Tag Archives: Deborah Ellis

Moon at Nine by Deborah Ellis

Moon at NineAt 15, Farrin is the privileged only child in a tense, unhappy, albeit very wealthy family. Her father runs a construction company that takes advantage of illegal, desperate Afghan workers to make big profits. As successful as he might be, Farrin’s mother continuously laments that she has married beneath her aristocratic standing. Portraits of the Shah have been replaced for 10 years with that of the Ayatollah Khomeini and the Revolutionary Guard have eyes and ears everywhere.

In this restrictive environment, Farrin is lucky to still be able to go to school at all – especially one for gifted girls. But she has no friends there, and is often bullied by the head girl, Pargol. And then new student Sadira arrives: for the first time, Farrin has an ally and companion. Their affection soon grows into something more … but their joy and devotion morph into ammunition for Pargol to torment the girls. The consequences for falling in love escalate far beyond their school and their families, until each is abandoned to fight for their very lives.

In 1988 Tehran, homosexuality is punishable by execution. In her ending “Author’s Note,” mega award-winning Canadian author Deborah Ellis best known for her Breadwinner tetralogy – who has built a renowned international reputation for giving voice to children in the most challenging circumstances around the world – explains how her latest novel is true. “At the beginning of the summer of 2013, I met a woman who told me about her early years in Iran … Some of the details have been changed, but this story is essentially hers.”

Adding a succinct historical overview of Iran’s history, Ellis is careful to balance details of Ayatollah Khomeini’s destructive regime with the rich diversity – especially artistically – of the country’s past. But neither does she shy away from the shocking numbers of tragic victims as they relate to this novel: “According to the Iranian gay human rights group Homan, over 4,000 lesbian and gay Iranians have been executed since 1979.” Iran is not alone in its punishment – Ellis names six countries that execute their homosexual citizens as of the end of 2013, and more than 70 countries that deem homosexuality illegal. In light of such horrific restrictions, her final paragraph is both declaration and hope: “As a proud, gay woman, I am honored to have been entrusted with the story of Farrin and Sadira, and I hope that the real-life Farrin will be able to spend the rest of her life with whatever peace and happiness she is able to find.”

As more and more states strike down anti-gay marriage laws, Moon at Nine is a chilling reminder of the suffering of too many others deprived not only of love, but their very lives. As difficult as it is to read – the ending is especially piercing – its importance is hard to deny.

Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult

Published: 2014

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Filed under ..Middle Grade Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, Canadian, Iranian

Looks Like Daylight: Voices of Indigenous Kids by Deborah Ellis, foreword by Loriene Roy

Looks Like DaylightDeborah Ellis has a doubly powerful schtick: first, her nonfiction titles give underrepresented children a highly visible podium for their very own words (Three Wishes: Palestinian and Israeli Children SpeakOff to War: Voices of Soldiers’ Children, Children of War: Voices of Iraqi RefugeesKids of Kabul: Living Bravely through a Never-Ending War); then she ends up putting her royalties where her pen goes. Her latest gives center stage to young people throughout the North American continent who are Native Americans south of the border, and First Nations people to the north; her royalties benefit the First Nations Children & Family Caring Society of Canada. Her gifting has proven impressively prodigious: she’s parlayed her bestselling success to raise over a million dollars for Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan and Street Kid International with the first three (of four) titles of her award-winning signature Breadwinner series alone.

Regardless of the different monikers – Iqaluit to Inuit, Nez Perce to Navajo, Pueblo to Seminole, and so many more – the 45 young people here share an indigenous heritage: they are the original Americans. “These are the stories of young people who have inherited the challenges of colonialism,” writes Dr. Loriene Roy in her “Foreword”; Roy is Anishinabe, former president of the American Library Association, and teaches at the University of Texas at Austin. “These challenges of family dissolution, family/intimate partner violence, diabetes, alcoholism/drug abuse, foster care, bullying, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), self-abuse and suicide are the outcomes of the efforts of majority cultures to abolish traditional lifeways …

“Yet they live and often, thrive,” Roy concludes.

