Writers’ Union statement on Deborah Ellis and Three Wishes

On Monday, March 20th, The Writers’ Union of Canada will raise its voice with sector partners in opposition to recent actions taken by the Boards of Education of York Region, Toronto, and Essex at the behest of the Canadian Jewish Congress to restrict access to THREE WISHES PALESTINIAN AND ISRAELI CHILDREN SPEAK by Deb Ellis. This restricted access raises a number of questions that strike at the heart of the values of Canada’s pluralistic society.

These Boards of Education:

* Are restricting children’s rights to read freely, and
* They are censoring the voices of Palestinians and Israelis with which they do not agree

Furthermore these actions point out the emergency situation in Ontario and Canadian school which no longer have active, funded school libraries staffed by teacher librarians who defend book selections, promote reading, and critical thinking.

If you object to:

* Censorship of Palestinian voices
* Restriction on kids’ right to read freely
* And the fact that our schools have no librarians, no one to defend books or kids and reading

Then come to the press conference on Monday, March 20th and raise your voice.

The Press Conference will be held: Monday March 20, at 3:30 p.m.

Lillian H Smith Library, 239 College Street

(just east of Spadina)

More information about Three Wishes and Deborah Ellis

Cooperative Children’s Book Centre Choice—Best of the List selection

Pennsylvania School Librarians Association YA top Forty List

Canadian Children’s Book Centre Our Choice starred selection

Canadian Children’s Literature Roundtables of Canada Book Award short-list

THE RIGHT TO READ a statement by Publishers

Tragically Three Wishes is the subject of an extraordinary campaign to limit children’s access to the important voices in this book. This is why we think the book should continue to be read by children, their parents, and their teachers.

At the heart of our philosophy lie some important convictions about children in our world today. The first is that children deserve the highest possible quality in the texts and art created for them. But a close second is that children want and need to know the truth about the world they live in. Furthermore we believe that children are perfectly capable of thinking intelligently about issues, developing informed opinions on questions and that they are passionate about tolerance, peace, fairness and justice.

It is also our view that while we all wish the world was not such a cruel and terrible place for children; we cannot protect our own very privileged children from knowledge about what is happening. They are constantly exposed to the media, often highly irresponsible media. The war in Iraq, 9/11, the conflict in the Middle East, the shootings on Yonge Street in Toronto, the Holocaust –these are a part of our children’s everyday lives. Children in the 9-12 age group read books, watch television and see newspapers about all these subjects on a daily basis. We see our role as publishers as dealing with these realities in a moral and ethical way. For us this means never sugar coating, sentimentalizing, or hiding hard truths that our authors may wish to describe in their books. We frequently do this through the fiction and picture books we select and publish, many of which have garnered awards around the world, and occasionally through non-fiction.

In the case of THREE WISHES, we felt that what was most important was for children on both sides of this terrible and intractable conflict to speak in their own voices about their experiences. They are the biggest victims of the situation. We kept the authorial intervention to a minimum because we did not want an adult’s point of view to mediate what the children had to say. It is very sad and hard to read these voices and to discover what happens to children living in such a situation. Children on both sides are afraid, angry and even sometimes filled with hate. But then their situation is one that breeds these feelings on both sides. War is terrible for children. They suffer in their bodies, their minds and their souls because of it. Despite that they have wishes, dreams and hopes for a better life in which they will be safe. They are the innocent victims of this situation. And finally, every one of them, Israeli and Palestinian, is a human being who has an absolute right to a life in peace. We believe that this is the message that comes through to Canadian children and others around the world where the books have been published.


Deborah Ellis was born in Cochrane, Ontario on August 7, 1960. Looking back on her childhood, Deborah describes herself as a “social isolate” with a “rich fantasy life.” An avid reader at an early age, Deborah realized early in life that “reading great things inspires you to write great things.”

She first realized that she wanted to become an author at the age of eleven or twelve. Her talent for writing was quickly recognized by her school and she was transferred into high school English while still in grade eight. Most of her schooling took place in the very small community of Paris, Ontario. A long-time social justice activist, Deborah Ellis joined a peace movement called Operation Dismantle while still in high school.

Deborah’s path to success as an author was a long and difficult one. She endured many rejections before she would see her first book published. Her first adult novel Haley and Scotia was published by a small publisher in San Francisco, but it sold no more than twelve copies.

Deborah’s decision to begin writing for children was what she attributes to “pure chance.” She discovered Groundwood Books’ Twentieth Anniversary First Novel for Children Contest and submitted a manuscript for entry. It dealt with a girl who lived in Regent Park in such a sympathetic, convincing and moving way, that she was a runner-up in that competition. When the book was published it won the Governor General’s Award for Children’s Literature—very unusual for a first novel.

