Books by Deborah Ellis

Released: Oct. 1, 2019

"A powerful collection. (references and resources) (Nonfiction. 13-18)"
Ellis' (Sit, 2017, etc.) compilation shares stories from Canadian youth and adult offenders, many of whom have experienced homelessness and been in and out of juvenile detention centers, foster homes, and group homes. Read full book review >
THE BREADWINNER by Deborah Ellis
Released: Jan. 1, 2018

"A rather unsatisfying graphic novel, sure to disappoint fans of Ellis' book. (Graphic historical fiction. 10-14)"
A graphic-novel adaptation of Ellis' heartwarming story of Parvana, a young girl in Afghanistan who cuts her hair and dresses as a boy to earn money for her family when her father is imprisoned by the Taliban. Read full book review >
SIT by Deborah Ellis
Released: Oct. 3, 2017

"The book is dedicated 'to all who just need a moment of peace,' but it may leave readers feeling far from peaceful. (Short stories. 10-14)"
A collection of short stories organized around the mental image of a sitting child. Read full book review >
THE CAT AT THE WALL by Deborah Ellis
Released: Sept. 9, 2014

"Quietly moving, full of surprises and, with Clare's colloquial and spirited voice, highly readable. (Fiction. 10-13)
One minute, Clare is a middle school student in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, but the next, she is in Bethlehem—"the real one"—and she's a cat.

Thus begins Ellis' thought-provoking and extremely accessible exploration of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the eyes of a reflective stray cat (with a wry sense of humor) who finds refuge in a one-room house south of Bethlehem in the West Bank. Two Israeli soldiers, one ignorant and the other wiser and more compassionate, have commandeered it as a surveillance post, but the cat soon realizes there's a small Palestinian boy hiding beneath the floorboards and having trouble breathing…and where are his parents? Through suspenseful and compelling prose, the author presents the situation with evenhandedness and emphasizes the importance of context; she trusts that young readers can understand a great deal. Even so, the manner in which this story is told skews young, making the treatment of at least one horrific act of violence feel a little superficial. In some ways, the skillfully integrated mirror narrative, that of Clare the girl approximately a year earlier, is more nuanced. Usually an A student and a master at flying under her teachers' radars while performing small (and large) acts of meanness, when she encounters "Ms. Zero" and accrues 75 detentions (served by copying out the inspirational poem "Desiderata"), everything changes.

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MOON AT NINE by Deborah Ellis
Released: April 1, 2014

"A harsh introduction to a disturbing moment in Iran's recent history. (Historical fiction. 14-18)"
In a novel based on a true story, two teen girls fall in love and face harsh political fallout in post-revolution Iran. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 10, 2013

"As gay Chippewa 16-year-old Zack puts it, 'They tried really hard to kill us all off, and we're still here!'—a welcome and necessary reminder to all. (introductory notes, photos, annotated lists of organizations) (Nonfiction. 12-16)"
In distilled interviews, 45 young Native Americans express hope, resilience, optimism—and, rarely, anger—amid frank accounts of families plagued by drug, alcohol and sexual abuse, as well as murder, suicide, extreme poverty, and widespread discrimination, both public and private. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 2012

"Readers will learn much about the war in Afghanistan even as they cheer on this feisty protagonist. (author's note) (Fiction. 11 & up)"
In a follow-up that turns the Breadwinner Trilogy into a quartet, 15-year-old Parvana is imprisoned and interrogated as a suspected terrorist in Afghanistan. Read full book review >
Released: May 15, 2012

"Necessary. (Nonfiction. 10-14)"
The author of the Breadwinner trilogy turns from fictional Afghani children to real ones. Read full book review >
TRUE BLUE by Deborah Ellis
Released: March 15, 2012

"Casey, whose misplaced loyalty indicates startling ignorance of her friend's character, is a bore. Jess—sharply insightful, but selfish and entirely lacking in empathy—may be a piece of work, but she grabs readers' attention and never lets it go. (Fiction. 12 & up)"
Known for powerful tales of social injustice in the developing world, Ellis here offers readers a flawed but gripping character study of teens in small-town Canada. Read full book review >
NO ORDINARY DAY by Deborah Ellis
Released: Sept. 13, 2011

"A true-to-life portrait of a young girl's cheerful selfishness in this surprisingly optimistic novel of unrelenting poverty. (Fiction. 9-11)"
Homeless orphan Valli is always friendly, if amoral. Read full book review >
NO SAFE PLACE by Deborah Ellis
Released: Sept. 1, 2010

Fifteen-year-old Abdul, an Iraqi Kurd, has escaped war-torn Baghdad and traveled for four months across six countries only to hit a dead-end in the Jungle in Calais, a community of migrants trying to survive in squalid shanties with winter coming. When he sneaks onto a smuggler's boat and a skirmish leaves the pilot dead, Abdul and three other young people are left adrift on the English Channel, hoping to get to England. Ellis skillfully intersperses flashbacks with thrilling scenes in Calais and on the Channel to tell the heartbreaking stories of Cheslav, a trumpet-playing Russian who has fled a harsh military school, Rosalia, a feisty Romani girl, who escaped the white slave trade, and Abdul, hoping to get to Liverpool to honor his friend Kalil. The flashbacks add depth and dimension to the story, making the protagonists fully realized characters readers will care about. What the best literature for young readers can be—simple, elegant language crafted to tell a story as full and rich as life itself. Eminently memorable. (Fiction. 12 & up) Read full book review >
Released: March 1, 2009

