VOYA - Stacy Holbrook
Valli, a curious and independent girl, leaves her home in the coal fields upon learning that she is not related to the family she has lived with since her parents' death. Stowing away in the back of a coal truck, Valli ends her journey in the busy city of Kolkata. There she survives by borrowing items from others and charming tourists for rupees. Valli is proud of her ability to take care of herself, and proud of her "magic" feet that do not feel pain, even when she walks over hot coals and sharp objects. A woman, Dr. Indra, notices Valli's "magic" feet and explains to Valli that she has leprosy. Valli's ignorance and fear of the "monster" disease at first keeps her from accepting Dr. Indra's help, but she soon realizes that she must trust the doctor, get over her fears, and look at the people beyond the disease. Much like Ellis's other literary works, No Ordinary Day tackles a tough social issue, in this case, leprosy. The author does so in a manner that is easily understandable by helping readers empathize with Valli and showing the ignorance of the disease through the innocence of a child. Though the book is written for a younger audience, middle grade teens will find Valli's feisty demeanor endearing and Ellis's superb writing style engaging. No Ordinary Day is highly recommended for libraries serving middle grade students for its touching writing on such a little known social issue. Reviewer: Stacy Holbrook
School Library Journal
Gr 3�6—Valli, about 10, lives in the poverty-stricken town of Jharia, India, where she is a coal picker. When she makes a shocking discovery about her family, she runs away and, after a series of harrowing events, reaches the bustling city of Kolkata. Valli survives on the street by stealing and begging. With no plan, no support system, and failing health, she begins to lose hope. While begging for change one day, she is befriended by a kind doctor who recognizes Valli's symptoms of leprosy. The child is terrified with this diagnosis as back home the village children had thrown stones at people with this disease, calling them "monsters." With the help of the doctor and other leprosy patients, Valli gets treatment and education, learns tolerance for people different from herself, and simultaneously realizes her own self-worth. Although many important lessons are presented in this even-paced, clearly written story, it is never heavy-handed or didactic. Valli is a well-developed, realistic, and engaging narrator. While American readers may not all relate to her ordeals, they will recognize common emotions for people their age. The story highlights not only the overcoming of adversity, but also the importance of education and literacy. It also brings to light the issue of leprosy, which is misunderstood. An important, inspiring tale.—Rita Meade, Brooklyn Public Library, NY
Homeless orphan Valli is always friendly, if amoral.
When Valli can, she sneaks glimpses at Bollywood dances, learns a little reading or throws rocks at the monsters—people without faces or fingers—who live on the other side of the tracks. Most of the time, however, she picks up coal. Sick of beatings, hunger and coal, Valli hides on a passing truck, fleeing her life of poverty for a life of... well, more poverty, but also more excitement. On the Kolkata streets she lives day-to-day. Constantly starving, she contentedly begs and steals; when she has something she doesn't need (a bit of extra soap, a blanket), she passes it on to somebody else. When Valli tries her luck begging from kind Dr. Indra, she learns she has leprosy, just like the faceless monsters back home. It takes some time, but Valli learns to accept help from the women who offer it to her: Dr. Indra, who works at the leprosy hospital; Neeta, a sales manager with leprosy who teaches Valli how to make pie charts; Laxmi, a teenager who's been burned. An emphasis on Christmas falls discordant, but Valli's journey from stubborn solitude to member of a community is richly fulfilling.
A true-to-life portrait of a young girl's cheerful selfishness in this surprisingly optimistic novel of unrelenting poverty. (Fiction. 9-11)
From the Publisher
"The story highlights not only the overcoming of adversity, but also the importance of education and literacy. It also brings to light the issue of leprosy, which is misunderstood. An important, inspiring tale." — School Library Journal, starred review
Children's Literature - Jeanne Pettenati
Valli is a young girl living with people she thinks are her relatives. In fact, Valli's mother died in childbirth and her grandparents sold her to an "aunt, uncle and cousins" in the bleak Indian town of Jharia. All the children collect coal to survive. There are "monsters" living on the other side of the railroad tracks in Jharia. One of Valli's "cousins" goads her into joining him and his friends as they throw rocks at these poor lepers. Valli is devastated when she finds out the truth about her family, but understands now why they treat her badly. Her "uncle" is a mean alcoholic who abuses her. Valli's "cousins" taunt and insult her. On the day she discovers the truth, Valli decides to stow away on a coal truck and ends up in Kolkata. This scrappy girl learns to fend for herself on the street, and learns to appreciate small acts of kindness from strangers. One day Valli is begging for coins and meets a woman, who notices that the girl's feet are bruised and burned. This woman is a doctor and encourages Valli to let her examine the injuries at a nearby hospital. It is there that Valli learns she has leprosy, and that Dr. Indra can help her get better. Will Valli trust Dr. Indra enough to stay in the hospital? Or will her fear of the unknown drive her back to the streets, where she knows how to survive by her wits? Beautifully written as it is, the story is steeped in the heartbreaking cruelties of life for Valli and other children without a family, a roof over their heads, food or material possessions. Although the abject poverty and mistreatment of young Indian children will be disturbing to sensitive readers, Valli's story is ultimately one of hope and triumph over adversity. The author wants her readers to look at these children and not turn away in sadness and despair. This beguiling tale will haunt readers, who may pity Valli initially, but come to see her as a hero. The humanity we share with Valli and children like her should foster compassion and action to help these children grow up in a better world. An author's note is included at the back of the book; royalties are donated to The Leprosy Mission of Canada. Reviewer: Jeanne Pettenati