But as the book opens in the backseat of his girlfriend's car, Abe suffers a flashback to his old life in Liberia, where he witnessed, and possibly perpetrated, unspeakable horrors during the country's long civil war.

Abe and his adoptive father, Dr. George Elders, thought that a year of counseling after his rescue and adoption were enough to quell the traumatic memories, but as Abe's flashbacks become ever more frightening and violent, those who love him don't have the answers to help him. A new round of therapy opens the floodgates, as Abe recounts the life of his best friend in Liberia, Steven, and the heartless "James," whose worship of the rebel commander Grant leads him to undergo and then commit atrocities as a child soldier.

Abe in Arms is a gripping tale that takes its place in the sad but necessary literature of Africa's child soldiers. Shea's novel will have special appeal to teen readers because of Abe's daily concerns-his adopted brother Niko's habit of drinking and driving, his ambivalence about having sex with his girlfriend, not-so-friendly competition with his track teammates. Teen and adult readers will be drawn in by the question of how a young man, whose childhood has been stolen from him by war, struggles to live a normal life.

... Click here to read the rest of the review and learn more about The Pirate Tree.


Teens Read Too
Reviewed by: Joan Stradling
Rating: 5 Stars

...ABE IN ARMS amazed me. In spite of the horrors of child soldiers, war, and struggles to come to terms
with who he is and where he came from, Abe is easy to relate to. I found myself turning the pages without
realizing I was even doing it. The story drew me in and kept me mesmerized as I learned more about Abe
and his life.

...the truth of Abe's experiences in a war-torn country, and the struggles he faces as he deals with memories
he'd much rather forget, compelled me to keep reading until I couldn't help falling in love with ABE IN

...This eye-opening novel is a must-read! 

More Praise

Abe in Arms is powerful and vivid, a moving exploration of the after effects of severe childhood trauma.  Readers will come to care deeply about Abe as he struggles to overcome the emotional consequences of surviving the brutal life of a child soldier.--Sharon McClintock, Children's Librarian - City of Mountain View Public Library 

"Written in straightforward prose, Abe In Arms hooks you on and pulls you deep into the past. It tells the story of Abe as he sorts through his war torn past. Abe struggles with the juxtaposition of the past and the present, Liberia and the US, a militant rebel and a loving family.  I found myself rooting for Abe, both on and off the track - Cheering when he succeeds and disheartened as he falters."--Jeremy Mineau, PAC10 and NCAA Championship Runner - University of Washington Huskies

"Pegi Shea’s book, Abe in Arms, although fictional in nature, could have been true for any number of young boys in West Africa whose lives were devastated by conscription into the rebel army through force, threats, manipulation, bribery, and drugs. As a counselor and member of a trauma team who went to Liberia to teach counseling skills to civic and religious leaders following their civil war, I found it very heart breaking to witness the long term effects of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome upon the young boys, often no more than 11-14 years of age. Although there is a nation-wide effort in Liberia to rehabilitate these young boys, many require extensive mental health treatment and the prognoses are often disappointing. In her book, Pegi Shea engrosses us in the horrors of war, pulls at our heartstrings as we weep for Abe, and causes us to yearn for a time when he can confront the demons that control his life. At the same time, she explores the wrenching irony of war refugees being thrust into an American youth culture that glamorizes the very violence that has caused Abe so much anguish.  Shea’s resolution, like Abe’s epiphany, is surprising, believable, and gratifying"
--Eleanor Porter Pershing, PhD., West Africa Trauma Team

"Whether in the ruined cities of Bosnia or the refugee camps in Thailand, the images that stay with me the longest are of the children... What will their futures be like when all they've known is war and fear? This book perfectly captures the ambiguity of traumatic memories and the paradox of healing faced by a boy who survived the war but struggles to become whole."
---Susan Beam, International Rescue Committee (IRC); Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Bosnia.

"Working in Zaire, I encountered many check-points to and from Kigali, Rwanda, patrolled by child soldiers.  Although they tried to look tough with their mirrored sunglasses and AK-47s, they could barely carry their weapons. They were also nervous and jumpy which made them extremely dangerous. This book doesn't romanticize child soldiers, but is nonetheless a story of their hope in regaining trust in themselves and in others."
---Ferdinand Kalkhuis, Doctors without Borders; International Rescue Committee (IRC); and United Methodist Committee for Relief (UMCOR) in Bosnia and Kosovo.