In her previous volume, Off to War: Voices of Soldiers' Children (2008), Ellis interviewed Canadian and American children whose parents were off at war in Iraq or Afghanistan. Here, she has interviewed Iraqi children whose lives have been shattered by war. Depending on the estimates, 90,000 to 1.2 million Iraqi civilians have died as a result of the Second Gulf War, and almost five million have become refugees. Many of the children in this volume are older than those in the previous work and have seen the war firsthand, so they have much to say about their experiences. Most are now in Jordan, so this report is a bit limited by not including those who stayed behind, but the voices are poignant, insightful, angry and hopeful. Their stories are given a solid context by a fine introduction that provides a brief history of the war, a two-page map and prefaces to each person's story. Photographs of the interviewees and a glossary round out an important chronicle of war and the world's most vulnerable—the children. (Internet resources) (Nonfiction. 10 & up)Read full book review >
LUNCH WITH LENIN by Deborah Ellis
Released: Nov. 22, 2008

Readers of activist and award-winning Canadian novelist Ellis's novels won't be surprised that the short fiction collected here deals with substance abuse and impoverished peoples in countries large and small. In "Pretty Flowers," 12-year-old Tahmina tends her family's Afghanistan poppy field until it's destroyed, along with her future, by her government. Fourteen-year-old Pascal in Bolivia serves detention with Father Dominic and learns that the glue-sniffing homeless are people, too, in "Cactus People." In the standout title story, Valerin's mother abandons him at Lenin's Tomb when he's five. The story nicely traces his growth until age 16, when he finds himself caring for a heroin-addicted friend. The stories wear their lessons on their sleeves: The main characters are little more than either their hopes or their problems, the Third World poor have their hopes dashed over and over and privileged teens see how whiney they've been and are suitably humbled. This will work best where short fiction is in high demand, but some teens will find it preachy. (Short stories. YA) Read full book review >
OFF TO WAR by Deborah Ellis
Released: Sept. 1, 2008

With 13,500 Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan and one million American military personnel in Iraq, millions of children on the home front and in the war zones have been affected. As Ellis says, "In any war, it is always the children who are the biggest losers—children whose voices are rarely heard." In an oral history reminiscent of Studs Terkel's superb volumes, Ellis gives voice to the children of Canadian and American soldiers. Each interview is prefaced by information on the war, army bases and the children themselves. Though the children's voices often sound similar, and many repeat the same sentiments—sadness when a parent goes away, the poignancy when children realize they have gotten used to a parent's absence and the difficult readjustment when parents return—it is their accumulation that makes an impact. Later interviews reflect a divergence of opinion—one 11-year-old girl states that the "war was just for oil, and for money-grubbing Americans." Ellis continues to be an important voice of moral and social conscience, and this volume will be followed, in January 2009, by Children of War: Voices of Iraqi Refugees. (glossary, further information) (Nonfiction. 9 & up)Read full book review >
SACRED LEAF by Deborah Ellis
Released: Nov. 1, 2007

Bolivians have long consumed coca leaves, the raw ingredient in cocaine, as a mild stimulant tea to minimize the effects of hunger and altitude sickness. In this fast-paced addition to her series about cocaleros, Bolivian subsistence coca farmers, Ellis continues to follow Diego, 12, and others caught up and mangled in the global war on drugs. At the end of I Am a Taxi (2006), Diego found sanctuary with a family of cocaleros. Soon the Bolivian army arrives and destroys the family's crops and livelihood. Bereft, they join a cocaleros' protest. Tension builds as angry families, including infants and the elderly, blockade a highway and face down an increasingly frustrated army. Diego is torn between supporting the farmers and longing to return to his own family in Cochabamba. Ethical issues are conveyed powerfully, but without preaching. Characters on both sides—an army captain, torn between job and support for his community, reckless young radicals in search of excitement—are vividly rendered. Humor leavens the mix. An exciting story that confronts young readers with a very different kind of childhood. (Fiction. 10-14)Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 1, 2007

A baby girl born with a facial deformity is left to die in the dessert of Persia, but her mother, the number one wife in the harem, rescues the child. Nicknamed Anubis, or Jackal, the child grows up under her mother's protection, learning things no ordinary girl would know: reading, chess and swordplay. When her mother dies after one of her father's beatings, the Jackal flees the harem, but not before killing her father. In the dessert, Anubis continues her avenging ways, killing five men who raped and killed a woman they had abducted. Eventually, Anubis finds a safe haven in an artist colony where the famous miniaturist, Bihzad, befriends her. The bold misfit and the modest miniaturist teach each other about coping with the loneliness and sorrow of the world. Ellis creates an exotic atmosphere of sights, sounds, and tastes for her novel about a memorable, if anachronistic, heroine. (Fiction. 12-15)Read full book review >
THE HEAVEN SHOP by Deborah Ellis
Released: Sept. 1, 2004

This AIDS-in-Africa story, though occasionally poignant, smacks of intention. Thirteen-year-old Binti lives in Malawi with two siblings and her sickening father. When her father dies, uncles and aunts swoop down, claim the house and possessions, and remove Binti and her sister to one town and their brother to another. Binti's new life is miserable, not just because she's forced to relinquish her radio-acting job, but also because her relatives, mean-spirited and afraid of AIDS, scorn and neglect her. When her older sister runs away, Binti leaves too. She moves in with her kindhearted Gogo (grandmother), who's running a tiny, poor shelter for AIDS orphans and children whose parents are sick. Binti slowly adjusts to this new life, and eventually both siblings join her there. AIDS, poverty, and prostitution are the subjects of this just-adequate "purpose piece." Well-meant, but weakened by an overall feeling of educational message. Allan Stratton's Chanda's Secrets (p. 498) is far deeper and better written (though its African country is fictional). (author's note, map, author interview) (Fiction. 10-13)Read full book review >