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YA Author Donna White on Bullets, Blood and Stones: The Journey of a Child Soldier

Some of the best ideas come from family road trips. On a long-ago drive, Donna White’s sister asked her, “If you had five magic stones and they had the power to change people, who would you give them to?” One of White’s answers was Joseph Kony, the leader of a guerrilla child army in Uganda—literally an army of children, handed AK-47s and forced to fight in a decades-long civil war. The idea of what would happen if one person could be changed captured White’s imagination.

Years later, White, an elementary school supply teacher in Thunder Bay, started to write a book about the child soldiers of Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) led by Kony. “I decided it would be a YA (Young Adult) book right at the beginning,” says White. “The children in the LRA were aged 7 to 15, approximately, so the audience needed to be in that age range too.”

Bullets, Blood and Stones: The Journey of a Child Soldier is aimed at kids age 12 and up, and is recommended for grades 7 to 10 in schools. It's the story of two Canadian teens who are magically transported to Africa via magic stones uncovered in an archeological dig. There they meet Charlie, a child soldier and must figure out how to help him—and they can’t return home until they do some changing themselves.

[video trailer of Bullets, Blood and Stones: A Child Soldier's Story]

“I used elements of magic realism for simplicity’s sake,” says White. “I needed a way to get two teenagers to Uganda during a war. And it helps the reader contemplate the idea that we’re all in need of a stone that leads us to change ourselves.” As she started writing the book, White realized she needed to go to Uganda to talk to former child soldiers firsthand. “I put my pen down and phoned WorldVision to find out if they had any Destination Life Change trips to Uganda,” remembers White, referring to a program where volunteers pay their way to participate in overseas WorldVision programs. “There was a pause on the other end, and the woman said, ‘Yes, there is a Uganda trip project. We just finished planning it today.’” White signed on. “WorldVision has more than 6,000 projects in 100 countries,” she says. “This fell into place and I believe God was setting things in line for me.”

As part of her time in Uganda, White interviewed people and wrote blogs to be posted on the WorldVision site. One of those interviews was with the real-life Charlie, a former child soldier. Another serendipitous meeting came back in Canada, when White wanted to include a song written in the Luo dialect. A few days later, her computer crashed and while at the computer store, she started chatting with a man who turned out to be Ugandan, who spoke that dialect and who was only in Thunder Bay on a two-month work contract.

Both parents and kids should know the themes and scenes in the book are upsetting,

based on real-life violent acts. “We all have a tendency to stay in a bubble—that news is too scary to watch; this picture is too sad to see,” says White. “I want to burst that bubble and show [tweens and teens] that this is happening, and here’s how you can make a difference.” Students who have been studying her book in Thunder Bay schools are raising funds for programs to help former child soldiers and have participated a variety of activities to help them understand and empathize. If parents want to read and talk about the book with their kids, check out a teacher’s guide with discussion questions, as well as art and language arts activities, on White's website. Next up for White: Book 2 in the series, as Bullets, Blood and Stones: The Journey of a Child Soldier is a trilogy. It will be published summer/fall 2017.

And as for your next road trip? Discuss one of the African proverbs that head the book's chapters: “One who causes others misfortune also teaches them wisdom.”

[top picture: Author Donna White poses with Emmanuel Jal, Canadian musician, actor, political activist and former child soldier in Sudan]

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