Fitzhenry Whiteside Publishing

About Deborah Ellis

Deborah Ellis is the internationally acclaimed author of a number of award-winning titles for children, including the Breadwinner trilogy, A Company of Fools, The Heaven Shop, and Our Stories, Our Songs. A peace activist and humanitarian field worker, Deborah has traveled the world to meet with and hear the stories of children marginalized by poverty, war, and illness.

She is the recipient of the Governor General’s Award, the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award, the Vicky Metcalf Award for a body of work, an ALA Notable, and the Children’s Africana Book Award Honor Book for Older Readers.

In 2006 Deborah was named to the Order of Ontario.

Considered one of the most popular YA writers today, Deborah Ellis is also a philanthropist, donating almost all of her royalties on her books to such causes as "Women for Women in Afghanistan" and UNICEF.

As a child growing up, Deborah characterized herself as a social isolate. "I was pretty much like that right the way through school," she admits. While in retrospect she wishes she had taken more risks and made an effort to get to know more people, especially other loners, she subscribes to the theory that those people who are apart from social cliques don't have a sense that they can change their circumstances.  "There's not a whole lot to say about it. Loners are loners, and that's kind of a universal thing I guess."

Finally, however, overcoming shyness, Deborah began joining peace and feminist movements. Her first act of social activism was subtle—showing films about nuclear war at her high school.  Over time, she focused her work on global issues. Deborah has recently been covering war, injustice and AIDS, which is covered in her books, Our Stories, Our Songs, and in The Heaven Shop.  "I'm interested in how people deal with courage, particularly when they have no resources to fall back on but themselves," she says, referring to the people of Third World countries.

Deborah's love for writing for youth stems from her belief that kids still have a chance to make their own choices.  "These kids are not yet sucked into the vortex of the soul-sucking world of adulthood and adolescence leading up to it. They still have a chance to be their own people." She encourages her audience to be self-aware.  "We are making choices, even when we think we're not," she explains.  "There's a lot we can't control, but we can control our choices.  Make them deliberately.  Make them with thought and with courage."         

And Deborah is following through with her own advice.  From the royalties of some of her most popular works, Deborah has helped to fund women's centres and schools in Third World countries.  "We've put kids into education, and we've put women to work," she says. "We've done so much more over there than I could have done here, and, hell, that's fun."

Deborah actively seeks advice from those who have gone before her—other writers and activists—and learned from both their victories and their mistakes.  And she wishes to help those who are soon-to-be up-and-comers.  Her advice to aspiring writers: "Don't quit.  Pay your bills.  And don't take yourself too seriously. There are much harder jobs in the world."

Lunch with Lenin and Other Stories

Lunch with Lenin and Other Stories

On Resource Link's "Best of 2008" List

On the Cooperative Children's Book Center Best-of-the-Year list for 2009

Deborah Ellis's first collection of short stories explores the lives of children who have been affected directly, or indirectly, by drugs. Sometimes touching and often surprising, the stories are set against backdrops as diverse as the remote north and small town America to Moscow's Red Square and an opium farm in Afghanistan.

This is an unforgettable collection of stories that will elicit discussions about the toll drugs take on the lives of teenagers and their families.


Recent Title: Bifocal


Snow Willow Award nominee, 2008

A powerful novel about racism co-written with Eric Walters

Haroon is a serious student devoted to his family; Jay is a rising football star devoted to his team. The boys barely know each other. They may go to the same high school and walk the same hallways, but they are worlds apart.

One day the high school is put on lockdown and the police arrest a Muslim student on suspicion of terrorist affiliations. Is the boy really guilty, or has he been singled out because of his race? Along with the rest of the school, Haroon and Jay take sides. When a newspaper article quotes some Muslim teens, who claim 

they are regularly subjected to prejudice at school, Jay and the football squad are indignant. A smoke bomb is set off near the Muslim kids' lockers, and the jocks are convinced that they have been set up to look like racists.

As the atmosphere of racial tension grows, both Haroon and Jay must set out on a painful journey of self-discovery, where they will ultimately question their loyalties and the beliefs they have always taken for granted.