Ellis spent two years crisscrossing the U.S. and Canada to speak to these surviving, thriving young people. In her “Introduction,” Ellis lays bare the horrific Native history through the last two centuries: from genocide to the creation of schools for survivors designed to “‘Kill the Indian in him and save the man,’” to the legalized abduction of children for indentured service or even slavery, to the attempts to abolish indigenous languages (of an estimated 300 original languages, half have disappeared; of the remaining 150, 130 are threatened with extinction as today’s children can only speak some 20 languages), to the replacement of the Native diet with handouts of canned and processed foods. “The children in this book have inherited this history. That they are here at all is a miracle.”

These resilient youth are definitely ‘here’ – each learning, adapting, sharing, thriving. Tingo, 14, is working to get over grief: “… grief over losing our land, our language, our customs, our ways. Grief often comes out as trouble.” Mari, 18, helped get smoking banned from public parks in Minneapolis. Myleka, 13, and her brother Tulane, 14, represent a new generation of proud artists. Cohen, 14, who belongs to the remote Haida Gwaii, helped battle the logging companies who arrived to cut down their trees.

But sometimes, illness and death are just too close to home. Miranda, 12, knows too many sick people damaged by the nearby petrochemical plants: “It’s almost a normal thing here to die of cancer, especially if you’re a woman.” Destiny, 15, has survived five suicide attempts: “I guess I was meant to live … I guess maybe the Creator is telling me … you’ve got something important to do before you die …”; she lives “just over the hill from where the Wounded Knee Massacre took place … For white kids it’s just something in a history book. For me, it’s my family. … They’re still killing us today, but now they do it with alcohol and drugs and bad food and suicide.”

Solace and strength comes in many forms, sometimes via surprising options. Isabella, 14, is an actress hoping to break Hollywood’s stereotypes. Danton, 14, performs extensively with his family group, the Métis Fiddler Quartet, including during the opening ceremonies of the Vancouver Winter Olympics. Ta’Kaiya, 11, is already a staunch environmentalist with numerous international speaking engagements, a website, and has thus far been in four films. Cuay, 12, is a skateboarder: “Skateboarding is the fastest-growing sport on native American reservations.” Lane, 14, is a multi-generational lacrosse player; named by French priests in the 1600s, the sport is a Native creation: “Lacrosse has been played by my people since forever, since long before your people came here.”

And speaking of us non-Native people, Jeffrey, 18, gets the final word today of all days: “I come from the Watuppa Wampanoag Reservation of Martha’s Vineyard … It was my ancestors who greeted the Pilgrims when they landed on Plymouth Rock, and my ancestors who helped them survive through the first winter. When you think of Thanksgiving, think of us.” [For an unforgettable novelization of the life of the first Native American graduate of Harvard who was also Wampanoag, check out Geraldine Brooks' Caleb's Crossing.]

In spite of his history, Jeffrey “get[s] squashed for being Native” in high school. Growing up, he didn’t understand his heritage: “It felt like a disadvantage.” And then he got involved with the local youth council, eventually attending a UNITY conference which “transformed” him: He left behind feeling “empty, angry, and alone,” and found “connection … in the traditions of their own communities.” Unlike too many of his contemporaries who didn’t survive, Jeffrey, and many like him, do what they do “for the Native youth who will follow us, seven generations from now.” That’s reason for thanks-giving indeed.

Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult

Published: 2013

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Filed under ..Middle Grade Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Memoir, .Nonfiction, Canadian, Native American

Children of War: Voices of Iraqi Refugees by Deborah Ellis

Bestselling Canadian anti-war activist Deborah Ellis‘s four nonfiction titles (thus far) for younger readers should be bundled together and sent to every policymaker throughout the world. Two of those four, Kids of Kabul: Living Bravely through a Never-Ending War and Three Wishes: Palestinian and Israeli Children Speakgive voice to children living in active war zones. Off to War: Voices of Soldiers’ Children features the children left behind in the United States and Canada by deployed military. Children of War looks at lives attempting to be reclaimed by surviving families who have fled a war-torn homeland for an often unwelcoming new country.

