No Ordinary Day by Deborah Ellis

No Ordinary Day is the story of resourceful orphan girl from a small village in India who learns she has leprosy.

Book: No Ordinary Day, Groundwood Books

Author: Deborah Ellis of Simcoe, Ont.

Deborah Ellis conceived of No Ordinary Day as a fund-raiser for the Leprosy Mission. (Groundwood Books)

No Ordinary Day is the story of Valli, an orphan girl in the coal-mining town of Jharia, India, who decides to run away after being mistreated by the family who has raised her. She stows away on a coal truck bound for Kolkata (Calcutta), and learns there how to live on the streets. Valli is surprisingly upbeat and carefree, despite having nothing. "Her expectations are pretty low. She’s had very little all her life and she is positive whenever she has enough to eat or gets an unexpected gift such as clothing or a blanket," author Deborah Ellis said.

Valli’s roaming on the streets of Kolkata is a chance for Ellis to describe the temples and ghats and other beautiful sights of the city to young readers. But it becomes clear as the story progresses that the little girl has lost all feeling in her feet, a sign of leprosy. When a doctor befriends her and takes her to a clinic for treatment, she is horrified by the other lepers, who in her old village were always outcast as "monsters." She runs back to the streets, but eventually makes the decision to return to the clinic. The independent and easily satisfied Valli is a wonderful companion in this world, just as keen to play or to be spontaneously generous to someone else as she is to have a good meal.

No Ordinary Day follows the resourceful Valli through the streets of Kolkata. Groundwood Books
Ellis wrote the book for children in Grade 3 and up and easily masters the simple language very young readers need. She conceived of No Ordinary Day as a project to raise money for The Leprosy Mission of Canada, a charitable agency she had long supported. Elements of the story are taken from children she met on a trip to their mission in Kolkata.  She said she didn’t hesitate over telling children about a girl living on the street and facing indifference or cruelty from the adults in her life. "I have had a conviction from the start of my writing career that if we as a global community put people in these situations, their stories should be respected," Ellis said.

In earlier books, Ellis has written about the troubles of girls in Afghanistan (The Breadwinner, Parvana’s Journey) and the lives of street kids in Canada (Governor General's Literary Award-winner Looking for X). Her activist sentiments are clear, but Ellis’s depictions of the world’s harsh realities are tempered by what she calls her own "limitations." She said she doesn’t describe scenes of aggression against children in part because she can’t bear to think of them being hurt. That approach makes the books accessible, even for sensitive readers. When she goes into classrooms to discuss the books, she likes to engage students in discussions about the choices the world makes which make stories like Valli’s inevitable.