Below is a video trailer for Bifocal:

Bifocal is available in Hard Cover or Paperback.

Other Titles


Diamond Willow Award nominee, 2008

CLA Children's Book of the Year Award longlist, 2008

Jake and his sister Shoshona have been under foster care since their single mother was arrested for possession and trafficking three years before. Both have found their own ways to cope: Shoshona has become a bossy mother figure; Jake, who is a budding comic book artist, has created an alter ego named Jakeman. And unbeknownst to his sister, Jake continues his one-man letter-writing campaign to the Governor, pleading for clemency for their mom.

 Along with an assortment of nervous, angry, and damaged kids, Jake and Shoshona take a community-provided school bus four times a year on the long overnight journey through New York State to visit their mother in jail.

This time will be like no other trip they’ve ever taken. Their adult chaperones contract food poisoning on the way back and must be dropped off at a hospital. And their driver, refusing to wait for another adult to replace their chaperones, sets off again with only the kids and a hidden bottle of booze in tow. In no time they are off the main highway and lost. And their driver, now staggering drunk, abandons the kids and leaves the bus in the middle of nowhere.

Angry and sick to death of a system that has deserted them at every turn, the older kids take control of the bus. And through a series of crazy side trips, Jake and the others hatch a plan to visit the Governor’s mother. And when the old lady sees that her son has callously dismissed Jake’s appeals and refused to even reply, she leads them to the Governor himself. Jake and the others find themselves at a photo opportunity that goes terribly wrong. One of the kids, frustrated at the Governor’s response, tries to throw their case files. One of the security team misunderstands the gesture and pulls a gun, and Jake throws himself in front of his friend, taking the bullet in the shoulder. The shock of the incident played out in front of the media, gives the long-abandoned kids a forum to be heard at long last.

Click here to see more on Jakeman, or here for a downloadable pdf of the Jakeman Media Kit. (1.4mb)

Our Stories, Our Songs

ALA Notable Book, 2006

School Library Journal Best Book, 2006

Book Links Best New Book for the Classroom, 2005

In Sub-Saharan Africa, There are more than 11.5 million orphans. The AIDS pandemic has claimed their parents, their aunts, and their uncles. What is life like for these children? Who do they care for, and who cares for them? Come and meet them. They might surprise you.

In the summer of 2003 Ellis visited Malawi and Zambia to

collect stories of children orphaned by AIDS. This powerful book is the result of her efforts. The purpose of the book is to put a face on an estimated 20 million children who will have been orphaned by AIDS by 2010. The stories, told in the children’s own words, describe a range of experiences, from witnessing the death of one or both parents from AIDS, to living on the street, or in jail, or with relatives who cannot afford to support them. Some of the children are raising younger siblings. The kids speak matter-of-factly, and most express some degree of hope for their future.

Each story has a two-colour photograph of the children and sidebars with facts and definitions. At the back is a list of resources along with a map, glossary, and index.  

There is also a brief conclusion in which Ellis reveals her ultimate purpose, which is to mobilize her readers. She writes “We have enough resources in the world to properly care for children left behind by AIDS – once we decide as a world community that this is what we want to do.”

Royalties from this book will be donated to Unicef

Our Stories, Our Songs is available in Hard Cover or Paperback.

The Heaven Shop

Jane Addams Honor Book for Older Readers

Children’s Africana Book Awards 2005 Honor Book for Older Readers

Foreword Magazine 2004 Book of the Year Award, shortlist

Golden Oak Award 2005, shortlist

Ruth & Sylvia Schwartz Children’s Book Award, finalist Adult/Middle Reader

Manitoba Young Reader’s Choice Award, shortlist

A Canadian Children's Book Centre Our Choice 2005

Shortlisted for the 2006 Alberta Children's Choice Book Award

Binti's father and her mother before him, die of AIDS. Binti, her sister, and brother are separated and sent to the home of relatives who can barely tolerate their presence. Ostracized, the orphans are treated like the lowest servants. With her brother far away and her sister wallowing in her own sorrow, Binti can hardly contain her rage. She, Binti Phirim, was once a child star of a popular radio program. Now she is scraping to survive. Binti always believed she was special, now she is nothing but a common AIDS orphan.