Hibba, 16: “I have nothing in common with American children. How could I? They are raised up with peace and fun and security. … We are raised with war and fear. It’s a big difference.”

Michael, 12: “I think it would make the world better if people had to fix the things they broke. Like, if someone bombs your house, they couldn’t go away and do things they wanted to do until they built you a new house and fixed what they broke.”

Sara, 15: “We all miss our homeland. We had friends there, and lives that could have been wonderful.”

Eva, 17: “Hating people is not part of our culture, but the war is sending people back to the dark ages It is destroying who we are. Iraqis love sports and literature, and poetry and science, and gardens, all good things. Iraqis don’t like all this killing.”

Iraq is a young country, gaining independence in 1932, although the civilization that originated there is one of the world’s oldest, its ancient glory buried in the hanging gardens of Babylon, its written literary history dating back over 2000 years with the Epic of Gilgamesh. Tragically, Iraq’s recent history is defined by violence and war, from the eight-year Iran-Iraq War that began in 1980, to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 which sparked the First Gulf War, to the post-9/11 U.S. invasion in 2003.

While Ellis provides important political and historical context here, Ellis’ focus is clearly on the  youngest victims: “The children in this book are mostly refugees who fled Iraq because of the war and were living in Jordan in the fall of 2007.” She chose Jordan “simply because the entry process was easier than for Syria.” Five million Iraqis were displaced by war, 3 million were unable to leave Iraq and live in remote tent camps; many of the survivors able to get out went to Jordan and Syria.

Nearly a decade has passed since Saddam Hussein was deposed. And yet the troubled nation remains in the headlines for the seemingly unending sectarian violence. The majority of those surviving children are no more, having grown into troubled adulthood. What now? What now?

Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult

Published: 2009

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Filed under ..Middle Grade Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Nonfiction, Canadian, Iraqi, Middle Eastern

Three Wishes: Palestinian and Israeli Children Speak by Deborah Ellis

Given the latest headlines in the Middle East, this seems to be the perfect time for another Deborah Ellis title. Best known for her Breadwinner Trilogy (The BreadwinnerParvana’s Journey, and Mud City) which became a tetrology this fall with My Name is Parvana, Ellis is an award-winning Canadian author whose international anti-war activism has given fierce power to her titles; she’s also parlayed her bestselling success to raise over a million dollars in royalties for Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan and Street Kid International with the first three Breadwinner titles alone.

While Ellis’ nonfiction titles for younger readers definitely reflect her anti-war beliefs, she doesn’t lecture or preach. Instead, she gives voice to the children who are living in war zones (Three Wishes, Kids of Kabul: Living Bravely through a Never-Ending War), in refugee areas (Children of War: Voices of Iraqi Refugees), and in the left-behind homes of deployed military personnel (Off to War: Voices of Soldiers’ Children). Read together, the message is loud and clear: no one suffers more than the children. The foursome should be bundled together and sent to every policymaker throughout the world.

“In World War I, 15 percent of all casualties were civilians. In World War II, 50 percent of all casualties were civilians. In 2004, 90 percent of all casualties in war are civilians,” the epigraph stuns. Over six pages that follow, Ellis lists the names and ages of the 429 children who were killed between September 29, 2000 (the onset of the Second Intifada) and March 7, 2003.

In “a very small piece of land on the Mediterranean Sea,” Ellis writes in her introduction, “… a land sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians … the area has been at war for more than fifty years”: “The ongoing fight over this land means the children who live there spend their lives in a place of constant war.” In 2002, Ellis traveled to Israel and Palestine to speak to some of these children. Unless you recognize a name, can you really tell which ‘side’ these children are on?

Nora, 12: “I’m not supposed to go out by myself because my mother thinks I won’t be able to move fast enough if the soldiers come.”

Mona, 11: “I just want to go to school.”

Yanal, 14: “Being religious, whether you are Muslim or Christian or Jewish, or whatever you are, means that you should help people, and make the world better, and not just think of yourself. We have these things in common, at least in our religions.”

