Junior Library Guild Selection

CLA Book of the Year Award

“Heartwrenching. Outstanding.”

— Kirkus, starred review


A Junior Library Guild Selection, CLA Best Book for Young Adults.

Across the nearby border, a brutal civil war is spreading. Rebels led by the brutal cult leader General Mandiki attack at night, kidnapping children to become child soldiers. All that separates Chanda from the horror is a stretch of rugged bush. Soon, not even that.

Chanda’s Wars is the unforgettable story of a teenager who risks her life to save her brother and sister. Epic in its sweep, intimate in its humanity, it is a gripping tale of family intrigue, love and courage, forgiveness and hope.

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“STARRED REVIEW: Still raw from bringing her mother home to die six months ago, Chanda raises her young siblings in this forceful sequel. A recurring nightmare prompts a visit to the rural relatives who left Chanda’s mother to die of AIDS alone in the bush. They consider Chanda cursed and urge redemption through an arranged marriage. Horrified, she tries to take Iris and Soly back to the city when violence explodes. A sociopathic warlord from a bordering country brings a bloodbath down on the village and steals the young children to use as soldiers. Despite the deranged “rebel” army’s machine guns and machetes, Chanda sneaks through the bush in pursuit, desperate to recover her siblings… Heart wrenching… Gravely realistic… Outstanding.”

— Kirkus Review

“STARRED REVIEW: Although a continuation of the story begun in Chanda’s Secrets (Annick Press, 2004/VOYA December 2004), this novel easily stands alone. Stratton crafts a beautifully written tale of family, loyalty, loss, and love. Ripped-from-the-headlines action keeps the pages turning, but complex, fully realized characters make readers want to linger. Chanda herself is a marvel. Gifted with uncommon courage and strength, her tenderness and vulnerability make her real and utterly compelling. This novel is a masterpiece, revealing that beauty can exist in the most unlikely situations and that beauty will win, in the end. Descriptions of war are graphic but central to the story.”


“The ravages of AIDS and poverty on a fictional, but realistic sub-Saharan African country are depicted with unflinching honesty, but it is the issue of child soldiers, a tragedy that affects more than 300,000 children around the world, that takes center stage. Stratton deftly handles the devastating effects war can have on young people. Horrific things happen to the characters, though Chanda’s first-person narrative never gets unnecessarily graphic in the detail. The author strives for authenticity in the psyche of child soldiers and, through substantial research, captures a voice that is seldom heard. This story is both suspenseful and engaging. Chanda is steadfast in the face of adversity, and the book is as hopeful and spirited as its protagonist.”

 — School Library Journal

Like his Printz Honor Book, “Chanda’s Secrets” (2004), Stratton’s sequel, set in a fictional African country, revolves around Chanda Kabelo… who tells the story in an immediate, first-person, present-tense narrative… The realistic description of Chanda’s tracking the children through the bush to rescue them is intriguing, and readers will appreciate the girl’s feelings as she wonders if her siblings can ever recover from what they have seen, what they have done… The characters are drawn without sentimentality, and the story is a moving portrayal of betrayal and love.
“WE RECOMMEND: Stratton has crafted an utterly gripping and unforgettable tale. Chanda is a compelling character who tries repeatedly to know and do what’s right. Her vulnerability, coupled with her determination and her fierce devotion to Soly and Iris, make her an entirely believable heroine. As in his earlier book, the author provides an informative and revealing depiction of life in Chanda’s African homeland, giving North American readers an opportunity to experience the reality of lives so very different from our own.

“What makes this book so powerful is its unflinching portrayal of the cruel practice of forcing young children into service as soldiers. This chilling and horrific practice is rendered frighteningly real here and is a sobering reminder of the terrible injustices that are perpetuated in our world today. Chanda’s harrowing journey is one that will leave both teen and adult readers breathless, emotionally drained and with much to think about.”


“HIGHLY RECOMMENDED: Chanda’s first person narrative resonates with passion as she reveals her inner conflicts and fears against the backdrop of her country’s problems… The specific descriptions of tracking techniques, animal behaviour, and village life testify to the depth of Stratton’s research and his ongoing interest in the lives of Africans… Graphic details of the brutality and the inhumane treatment of children powerfully emphasize the theme of man’s inhumanity to man, but … the hopeful conclusion suggests that love, courage, forgiveness, friendship, and family can help heal the deepest wounds.”


“If readers were not impressed by Chanda Kabelo’s resilience and courage in the Michael L. Printz Honor Book Chanda’s Secrets, they certainly will be while reading this sequel… Stratton briefly summarizes the main conflict in the first book to illuminate some of the issues in this volume, which can stand alone. Chanda is a complex character readers can admire… The author’s depiction of the plight of child soldiers is so vivid, readers will cheer for Chanda as she heroically frees her brother and sister when they are forced to join General Mandiki’s militia. An afterword written by the head of United Nations forces during the Rwandan genocide helps explain the very real and frightening experiences Stratton so movingly fictionalizes.”


“The inhumanity of which humankind is capable — within families, towards strangers, and for political gain — emerges clearly, along with Chanda’s unwavering strength and determination.”

Horn Book Magazine

“Sometimes it does a book a disservice to classify it as ‘Young Adult’ literature. Such is the case with Chanda’s Wars by Allan Stratton. It’s a suspenseful story of family love, traditions, superstitions and budding romance in the midst of a brutal tribal war in a fictional African country…. What makes this story all the more compelling is knowing that while based on fiction, the horrors are very real for many children. While it’s a tearjerker, for sure, one comes away with a sense of hope.”

