Each month, we ask one distinguished author or illustrator to write an original post that reveals insights about their process and craft. Enjoy!
No Ordinary Day
by Deborah Ellis
No Ordinary Day (Groundwood 2011) is an uplifting, even joyful story—something you might not expect from a book about leprosy, an age-old disease that has disfigured millions and terrified billions.
The protagonist is a young girl named Valli who leaves the only life she knows—the coal pits of Jharia, India—and hops a truck to an unknown destination. It’s a daring move, since she’s without money, protection, or a plan. Valli arrives at the great city of Kolkata, where she is endlessly fascinated by the panorama of cultures, people, and industry she sees around her. She keeps herself alive hour by hour, unable to think beyond her immediate needs.
One day, the girl meets a woman who changes all that. The woman, a doctor, gives Valli a glimpse of another life, another future, one that can be hers—if she has the courage to reach out and take it.
I went to Kolkata and walked around the city and spent time at the leprosy hospital there. I spoke with people in different stages of the disease, and heard how leprosy had impacted their lives and the lives of their families. I think we should eradicate the word ‘leper’ from our vocabulary. People are not their disease. They are much, much more.
One of the challenges in a book like No Ordinary Day is to represent the lives of the people depicted in it with accuracy. As a white Canadian, I know there are gaps in the way I understand the world. We have a lot in common, we people of the planet, and as a writer I fall back on universal human emotions that, I hope, bring authenticity to my characters and the way they experience the world.
My wish is that readers like No Ordinary Day, that they will see a bit of themselves in Valli and her dilemma, and that they will leave the book thinking of people with leprosy—about people outcast for any reason—in a whole new way.
Unless otherwise noted, all photos are courtesy of the Leprosy Mission of Canada. This material may not be used without the express written consent of Deborah Ellis.