Maryam, 11: “I have only one wish. I would like to go to heaven. Maybe in heaven there is happiness, after we die. Maybe then.”

Elisheva, 18: “We could have lived like neighbors, and we did for awhile. We went to their weddings and feasts, and they came to ours. I remember when I was little we would go to their parties, and they were always friendly and welcoming. All of that has changed. Now we don’t know who we can trust.”

Hassan, 18: I would like to be a policeman when I get older. I would be a good policeman. People would trust me, and I would keep them safe.”

Yibaneh, 18: “God has become unclear. He’s heading somewhere, but it’s hard to see how this will all come to a good end.”

Asif, 15: “When I’m eighteen, I’ll go into the army. It’s the law for three years. … If I’m given an order I don’t like, an order to do something I think is wrong, I will refuse to do it. It’s important to protect the people, protect the Palestinians, I mean. I want to be a moral voice in the army …”

Mai, 18: “But now this wall is being built between us and them, and that will make it even harder for us to get to know each other as human beings. I don’t see God in this anywhere at all. I’ve never believed in God. We will make our own peace, just as we made our own war.”

Out of the mouth of babes … listen and learn. Peace, too, can be a choice.

Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult

Published: 2004

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Filed under ..Middle Grade Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Nonfiction, Canadian, Israeli, Palestinian

My Name is Parvana by Deborah Ellis

What delighted anticipation I felt when I heard that Deborah Ellis‘ multi-award-winning Breadwinner Trilogy (The Breadwinner, Parvana’s Journey, and Mud City), after almost a decade since its completion, was becoming a tetralogy! I adamantly hoped for such at the end of my Mud City post: “Although the trilogy is seemingly finished, adding a final fourth which captures Shauzia and Parvana’s reunion would surely be welcome … “

I swear, I didn’t know a thing back then … but if the book gods are feeling ‘ask-and-you-shall-receive’-sort of generous right about now, might I put forth a request that an octology might be in order for the future? If I’m gonna ask, I might as well ask big!

Parvana is 15, and a prisoner who refuses to speak to the American soldiers who question, frighten, even threaten her. Found alone in the bombed-out rubble of a village school, Parvana’s interrogators insist she’s a terrorist and harass her day and night about her involvement. In spite of her fearful silence, for the first time, Parvana has a clean room to herself; someone with a conscience recognizes she’s still a child and doesn’t throw her in with adults, while someone else has a heart and slips her food against orders. And even though her captors insist on piping in Donny Osmond’s cloying “Puppy Love” at ridiculous decibels at all hours, Parvana is still able to slip into her past, and remember her mother’s dedication to educating girls regardless of the growing threats, her fights and quibbles with her older sister Nooria and adopted brother Asif, her decision not to reveal the gatekeeper Mr. Fahir’s secret, the villagers’ chilling reactions to the opening of Leila’s Academy of Hope … and how she ended up an American prisoner.

Reading – and recalling the books she once read – helps Parvana stay sane, from the packaged food wrappers to the Robert Frost poem she remembers with longing. “Who would want to shoot somebody after reading ‘Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening’ or ‘Casey at the Bat’?,” she muses, envisioning how soldiers might stop their fighting to read each other “a great poem,” or swap chapters printed on ration wrappers with one another until whole books were pieced together. While she dreams she could be hired to choose such books, she tries hard not to think about the women who torture prisoners: “Women in the West could do anything they wanted. So why would they choose to do that?”

With still widespread social problems like child marriage and other brutality against women and girls, unpunished deaths, and references to Abu Ghraib, Parvana is a sobering read. Ellis depicts post-Taliban Afghanistan with eyes wide open, sugar-coating nothing. As foreign countries plan withdrawal from an unstable country still mired in poverty and violence, Ellis notes, “the war continues, and it is not clear who might be the winner in the end.”

