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Pegi Deitz Shea


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Having presented at more than 350 schools, libraries and conferences, Ms. Shea writes fiction and poetry as well as nonfiction for all ages. Her books work across the curriculum and often explore the difficult lives of war refugees, immigrants, child laborers, and historical figures. Her first novel for Young Adults, Abe in Arms, (PM Press/ReachAndTeach) about a Liberian boy soldier, will be released June 1, 2010. Additional books include Ten Mice for Tet, The Carpet Boy’s Gift and Patience Wright: America’s First Sculptor and Revolutionary Spy, and have been made Notables by the International Reading Association, National Council of Teachers of English, Children’s Book Council/National Council for the Social Studies, Bank Street College, New York Public Library and other organizations. Tangled Threads, the middle-grade novel sequel to The Whispering Cloth, won the 2004 Connecticut Book Award for Children’s Literature, and was a Junior Library Guild selection.

Shea's latest book, Noah Webster: Weaver of Words (Boyds Mills Press, 2009) has already been named a JLG selection, and an Orbis Pictus Honor Book by NCTE for one of the six top nonfiction releases of 2009.  In the Fall, Clarion Books will release The Taxing Case of the Cows: A True Story About Suffrage. Co-authored with Iris Van Rynbach, the book is being illustrated by Caldecott Medalist Emily Arnold McCully. Ms. Shea is currently writing a new YA novel, Snake Boy, Sister Spy, which is based on her aunt and uncle’s teen Resistance exploits during WWII.

Ms. Shea teaches Children’s Literature, and Writing Books for Children at the University of Connecticut, and Writing for Children and Teenagers through the Institute of Children’s Literature. More information, including cross-curriculum guides for all books, can be found at

To see the interview with Pegi on Conecticut's Eyewitness News 3, click here.

Purchasing Links

Abe in Arms
By Pegi Deitz Shea
Publisher: PM Press / Reach And Teach
ISBN: 978-1-60486-198-3
Published June 2010
Format: Paperback
Page Count: 172 Pages
Size: 8.5 by 5.5
Subjects: Fiction (recommended Grade 6 and up)


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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.


"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

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Latest Blog Entries


 Other Mentions
A Review of Abe in Arms
by Patricia Tilton
Children's Books Heal
March 4, 2012

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.

Abe in Arms: a teacher tool not to be missedTeaching Tolerance

Abe in Arms is a powerful story of suffering and survival. As a child in Liberia, Abe is forced to join rebels and fight a war he wants to avoid. Adopted by an American doctor, Abe comes to the United States. By the time he's 17, he suffers from flashbacks about his wartime experiences. Author Pegi Deitz Shea tells Abe's story with compassion, educating readers both about the Liberian conflict and about posttraumatic stress disorder and its treatments. The novel, though written for a middle school level, has disturbing content more suitable for older students.

Abe in Arms: One of 2010's Best Books for Youth on Social Justice and Intercultural Understanding

The first young adult novel by this progressive small press portrays high school senior Abe Elders, rescued at age 13 from a Liberian refugee camp after two years as a child soldier. Despite having undergone counseling, Abe’s flashbacks grow increasingly vivid and violent as he struggles to understand the unspeakable acts he committed under duress and under the influence of drugs while serving his brutal commander. Read my longer review of Abe in Arms as well as my suggestion of this and Bamboo People for reading along with the popular Hunger Games trilogy.

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A Review of Abe in Arms
Age Recommendation:  Grades 9+
Rating:  5 Stars
By: Joan Stradling

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.

This isn't the type of story I would normally read; I'm much more into fantasy and lighthearted fun.

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A Review of Abe in Arms

Abe in Arms is a gripping tale that takes its place in the sad but necessary literature of Africa’s child soldiers, joining such classics as Ishmael Beah’s memoir of fighting in Sierra Leone’s civil war, A Long Way Gone; What Is the What, Dave Eggers’s fictionalized story of Sudanese child soldier Valentino Achak Deng; and the late Ahmadou Kourouma’s Allah Is Not Obliged, set in the Ivory Coast. Shea’s novel will have special appeal to teen readers because of Abe’s daily concerns in the U.S.—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.

Author Portfolio

The Boy and the Spell. Pumpkin House Ltd., 2007.  ISBN 0978-0-9646010-4-8. 
Adapted from a Ravel novel and Colette libretto, this picture book makes a fun read aloud. It’s about a boy learning to respect his animal friends and his belongings.

Bungalow Fungalow. Clarion Books, 1991.
About a boy’s week-long visit to his grandparents’ beach house.  

The Carpet Boy’s Gift. Tilbury House Publishers, 2006.  ISBN 0-88448-24-0.
Notable Book from CBC/NCSS. Set in Pakistan, it’s about a boy who leads his fellow slaves out of a rug factory.

I see Me! HarperFestival, 2000.
About a toddler’s discovering her reflection in various surfaces

Liberty Rising: The Story of the Statue of Liberty. Henry Holt and Co., 2005. ISBN 0―8050-7220-9. Bank Street Book of the Year. The design and construction story make this a great book for math applications in the classroom.

New Moon. Boyds Mills Press, 2000. ISBN 1-56397-922-5.
No, it’s not about vampires! It’s a gentle free-verse story about a big brother sharing the moon with his toddler sister. Winner of the Paterson Prize for Poetry and chosen as a Bank Street Book of the Year. 

Noah Webster: Weaver of Words. Calkins Creek Books, 2009. ISBN 978-1-59078-441-9
A November, 2009 release, this biography is already a Junior Library Guild selection and Orbis Pictus Honor Book (from NCTE - Top nonfiction).

Patience Wright: America’s First Sculptor and Revolutionary Spy. Henry Holt and Co., 2007. ISBN 0-8050-6770-1.
Booklist Top Ten Arts Books for Kids, Notable Book CBC/NCSS.  Female spies, wax sculpting, the Revolution―who needs more?

Tangled Threads. Clarion Books, 2003. ISBN 0-618-330-8477.
Winner of the Connecticut Book Award, NY Public Library Top 100, Bank Street Book of the Year, Notable Awards from Children’s Book Council/National Council for the Social Studies (CBC/NCSS) and International Reading Association (IRA).

Ten Mice for Tet. Chronicle Books, 2003. ISBN 0-8118-3496-4. 
Notable Book IRA, CBC/NCSS, Bank Street Book of the Year. Illustration totally embroidered in Vietnam. Back matter goes into depth about this celebration and culture.

The Whispering Cloth. Boyds Mills Press, 1996. ISBN 1-56397-6234.
Notable Book by IRA, NCTE, CBC/NCSS, Cooperative Center for Books for Children (CCBC).  Set in a Thai refugee camp, the story features traditional Hmong pa’ndau stitch work.

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