In celebration of its milestone anniversary, Groundwood Books is releasing new editions of its most successful series
Deborah Ellis’s groundbreaking 2000 novel, The Breadwinner, and its companion titles – Parvana’s Journey, Mud City, and My Name is Parvana – have earned awards, accolades, the attention of Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai (who told The New York Times Book Review in 2014 that all girls should read The Breadwinner as a reminder of “how courageous and strong women are around the world”), and a substantial amount of money for charities close to the author’s heart.
To commemorate the 15th anniversary of the first instalment of its best-selling series, Groundwood Books is releasing new editions of all four books this month. “We just want to bring new attention to the series through updating and reviving,” says Groundwood publisher Sheila Barry. “It’s a very relevant book. And children love it.”
The anniversary editions will feature a new foreword by Ellis and covers designed by French illustrator Aurélia Fronty, who previously worked with Groundwood on the picture book I Have the Right to Be a Child, based on the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child. “[Fronty] was a very appropriate choice for the new covers because of her book’s message of the importance of recognizing children’s rights,” says Barry.
A committed pacifist and a former mental-health counsellor, Ellis has spent most of her adult life doing humanitarian work. The Breadwinner – which tells the story of an 11-year-old girl named Parvana in Taliban-ruled Kabul who poses as a boy in order to support her family after her father is arrested – was inspired by stories Ellis heard while volunteering in refugee camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan after the Taliban takeover.
“I met a number of young women and kids in the refugee camps who told me stories of either themselves masquerading as boys to earn money, or of kids that they knew who had done that,” says Ellis. “I decided to write the children’s books to share those experiences with other kids.”
While Ellis stresses an important message about pacifism in the books, Barry says children ultimately relate to Parvana’s journey because “they’re fantastic adventure stories. Parvana is an incredibly brave and resourceful girl.”
The books have been published in 25 languages, with more than two million copies sold worldwide. Ellis has donated more than $1 million in royalties to Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan and Street Kids International, charities that promote education and human rights for women and children.
Despite the sales figures, praise, and the fact that she’s written more than two dozen books since The Breadwinner, Ellis remains humble about her most successful title. “To have a book that is not only published, but is read by kids in many, many places in the world, that is very exciting for me.”
This story appeared in the May 2015 print issue.