While governments battle, life goes on for the Afghan people. “Individuals like Parvana, Shauzi, and Mrs. Weera are working to make life better. They, and the many many Afghan women, men, and children like them, are the ones the world needs to support. We owe it to them.” Ellis’s own support is especially inspiring: she’s raised over a million dollars in royalties for Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan and Street Kid International with the first three Breadwinner titles alone. As Parvana’s story continues, imagine how a few more titles will add to Ellis’ golden giving pot!

Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult

Published: 2012

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Filed under ..Middle Grade Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, Afghan, Canadian

Kids of Kabul: Living Bravely through a Never-Ending War by Deborah Ellis

Mega-award-winning author Deborah Ellis‘s active interest in Afghanistan began in 1996 when she heard about the Taliban takeover of that country “and the crimes they perpetrated against women and girls.” She became involved with the Afghan communities in her native Canada, then traveled to meet Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Russia, and most recently returned to Kabul just last year. In a land ravaged by decades of neverending war, “[t]he real losers are the Afghan people, especially the women and children.”

By giving voice to the Afghan community in numerous books – Women of the Afghan War for adults, and the ever-popular middle grade/young adult Breadwinner Trilogy (The BreadwinnerParvana’s Journey, and Mud City) – Ellis has single-handedly raised over a million dollars in book royalties for Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan and Street Kid International. Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan benefits again with all royalties from Kids in Kabul, Ellis’ latest title. [Take note: be patient a little longer ... that memorable Breadwinner trilogy is about to grow, with a brand new sequel, My Name Is Parvana, hitting U.S. shelves next month!]

Post-9/11, Afghanistan remains a war zone; even after the Taliban government was officially ousted, the Afghan people have not had peace for the past 11 years. “The billions and billions spent on the war, which might have been spent on education, health care, housing and rebuilding a civil society, have been spent on weapons,” Ellis soberly writes in her “Introduction.” Although more than half of Afghan children don’t have access to education, they’re making every effort to better their lives, as best as they can amidst violence, corruption, repression, and worse. Ellis traveled for a week in Kabul (because of security reasons, she couldn’t move beyond the dangerous capital) in early 2011 to talk to children.

The 27  girls and boys included here range from ages 11 to 17, most with photographs revealing their thoughtful young faces (which, I admit, makes me worry about their safety now that they are so easily identifiable). Each of their stories is introduced with relevant, contextual, cultural details from Ellis’ sharp observations. Most of the children are fatherless, many are orphans. Some are going to school, some will never have the chance. All have survived horrors no child should, including watching loved ones murdered, the brutality of child marriage, loss of home, safety, basic rights, even limbs.

“I want to be a doctor, of course. This the dream of many Afghans because we have seen so much death and suffering,” says 16-year-old Aman.

“At school I have learned that there are better ways to do things than all this war, war, war all the time. It’s the younger generation that will change that. My generation. Me,” says Mustala, 13.

“Sometimes we play on the big field at the stadium, the same stadium the Taliban used for all the terrible things they did – the shootings, cutting of people’s hands, the executions and torture. When we play there … it is like getting some justice for all those women who were hurt. We play for them as much as ourselves,” says 16-year-old Palwasha.

“I am happiest when I am in this library. All of our problems can be solved with these books,” says Sigrullah, 14.

Against challenging, sometime inhumane conditions, these children manage to thrive: “It is good to be hopeful,” Ellis reminds, “and if the future could be in the hands of this generation of young people, with their eagerness, openness and determination, then Afghanistan could indeed be a garden again.”

Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2012

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, ..Middle Grade Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Nonfiction, Afghan, Canadian

No Ordinary Day by Deborah Ellis

Canadian author Deborah Ellis has harnessed the power of words to create miraculous results: her multi-award-winning Breadwinner Trilogy (The Breadwinner, Parvana’s Journey, and Mud City) has raised over a million dollars in royalties for Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan and Street Kid International. With her latest title, Ellis tackles leprosy, this time sending all her royalties to The Leprosy Mission Canada. In case you had any doubt, beyond her many good deeds, Ellis also writes really good books.

