By Janice Llanes Fabry
Once upon a time, there was a 6-year-old girl named Ellie whose dazzling smile vanished when little girls at the playground refused to play with her. To cheer her up, her father wiped away her tears and told her an anecdote about a princess with smelly toes. Not only has Ellie Williams, now 17, lived happily ever after, but she has enchanted many a small child with her version of “Princess Smelly Toes.”
“The story always stuck with me and I thought everyone who was having a bad day should hear it. Then when I was 14, I decided to recreate it,” she explained.
Her mom Wendy recalls Ellie and her dad, Nick, discussing the narrative frequently over the years. “This has been going on a long time in our family,” she noted. “They would talk about publishing it.”
The Williams’ moved to Rye from Shenfield, England, 12 years ago. As a 6-year-old, Ellie arrived with a strong British accent, which gradually faded. She has a younger brother Josh, 15, and a little sister Ruby, 8, who is a big fan of “Princess Smelly Toes.”
The original idea was whimsical and sweet, but Ellie felt there was one critical component missing. She was determined to add a message of kindness to the plot.
“When I would watch the news with my mom, I saw so many things I didn’t want to see and a whole lot of negative energy in the world,” she recalled. “I felt that just like an act of violence leads to another violent act, kindness could be spread the same way. One person could start a chain reaction.”
Ellie, now a Rye Neck High School senior, started putting all her efforts into the book as a sophomore. First and foremost, she integrated benevolence into the storyline. To cure the princess of her malodorous feet without hurting her feelings, one character proposes performing acts of kindness. Subsequently, all the villagers get on board.
Next, she illustrated the book herself. “Aside from taking a lot of creative writing classes when I was very young, I always loved drawing,” she said.
Amidst keeping up her grades, going on college visits, and completing college applications, as well as being a Rye Neck Key Club and SADD member, a tennis captain, and a dance captain for the musical, Ellie started raising money to have 1,500 copies of the book printed and bound.
A family friend in the neighborhood, Keith Spencer of Newtown Kindness, an organization formed after the Sandy Hook tragedy to facilitate acts of kindness, suggested a Go Fund Me web page. Once she launched her fundraising campaign on gofundme.com, she raised $5,000 in a couple of months. Last summer, “Princess Smelly Toes” was finally hot off the press.
Holding a copy of the book for the first time, she remembers she was ecstatic and exhilarated about spreading her message. To promote the book, Ellie created her own website, passthebooks.net.
“Our mission is to inspire, create, and share books that convey a specific message, from kindness to bullying to social media and beyond,” she explained. For every book sold, another is donated to a community organization.
In addition, she has already donated hundreds of books to Mamaroneck Community Nursery School; Rye, Mamaroneck, and Port Chester libraries; the Carver Center; Newtown Kindness; P.O.T.S. Holiday drive; Rye Presbyterian Nursery School; and Storefront Academy Harlem.
Most organizations, whose own missions and curriculums align with Ellie’s, request she read the story to the children, typically ages 4-7, herself.
“The experience has been very gratifying. The kids always laugh at the mention of Princess Smelly Toes and ask me questions. One little girl even admitted, ‘sometimes that happens to me,’” said Ellie, who believes that blending her positive lesson with humor effectively conveys the message.
College-bound in September, Ellie will be passing the baton to a successor, a current junior at Rye Neck High School who will continue printing the book and encouraging acts of kindness. Moreover, Ellie revealed there’s a sequel in the works with another good-natured, giggle-inducing protagonist poised to fill the shoes of the princess who started it all.
“I hope I will inspire other people to make a difference,” she said. “Sometimes you think, ‘oh I'm just one person and there is not much I can do.’ But I don't think that is true. One person can make a difference. You just need to get out there and do it.”