Deborah then sent Groundwood the manuscript for a new novel, The Breadwinner, set in Afghanistan. It was about a girl living under the Taliban who was obliged to dress as a boy in order to feed her mother and sisters. Deborah had worked in refugee camps in western Pakistan and knew a little girl like her heroine. She insisted that all royalties from this book go to the volunteer solidarity group she originally founded, Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, to build what were then clandestine libraries, schools and clinics for women and girls. The book was published to acclaim. Then came 9/11 and the book became an extraordinary success. Deborah herself became an ambassador for the plight of Afghani girls and women.

Her next novel, Parvana’s Journey, was, bravely, about this same child and what she endures as she walks across Afghanistan with a group of children as the country is being bombed in the war against the Taliban. This book too was so convincing, moving and believable that children around the world took it to their hearts. Once again the funds from Deb’s royalties went entirely to Afghanistan and have resulted in over $400,000 in grants to support education projects in that country, including literacy and training programmes at women’s resource centres, a women’s shelter, hiring teachers, funding an orphanage and many other projects. Royalties from Mud City, the third book in the trilogy, are donated to Street Kids International and other royalties have been donated to UNICEF. While Deb was writing and promoting these books, she was working in a group home to make her living, earning nothing for herself from these royalties. She often says that “I am not a fundraiser or an organizer…but I CAN write!” and this is the way she can effect change.

What is extraordinary about Deborah Ellis is her ability to bring alive the stories of marginal people in such a convincing way that children who are normally indifferent to the situation of people so unlike themselves embrace her characters with passionate interest and engagement. And then even more extraordinary, given her world-wide fame amongst children, she remains unchanged, available, and entirely committed to the suffering children of the world. Other subjects of her books have been children with AIDS in Africa; Palestinian and Israeli children caught in an intractable war; and, in her soon to be published book, a boy living in a Bolivian prison who gets caught up in the Coca struggle. But her books are never exotic or exploitative. Instead they are as utterly convincing, engaging, believable and compassionate as she is.

Deborah Ellis writes:

“Parvana and Shauzia are fictional characters, but they are very real people to me. I enjoyed their company when they were in my head, on their way to being put onto paper. Their anger, their frustration at the obstacles the world kept thudding in front of them, their sorrow, loneliness, and their triumphs when they could get them – these intimate moments they shared with me like a gift. I often try to imagine how they are managing now, in an Afghanistan that is both dangerous and hopeful. I wish I was as strong and brave as they are.

I’ve received amazing letters from children who also see Parvana and Shauzia as real. They send me drawings, write sequels, and write of their own experiences with terrors great and small. The most common question I get when I meet these kids is, ‘If governments know what is happening to children, why don’t they stop it?’ Why, indeed?

We all want to be brave, we all want to find it within us to stand up to tyranny and side with those who are being beaten down. Sometimes we look to literature to remind us of how great we can be.

The money the books have raised have put women to work, children in school, and food in people’s bellies. I’ve been frequently astonished at how easy it is to radically improve someone’s life. It’s an honour to be a part of it.”

Association of Jewish Libraries Newsletter – Nov/Dec 2004

Ellis, Deborah. Three Wishes: Palestinian and Israeli Children Speak. Toronto: Groundwood/Douglas McIntyre, 2004. 144pp. $16.95. ISBN: 0-88899-608-X.

It must be acknowledged that no book about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is going to satisfy everyone. The issues are so fraught with hatred, resentment, prior assumptions, and group loyalties that complete balance is probably impossible to achieve. The Canadian author of this book brings to it assumptions that will set off alarm bells. One is that the United Nations is an honest broker. Another is that the West Bank is occupied. A third is that refugee camps are an inevitable result of the conflict. But how many children reading the book will have the knowledge to challenge these assumptions or to know that they represent an essentially pro-Palestinian argument?

The author traveled to Israel and interviewed Israeli and Palestinian youth. We’ve seen books consisting of author interviews before and usually the children’s voices have been manipulated to convey an anti-Israel bias. Here, this does not seem to be the case. Fear, hatred, resentment, sadness, despair, and hope are distributed among the children regardless of their identity. Each child’s comments are prefaced by a short introduction by the author and usually a photo of the child. They live in the midst of terrorism and war and what they have to say is, above all, heartbreaking. What seems to set them apart is that the Israelis believe that they themselves can help to create a better future while, for the Palestinians, the present and the future look hopeless.

The potential audience for the book is rather large, from about fifth grade through high school. Yes, it is flawed; even the short bibliography includes several unacceptably biased titles, including a viciously anti-Israel novel for teens by Christine Laird, which is mistakenly called A Small Patch of Ground instead of by its real title, A Little Piece of Ground. But it also gives a wrenching sense of childhood during a terrorist war, expressed in what appear to be genuine voices. It requires discussion after reading and would be an especially apt choice for school libraries. Recommended with reservations for Grades 5 to 12.

