Deborah Ellis has written many influential books based on the stories of children dealing with war, disease, poverty, and injustice. This Canadian author of The Breadwinner, Parvama's Journey, and Looking for X participates in the International Authors Panel with Patricia McCormick on Tuesday, May 1, at the IRA Annual Convention. She shares details of her beginnings, inspirations, and future work in this interview with Reading Today.
Reading Today: What got you interested in writing books for children and/or young adults?
Deborah Ellis: I fell into writing for children by accident. In the late 1990s, Groundwood Books held a competition for folks who had never published a middle-grade novel before. As an unpublished writer, I entered every contest that came along, so I wrote something and sent it off. The book I wrote--Looking for X--didn't win, but Groudwood still published it. Around that time I was getting involved with solidarity work for women in Afghanistan, and was over in the Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan listening to the stories of survivors of the Taliban. I heard a lot of the kids' stories, and decided to write The Breadwinner, which Groundwood also--bravely--published. And that has led to more opportunities.
RT: Which of your books do you consider your best and why?
DE: This is a difficult question to answer. In terms of the most important, the best ones are the books of interviews I've done with kids affected by war, AIDS, and injustice. Having them talk directly about their lives is more valuable than anything I could write. In terms of fiction, No Safe Place (about kids from different parts of the world seeking a home) presented a challenge in that I'm still learning how to write from multiple points of view without making a big mess or driving my editor (the long-suffering Shelley Tanaka) bonkers.
RT: What can attendees at IRA Chicago expect to hear from you?
DE: My new book is a collection of interviews I did with children in Kabul last year. They talked about how their lives have changed--and not--since the fall of the Taliban. I'll share some of their stories. I'll also talk about the two books that came out last fall. One, No Ordinary Day, is about kids affected by leprosy in India. The other, True Blue, is a small town murder mystery that tests the friendship and character of two teenaged girls. But I'll also go off on tangents about war, choices, and hope.
For more information about the 2012 IRA Annual Convention in Chicago from April 29 to May 2, visit www.iraconvention.org
Deborah Ellis Will Be There…Will You?