For independent Valli, the “best day” of her young life happens to be the day she leaves her home village of Jharia, India. What kept her there for her first nine or 10 years – she’s not quite sure how old she is – was what she thought was her family: “You stayed with your family because they were your family and families were supposed to stick together and care for each other.” But when Valli learns that her ‘aunt’ and ‘uncle’ were merely paid to take her in as a baby, she grabs her chance to escape an inevitable future – back-breaking work in the coal mines, too-large families, abusive and alcoholic husbands – that most of the village women are doomed to live. Hidden in the back of a coal truck, she drives off toward the unknown.

Valli arrives in Kolkata and narrowly escapes a life in a brothel. For awhile, she’s content to wander the streets, finding ways to “borrow” what she needs, enjoying an adventure here and there – diving for coins in the river, sleeping in cemeteries, escaping frustrated guards. Her bare feet that magically feel no pain in spite what should be debilitating injuries, keep her moving swiftly. But when she sees her future once more – city-style, this time – in the face of a begging woman with a thinly wailing baby, she realizes that she needs to find the kind doctor who tried to help her once before, even if it means facing the “monsters” in the hospital.

Once again, Ellis writes a poignant, penetrating story about the difficult challenges of being a girl in the developing world. If the Breadwinner Trilogy is any indication of No Ordinary Day‘s potential success, then sharing Valli’s story to benefit the Leprosy Mission will surely provide the real-life Vallis the much-needed chance to choose healthier, safer, more fulfilling lives.

Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult

Published: 2011

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Filed under ..Middle Grade Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, Canadian, Indian

Mud City by Deborah Ellis

The final installment of Canadian activist/author Deborah Ellis‘ award-winning Breadwinner Trilogy follows Shauzia, Parvana’s best friend from The Breadwinner, in which both girls survived by cross-dressing as young boys, working to provide for their shuttered-in families in Taliban-controlled Kabul. While Parvana’s desperate odyssey to reunite with her family continues in Parvana’s Journey, Shauzia’s story takes her to a refugee camp in Pakistan, just beyond the Afghanistan border.

Shauzia shares a tent with Mrs. Weera, a domineering woman who was once the girls’ athletics teacher, who is now involved with running secret schools, clinics, and publishing a feminist magazine. Shauzia is tired of doing “little jobs” for Mrs. Weera, being ordered around, feeling suffocated in the refugee camp. Inspired by a magazine cut-out of a lavendar field somewhere in France, Shauzia dreams of faraway escape. Filled with defiant independence, Shauzia heads to the busy city of Peshawar with her loyal dog, Jasper, expecting to find enough work to pay her passage to freedom, away from hunger, suffering, war, and especially Mrs. Weera’s endless demands.

Supporting herself, of course, proves to be far more difficult than she ever expected. She finds a few odd jobs, but must resort to theft, begging, and running with hardened street kids in hopes of staying as safe as possible. She lands in jail, is saved by an ex-pat American family, but her respite is brief and she finds herself back where she started. How she will ever achieve her dreams seems to be a daunting, neverending challenge.

Of the trilogy, Mud City, is admittedly the weakest (less developed characters, the American deus ex machina gone awry), although only in comparison to the previous two titles. Certainly Mud could stand alone, but reading all three is more rewarding, enriched by the many small details that bind the three stories together.

Although the trilogy is seemingly finished, adding a final fourth which captures Shauzia and Parvana’s reunion would surely be welcome … indeed, those promised 20 years have nearly passed. Book 1 is set sometime in or close to 1996 (when the Taliban claimed Kabul), and books 2 and 3 about three years later (Parvana is 14 in Journey). Already, we’re in 2011, so somehow, the two cross-dressing girls – now fully grown women – are due for reunion at the Eiffel Tower’s peak in just five short years … oh, to imagine that …!

Readers: Middle Grade

Published: 2003

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Filed under ..Middle Grade Readers, .Fiction, Afghan, Canadian

Parvana’s Journey by Deborah Ellis

The second part of Canadian anti-war activist Deborah Ellis‘ lauded Breadwinner Trilogy continues with Parvana’s odyssey to reunite with her surviving family. Parvana and her recently released father leave Kabul at the end of The Breadwinner, determined to find Parvana’s mother, older sister, younger sister, and toddler brother who traveled north for her older sister’s wedding.