Linda R. Silver, Jewish Education Center, Cleveland, OH

Three Wishes Review Quotes:

“… a moving, sometimes chilling, expression of the disruption and distress created in young people’s lives by the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, as well as a reminder of the human capacity for hope and renewal.” – Quill and Quire

“An accessible historical overview that is fair to all sides…. The wide range of voices shows the connections between warring neighbors despite the distances that separate them, and the personal details reveal the universals (‘I just want to ride horses’) in a moving way. Even the grimmest stories have a glimmer of hope, as in the account of a Palestinian girl whose Israeli and Palestinian friends return again and again to help rebuild her house, which is repeatedly bulldozed by soldiers. The specifics and the passionate immediacy of the voices will spark discussion on the Middle East and on civilians in war.” – Booklist, Starred Review

“An excellent presentation of a confusing historic struggle, told within a palpable, perceptive and empathetic format.” – School Library Journal

“That there is one list [of names], incorporating both Israelis and Palestinians, underscores the book’s point that despite our differences, we’re all human – and that dead is dead.” – The Horn Book

“A balanced historical introduction provides background for the interviews in which children talk about ‘how the choices other people have made have affected their lives.’ Ellis alternates Israeli and Palestinian voices and prefaces each of the accounts by an informative discussion of pertinent issues and a profile of the interviewee and his/her experiences …. The candid and passionate voices in these narratives may be used to awaken interest and encourage discussion among young readers…. Highly Recommended.” – Canadian Review of Materials (with a rating of 4 out of 4 stars)

“Here is a balanced and thought-provoking work recommended for school and public libraries.” – Multicultural Review

“This book would be an excellent resource for students studying World History or World Problems and the current conflict in the Middle East. It brings to life the reality of how people – especially children – are living in countries disrupted by war and constant conflict and makes it easier for young people to understand some of the political and religious conflict which is going on in that area of the world. I highly recommend this book for school and public libraries.” – Resource Links (with a rating of Excellent)

“By having selected her children/youth carefully so that many different voices and perspectives are presented and by dividing her narrators equally between Israelis and Palestinians, Ellis avoids charges of being biased, although the speaker’s overall tone regarding a resolution to the conflict is pessimistic.” Classmate

oodles of writing

Last week, we flew to Utah so my husband Orest could get some good skiing in. This has been a terrible year for skiers! I went along for the ride, and also for the quiet hotel room. I was anxious to get a big chunk of writing done. Well, in 5 days, I wrote 8,000 words on Daughter of War, so I am happy.

My days were spartan. First thing in the morning, I’d have breakfast with Orest, then skedaddle back to the room and sit in the love seat, open up my laptop and write with a fury. I didn’t even stop for lunch, but would just eat a protein bar and have a glass of water and keep on writing. It was nice looking outside at the snow. I did do the treadmill twice, but that’s it. We also went out for dinner.

I was so keen that I even wrote 1000 words in the airport and during the flight home! I don’t care to write on an airplane though, because everyone’s so packed in that I imagine people looking over my shoulders and reading what I’m writing.

After a marathon of writing like that, I rewarded myself by reading one novel for pleasure. Now I’m back to writing.

The novel I read was Ken Follet’s Whiteout. Very good!

While in Utah, we stayed at the Goldener Hirsch Inn. It was done up like an old German inn with lots of rustic furniture and large door hardware. I kept on bumping into the gigantic door handle on the bathroom. I even put a slipper on it to buffer the bump, but the maids must’ve thought I was crazy and they kept taking the slipper off. I have two bruises and a scratch on my left elbow. Why would anyone make a door handle thingie that big??

They also had these gigantic brass fobs hanging from the door keys. It reminded me of the giant stick that’s usually attached to the bathroom key at gas stations. It was too big to put in a normal pocket or purse. What were they thinking? Cute yes, but not very practical.

Back to writing ……..

More on censorship: A Little Piece of Ground

A couple of years ago, an award-winning British author, Elizabeth Laird, wrote a novel called A Little Piece of Ground. Like Deborah Ellis’ book, Three Wishes, this one too delved into the thorny issue of Palestinian/Israeli issues.

In Deborah’s case, the censorship is backfiring. The media and writers’ organizations are clearly in support of her freedom of expression. In Elizabeth Laird’s situation, the opposite is true. Here’s the amazon page about her book:


Here’s some background on the controversy:


When the controversy erupted, I was intrigued.

I tried to get the A Little Piece of Ground in bookstores, and it couldn’t be found anywhere. Even Chapters online did not carry it. I was able to finally get it through Amazon and I read it myself. It’s an excellent novel, told from the point of view of a Palestinian child.

Maybe I’m naive, but I don’t understand why there is always such a push for censorship every time a children’s book tackles this difficult subject. I think the more we can read on the issue, the better.