About the Author:

Pegi Dietz SheaPegi Deitz Shea is best known for exploring human rights issues in children's books. Pegi has brought the worlds of refugees, immigrants, child laborers, and historical figures into the minds of readers of all ages. Her books include The Whispering Cloth, Tangled Threads, Ten Mice for Tet, The Carpet Boy's Gift and Patience Wright. Her books have been made Notables by organizations including the International Reading Association, National Council of Teachers of English, National Council for the Social Studies, Bank Street College, Junior Library Guild and the New York Public Library. She has been teaching writing for the Institute of Children's Literature since 1996, and teaching children's literature at the University of Connecticut since 2007. Pegi has presented at more than 350 schools, libraries and conferences across the nation. Raised in New Jersey, Pegi lives in Connecticut with her family when she's not traipsing around the world.

Child Soldiers - Facts and Resources:


Published reports estimate that there are approximately 250,000 children enslaved as soldiers around the world.

Amnesty International has been working for years to end the exploitation of children. They created this powerful animation about child soldiers in the Congo. Sadly, the same story could be told by countless children all over the world.

Visit Amnesty International's web site for comprehensive resources about child soldiers.

Here are some facts, reported by

  • The problem is most critical in Africa, where children as young as nine have been involved in armed conflicts. Children are also used as soldiers in various Asian countries and in parts of Latin America, Europe and the Middle East.
  • The majority of the world's child soldiers are involved in a variety of armed political groups. These include government-backed paramilitary groups, militias and self-defence units operating in many conflict zones. Others include armed groups opposed to central government rule, groups composed of ethnic religious and other minorities and clan-based or factional groups fighting governments and each other to defend territory and resources.
  • Most child soldiers are aged between 14 and 18, While many enlist "voluntarily" research shows that such adolescents see few alternatives to involvement in armed conflict. Some enlist as a means of survival in war-torn regions after family, social and economic structures collapse or after seeing family members tortured or killed by government forces or armed groups. Others join up because of poverty and lack of work or educational opportunities. Many girls have reported enlisting to escape domestic servitude, violence and sexual abuse.
  • Forcible abductions, sometimes of large numbers of children, continue to occur in some countries. Children as young as nine have been abducted and used in combat.
  • Demobilization, disarmament and reintegration (DDR) programs specifically aimed at child soldiers have been established in many countries, both during and after armed conflict and have assisted former child soldiers to acquire new skills and return to their communities. However, the programs lack funds and adequate resources. Sustained long-term investment is needed if they are to be effective.
  • Despite growing recognition of girls' involvement in armed conflict, girls are often deliberately or inadvertently excluded from DDR programs. Girl soldiers are frequently subjected to rape and other forms of sexual violence as well as being involved in combat and other roles. In some cases they are stigmatized by their home communities when they return. DDR programs should be sensitively constructed and designed to respond to the needs of girl soldiers.
  • See for lists of countries where child soldiers were recuited and used during the four years 2004-2007.

Lesson Plans about Child Soldiers:

The following are lesson plans available on the web for covering the issue of child soldiers.


Ways to Help:

Stories like Abe in Arms often stir a passion in children and adults to DO SOMETHING about a situation like the enslavement of children as soldiers. Here's one example of something children did to help encourage UN countries to ban the use of children as soldiers.

You could launch a Red Hand Day campaign in your school, church, synagogue, mosque, or community center! Plan the event, gather the red hand drawings, and present them to your local Congressional Representative and ask them to sponsor legislation against the recruitment of child soldiers!

There are many ways you can get involved to help keep children from being enslaved this way and to help the survivors of child slavery begin to heal their lives. Below are links to organizations where you can find resources and action opportunities.

The team at Reach And Teach invites you to tell us about other resources on child soldiers that you feel should be shared. Please contact us with any suggestions. Meanwhile, keep your eyes out for this film, The Silent Army, which was featured in the 2009 Cannes Film Festival.

Green America approved