Valli is a coal picker in Jharia, that is someone who picks up the coal that falls from the baskets carried by the women out of the coal pit. When Valli learns the truth of her birth and her family she flees the village to live in Kolkata. She hitches a ride in a coal truck but when she is discovered Valli is taken to a woman in Kolkata. Because she is so dirty, the woman decides to bathe and clean her, but then the women soon realize the truth of Valli's condition. She is driven out and becomes a street child in the city. Using her keen intelligence, and her "magic feet" which don't feel pain, Valli manages to survive from day to day.
One day at the river Ganges, she meets a woman who notices Valli's indifference to her damaged and infected feet. When she questions her, Valli believes she wants to rob her but then she learns that this woman is a doctor. Dr. Indra takes Valli to a hospital and tells her that she has Hansen's Disease or leprosy. This is the reason Valli's magic feet do not feel anything. She tells Valli that she can stay at the hospital and be cured. Dr. Indra recognizes that Valli is very intelligent, and that she is naturally inquisitive about the human body. However, Valli doesn't trust anyone and she is terribly frightened. So she runs away.
Her life doesn't get better though. Instead it becomes harder to survive on the dangerous streets of Kolkata. Valli finds herself becoming mean and hardened and she doesn't like this. Her feet smell bad and look terrible. She also desperately wants to learn more about the human body. She knows she has to make a choice; either stay on the streets and become sicker or go to the hospital and hope that she can make a new and better life for herself.
This short novel, written by accomplished author Deborah Ellis, provides young readers with a window into the life of the poor street children in India and the devastating disease of leprosy which still plagues many Third World countries today. Through the eyes of Vallie, we view the life of the poorest of the poor -- "those who are truly not seen". Ellis creates an endearing character whom the reader cheers for, from beginning to end.
Well suited to middle grade readers interested in social issues in the Third World.
No Ordinary Day by Deborah Ellis
Toronto: Groundwood Books 2011