Profile on Deborah Ellis: IBBY Canada Nominee for the Hans Christian Andersen Award for Writing

Recently, at the IBBY Congress in Athens, Greece, Deborah Ellis gave a keynote speech that attendees will likely be unable to forget. During this talk, she noted that:

The best of children’s literature can help create a Day Before — a Day Before the order is given to toss chemicals in a river. A Day Before the order is given to massacre a village. A Day Before the order is given to manufacture a new batch of guns that will be used to shoot up a school, a church, a gay bar, a country music festival… We must have a Day Before! The best of children’s literature can remind us who we are when we are at our best.

Ellis’s keynote is indicative of her thoughtfulness and skill in creating children’s literature, her passion and enthusiasm for giving voice to the voiceless. Ellis is an author of exceptional talents, who has become known not only throughout Canada, but also in many other countries for her literature, peace activism, and philanthropy. She has travelled to many war-torn countries and visited with countless refugees. It was an interview with a refugee mother that inspired Ellis to write the first book in the Breadwinner series.

Although she is often recognized for The Breadwinner (2000) and its sequels, Ellis’s first book to gain critical acclaim was actually Looking for X (1999), which won the prestigious Governor General’s Literary Award for Children’s Literature. Since these two books brought Ellis into the spotlight in Canada, she has continued to work fervently to raise awareness of many issues affecting children around the world, including HIV/AIDS, drug use, parental death and disappearance, oppressive governments, and homelessness.

Although her fiction is vastly popular, her nonfiction publications have also been very well received, becoming invaluable resources for educators and young readers. Looks Like Daylight (2013), among a number of other collections of interviews with youth in various cultural and geographical contexts, highlights the lived experiences of Indigenous youth in North America.

Even as her other works have received critical acclaim and attention throughout the world, The Breadwinner continues to be one of her most impactful works, having recently been adapted for film (nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe, among other accolades), and subsequently published as a graphic novel, adapted by Nora Twomey. These additional formats have ensured that Ellis’s work remains relevant and fresh.

Ellis has also received the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award, which is given to a book that advances the causes of peace and social equality, and has been honoured with the Order of Ontario and the Order of Canada.

It is not simply the number of works published and the number of accolades received that make Ellis such a deserving nominee for the Hans Christian Andersen Award for Writing, but her stances around politics and social movements continue to impress. She concluded her Congress keynote with a call-to-arms that is relevant to us all: “The more good books we can get to children, authored by more voices from every part of the earth, the better chance we all have of achieving that great Day Before.”

The full nomination dossier for Deborah Ellis can be seen here.

– Robert Bittner, Co-Chair, Hans Christian Andersen Award Nominating Committee

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