— Detroit Free Press

“Stratton writes in easy, colloquial language and his story moves quickly. Chanda’s courage and foolishness make her a sympathetic character, one who draws readers into a world of traditional family ways and a rural, agrarian culture that sits uneasily next to the urban life familiar to Chanda. Stratton’s bigger interest seems to be the terrifying butchery of Mandiki and its effect on his child soldiers, something he conveys effectively and compassionately. Not for the faint-hearted, Chanda’s Wars aims to make its readers realize what Roméo Dallaire states in his afterword: ‘Chanda’s wars are everybody’s wars.'”

— Toronto Star

Canada: HarperCollins Publishers, shipping in February 2008

U.S.A.: HarperCollins Children’s Books, March 1, 2008

Germany: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, October 2007

France: Bayard Jeunesse, Fall 2008

The Netherlands: Van Goor, January 2010

Editora Pruma, Brazil

Junior Library Guild Selection, USA, 2008

CCBC Best Books List (USA)

Canadian Library Association’s Best Book for Young Adults Award, 2009

Ontario Library Association White Pine Award, 2009 (finalist)

Stellar Book Award 2011 Nominee

Chanda’s Wars was written with the encouragement, support and vetting of Africans and NGOs who’ve dealt with child soldiers, as well as my own travels into the subSaharan bush and meetings with former child soldiers of the Lord’s Resistance Army.

It began in 2004 with a nightmare: Chanda’s Secrets had yet to be published and its characters were alive in my brain. One night, I woke out a nightmare, drenched in sweat: I’d been in a village consumed by fire and woke in terror, saying: “Soly and Iris have been kidnapped. I have to save them.” I’d been dreaming as Chanda about her brother and sister.

I knew the characters, but only had book research on child soldiers. So I reached out to friends, acquaintances and UN and NGO officials working in and/or from Uganda, Eritrea, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Mozambique, Tanzania, South Africa, Malawi and Zambia.

For insight into the psychology of child soldiers, I am particularly grateful to Michael Oruni, Director of World Vision’s ‘Children of War Rehabilitation Centre’ in Gulu, northern Uganda, and my conversation with former members of the Lord’s Resistance Army rehabilitated at the Centre; Tariq Bhanjee of UNICEF; Thomas Turay of the COADY International Institute; Raymond Micah and Amanuel Melles of the African Canadian Social Development Council; Dr. Philip Lancaster, United Nations General Romeo Dallaire’s Executive Assistant during the Rwandan genocide; Justin Daniel Peffer of Plan International; filmmakers Oliver Stoltz and Ali Amadi Ahedi who documented child soldiers along the Ugandan/Sudanese border; Dr. Anne Goodman and Michael Wheeler of the International Institute for Community-Based Peacebuilding; Kathy Vandergrift, Rebecca Steinmann, and Ken and Cynthia Jaworka of World Vision; and Barbara Hoffman, director of the Association for the Children of Mozambique. I am also indebted to the wide range of materials available from Human Rights Watch, Save the Children, CARE, Defence for Children International, The Children’s Institute, médecins sans frontiers, Amnesty International, War Child and other NGOs.

My experiences of village life in Malawi were deepened enormously by Robert Thomas Gama, and by Enoch Chidothi, Bakiri Wandiki, and James Asan who were my hosts during my stay at Ulongwe, and who introduced me to local farmers, villagers, and Ligwang’wa, their late village Headman. I am forever grateful for their generosity of time, guidance and insight.

My understanding of the power of spirit doctors to visits in Malawi with spirit doctor John Saisa, Father Claude Boucher of Mua Mission, and Felix Chisel of Zomba Plateau, to earlier visits to spirit doctors in Zimbabwe and Botswana, and to my purification ritual with Afro-Cuban santera Isobel Guzman.

The sections about tracking and animal behavior come from my experiences in the bush with Richard Chimwala and Angel M. Gondwe, guides at Wilderness Safaris’ Mvuu Camp, Malawi, and with scout Gideon Mpase and guides Ian Salisbury and Alex Cole at Kaingo Camp, Zambia. I also met with Susan Slotar, Executive Director of The Jane Goodall Institute, South Africa branch.

Many thanks as well to The Stephen Lewis Foundation; Harriet McQuire and Althea Tait of Access Africa; and journalist Michele Landsberg.

Chanda’s Wars tells the story of one young woman’s heartbreak, courage and hope in the midst of terrible events in a fictional African war. The reasons children are used as soldiers may be complicated, but the effects on them are direct and horrific. Most end up broken by adult wars they cannot hope to understand. A very few, like Chanda, find within themselves the resources to resist and to escape with what remains of their tattered lives. Chanda’s story reaches to the heart of the terrifying truth about child soldiers in a way that all of us, young and old alike, can understand. It makes it possible for us to imagine the faces of real children caught and trampled by the scourge of war in so many recent and ongoing conflicts in Africa. For those of us working actively to protect children from combat, there is something inspiring in the example of Chanda, who refuses to give in to fear and who risks her life in her quest to save her brother and sister. Ultimately, Chanda’s wars are everybody’s wars: every young person stolen and recruited is our brother, our sister, our son, our daughter. We must all join the fight if we are to protect them from the horror of becoming child soldiers.”

— The Honorable Romeo Dallaire, Lieutenant-General (retired), Head of U.N. forces during the Rwandan genocide