Journey begins with harsh tragedy … at the graveside of Parvana’s father. Parvana is still traveling as Kaseem, but at 14, she will not be able to hide her true gender much longer. The villagers are initially welcoming of Parvana, but soon she must escape in the middle of the night after being warned that she is about to be sold to the Taliban.

All alone and not even certain of where she is going, Parvana recites multiplication tables, just as her father taught her, to keep her going during the most trying times. Barely able to take care of her own self, Parvana’s wanderings lead her to a struggling baby in a bombed-out village whose dead mother lies beside him, then an angry, abused young boy who has already lost a leg, and finally an imaginative little girl who believes she is forever safe from land mines that litter the damaged, broken, war-torn country. Together, the foursome form a new kind of family …

Parvana shares not only her strength and protection with the younger children, she also tries to impart her hard-won education, teaching her new siblings to read and write. She writes undeliverable letters as often as she can to her friend Shauzia, who also survived life in Kabul as a cross-dressing breadwinner for her family, with whom Parvana shares the secret promise of meeting at the top of the Eiffel Tower in (now less than) 20 years.

In spite of the endless difficulties she faces, Parvana holds on to her father’s beloved books as long as she can, as well as the single copy of a feminist magazine her mother helped to write and produce before the family was scattered. Parvana is determined she will not only find her missing family … but she will one day put her mother’s brave, banned work into her waiting hands.

Ellis creates another challenging, fast-moving story about the will to survive, even in the youngest, most vulnerable souls. The children’s ability to nurture one another even as adults prove unreliable provide moments of uplifting wonder. Truly, the future lies in children … their resilience, their determination, their forgiveness, and their awe-inspiring hope.

Readers: Middle Grade

Published: 2002

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Filed under ..Middle Grade Readers, .Fiction, Afghan, Canadian

The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis

When Parvana’s gentle father is suddenly beaten without cause and locked away for being an educated citizen, her family is left without a means to support themselves. Under Taliban rule, women are forbidden in Kabul to leave the house unless fully covered and accompanied by a male family member. The only male at home now is Parvana’s toddler brother, hardly a likely escort. Meanwhile, their bereft mother – a former radio journalist – cannot get out of bed. Her teenage older sister is a perfect target for kidnapping.

At 11, Parvana is still young enough to dress in her late older brother’s leftover clothing, even if her resemblance to Hossain makes her mother weep. Masquerading as a boy, Parvana can leave the family’s stifling one-room apartment to go to the market, take over her father’s job as a letter-reader-and-writer-for hire, to buy food, and feed her family. As “Kaseem,” she becomes the family’s breadwinner.

In spite of her new relative freedom, Parvana – nor her family – is hardly safe, and they must struggle daily to survive, holding on to the hope of a family reunion someday. The Breadwinner is the first of a trilogy that continues in Parvana’s Journey and Mud City – all three chronicle the extreme choices Parvana and her family are forced to make amidst the cruel Taliban control of their war-torn country.

Award-winning Deborah Ellis – one of Canada’s most popular, bestselling children’s authors – is a longtime anti-war activist who traveled to Afghan refugee camps in the late 1990s and “heard many stories like Parvana’s.” Honoring those experiences of struggle, Ellis is donating all royalties from The Breadwinner to Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan – even more reason to invest in her books!

Ellis strongly reminds readers in her ending “Author’s Note” that in spite of the Taliban’s initial ousting in 2001 from Afghanistan, “the future of Afghanistan’s women and girls remains uncertain.” A full decade later, that future remains under threat. In the words of the looming Talib soldier, toting a rifle to complete his menacing shadow, “‘Read this.’”

Readers: Middle Grade

Published: 2001 (United States)

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Filed under ..Middle Grade Readers, .Fiction, Afghan, Canadian