Deborah Ellis on “A Day Before…”


Image courtesy of Deborah Ellis

Canada’s 2020 Hans Christian Andersen Award author nominee Deborah Ellis has become known not only for her books and the awards and acclaim they’ve garnered, but also for the causes she has espoused over the years, from literacy to peace activism.

This excerpt from her keynote presentation at the 2018 IBBY International Congress both moves and inspires.

The best of children’s literature can help create a Day Before — a Day Before the order is given to toss chemicals in a river. A Day Before the order is given to massacre a village. A Day Before the order is given to manufacture a new batch of guns that will be used to shoot up a school, a church, a gay bar, a country music festival. A Day Before the order is given to move a child-abuser to a new county and new victims. A Day Before the order is given to bomb a school bus full of eight year olds returning home from a much-needed outing. We must have a Day Before!

The best of children’s literature can remind us who we are when we are at our best. It can remind us we need not be afraid of differences, and that we have the power to create beauty out of pain.

I believe that we are responsible for the information that gets into our heads. If we are raised on nothing but Nazi philosophy, then we have an excuse for being Nazis. But the moment an alternative piece of information enters our brains, then we are making a choice. We are choosing which story to follow.

An alternative piece of information. Never was there a greater need than now for precisely this. We writers, too, need to choose which story to follow, which story to bring to the world.

The speech can be found in full in Bookbird, the IBBY journal.