I just searched on the chapters site, and it is now listed. I guess now that it’s out of the news, it’s okay to sell it again.

Marsha Skrypuch

Freedom to Read

This is Freedom to Read week.

The right to read without censorship is an important one. Even more important is the right of the author to delve into subjects that others may find uncomfortable. If we all only write about things everyone feels comfortable about, what would be the point of reading?

A few years ago, I received hate mail and death threats for writing about Soviet atrocities against Ukrainians during the Stalin era. The Canadian Freedom to Read Week committee awarded me a “laurel” for my perseverence in 2003:


This year, a fellow author is being targetted with censorship. Deborah Ellis, whose book Three Wishes, was nominated for the 2006 Silver Birch Award, has had her book withdrawn from the York school board:


If any author can handle a delicate topic even-handedly, it is Deborah Ellis.

On a brighter note, Turkey has dropped charges against Orhan Pamuk, the prize-winning Turkish author who publicly acknowledged the Armenian Genocide:


Swiss Army card

I carry an itty bitty purse and inside I have the world’s smallest wallet, hairbrush, lipgloss and teeny tiny pen. My little 5X7 purse can also hold my Treo phone/organizer and keys.

And now I have something else in my teeny tiny purse. Check it out:


black coffee

Okay. I did it. I took the plunge. I am no longer a cream addict. I am still a coffee addict, but at zero calories, what’s the problem with that? For the last three days I have been drinking my coffee black and I really quite enjoy it.

My mother has been drinking black coffee for years. She is very particular about her coffee and so am I. Years ago, when she was Executive Director of the Red Cross in Brantford, she would have to visit a number of people in a professional capacity and they would always offer her coffee. She found coffee with powdered creamer disgusting and coffee with milk was ick. Coffee with cream is divine, but black coffee, even if it’s weak coffee or old coffee, tastes better than adulterated coffee.

a new author

I did two school presentations in Cambridge Ontario yesterday. What a treat is was to do readings so close to home. I tend to cluster my school readings on Wednesdays whenever I can. Last Wednesday it was a full day in Guelph, and the Wednesday before that I was all the way to Whitby, which is a huge long drive for me.

The Cambridge students were fantastic. I love it when kids ask thoughtful questions. One student asked why the baby had to die in a particular scene I read from Nobody’s Child. Good question. Because in the real situation that scene was based on, the baby did die. Another student asked, “How do you come up with the exact perfect words to use when you’re writing?” I told her that I see the story in my head and I just describe what I see.

Another neat thing about yesterday’s presentations was that James Bow came to sit in on one of them.

I “met” James Bow when he joined my private kidcrit group in Compuserve’s Books and Writers Community:


I was so impressed with his writing that I contacted my editor at Dundurn and forwarded the first few chapters of James’ novel (with his permission, of course). Dundurn loved it, and they’re publishing it in May! James just unveiled the website for his new book here:


James wanted to see how to do a school visit. Years ago, I sat in on a wonderful school visit by Barbara Haworth Attard:


I urge every new writer to sit in and watch how a seasoned writer does school presentations.

Marsha Skrypuch

Kobzar’s Children: A Century of Untold Ukrainian Stories

Over the weekend, the last story for Kobzar’s Children was edited.

I am really excited about this book.

The kobzars were the blind minstrels of Ukraine, who memorized the epic poems and stories of 100 generations. Traveling around the country, they stopped in towns and villages along the way, where they told their tales and were welcomed by all. During the early years of Stalin’s regime in the USSR, the kobzars wove their traditional stories with contemporary warnings of soviet repression, famine, and terror. When Stalin heard of it, he called the first conference of kobzars in Ukraine. Hundreds congregated. Then Stalin had them murdered. As the storytellers of Ukraine died, so too did their stories.

Kobzar’s Children is an anthology of short historical fiction, memoirs, and poems written about the Ukrainian immigrant experience. The stories span a century of history from 1905 to 2005; and they contain the voices of people who lived through internment as “enemy aliens,” homesteading, famine, displacement, concentration camps, and this new century’s Orange Revolution. More than a collection, it is a social document that revives memories once deliberately forgotten.

I just signed the contract for my tenth book recently, but this book is a first. It’s the first time that I’m an editor. The stories and poems in Kobzar’s Children were written by a diverse group of people. Most of the contributors contacted me initially after reading my books. They wrote to me and said, “I have a story too.”

I was moved by these stories. So many that have never been told before.

I began collecting these people and these stories together and many of us have formed an online critique group for Ukrainian story writers.

All of the royalties for this anthology are being donated to the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association. To find out more about UCCLA, go here:


Here’s the amazon entry:


I can hardly wait until I can hold this anthology in my hands.

Marsha Skrypuch