But Binti Phiri is not about to give up. . .

Negotiation are underway to make a motion picture based on this book.

Royalties from this book will be donated to Unicef

The Heaven Shop is available in Hard Cover or Paperback.

A Company of Fools

Mr. Christie’s Silver Book Award

Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction, Honour Book

Mr. Christie Silver Book Award

Manitoba Young Readers’ Choice Award, nominee

Rocky Mountain Book Award, nominee

Canadian Library Association Book of the Year, Honour Book

Henri has been living within abbey walls all his life, first in the care of nuns, then as a choirboy at St. Luc's, not far from Paris. He expects to spend the rest of his life there, copying books in the Scriptorium with the other brothers, and singing Mass in the great cathedral.

Then Micah arrives. . .

Deborah on writing A Company of Fools:

"A Company of Fools had an unusual genesis. "I was working on another novel when I bumped into the term, 'a Company of Fools.' I like talking about the book, A Company of Fools, because it's such a happy book in comparison to the war stuff. It's so much more fun. It's a little bizarre to say that it's fun, but I've never met any plague victims, and so that makes it a little easier. I was actually planning to write another book, and I was doing some research for it when I came across a little line that talked about this group called 'A Company of Fools' that entertained people who were dying during the Black Plague in 1348 Paris. The title, itself, is so fabulous - A Company of Fools - it's just great, and I knew I had never heard of any books of what it had been like to be a child during the Black Plague. I wanted to find that out, and I wanted to put the kid in with this Company of Fools so I could find out what their lives had been like and how people had responded to them. I had to do a lot of research for A Company of Fools, but that was so much fun. The Middle Ages is so great, and you could spend days reading up about just the food alone."

"Writing A Company of Fools was a real wild ride because it took me a long time to get the voice right and to get the story right. I have a great deal of affection for that book. I had many false starts, and I rewrote it completely many times just because I couldn't figure out exactly what the story was and who should be telling it essentially. Sometimes it's really hard to figure that out, and sometimes you know right away. I never found another reference to the Company of Fools. The whole book is all created. I based the monastery on monasteries I had seen over there with the labyrinth in the floor and things like that. The story's a lot of fun, even with all the death. Who would not want to play ghost jump? It's such a fun game. And they don't let you do that in Westminster Abbey. I know they don't because I tried it. They're pretty strict about stuff like that."

In talking about her writing process, Deborah says, "Usually the beginning part goes through a whole bunch of different drafts while I'm trying to find the voice and the structure of the story. Then, at a certain point, it becomes an endurance contest, almost like an end run. I'm usually able to do the final few chapters almost with one draft because, by then, I know so much about what's happening and what's going on and whose there that I don't have to keep rewriting it. When I'm writing, if I'm trying to 'control' the characters, the book doesn't seem to go anywhere. Usually, if I'm blocked, it's because I'm trying to force a square peg into a round hole by making somebody do something that they're not supposed to be doing."

"For example, there were lots of times in A Company of Fools when I tried to get Micah to do something that he was just not interested in doing. Micah's another character I would like to have been. Isn't he great? He's kind of like the Ghost of Christmas Present. That's how I see him - just larger than life and just embracing everything that comes to him because it's probably not going to be there tomorrow. I like the scene where Micah and Henri are in the infirmary and Micah feeds Henri the soup and he sort of needs to be told almost how to do that. I like it when people in books treat each other well. I don't think you necessarily have to have people hurting each other all the time for it to be a good story.

I'd also like to do a sequel to A Company of Fools and have some kind of a Christmas story in mind, but I'm not quite sure what's going to happen with that. I'd like to bring both characters back together again somehow, and so I'll have to figure that one out."

(From an interview with Deborah printed in CM Magazine. Click here to see the complete interview.)

A Company of Fools is available in Hard Cover or Paperback.

Click here to see all books by Deborah Ellis.

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