Hopkinson, Deborah 1952-
Hopkinson, Deborah 1952-
Born February 4, 1952, in Lowell, MA; daughter of Russell W. (a machinist) and Gloria D. Hopkinson; married Andrew D. Thomas (a teacher); children: Rebekah, Dimitri. Education: University of Massachusetts—Amherst, B.A., 1973; University of Hawaii, M.A., 1978. Hobbies and other interests: Reading, hiking, gardening, history.
Home—Corvallis, OR. Office—Oregon State University Foundation, 850 SW 35th St., Corvallis, OR 97333.
Manoa Valley Theater, Honolulu, HI, marketing director, 1981-84; University of Hawaii Foundation, Honolulu, development director, 1985-89; East-West Center, Honolulu, development director, 1989-94; Whitman College, Walla Walla, WA, director of grants, 1994-2004; Oregon State University Foundation, director of foundation relations, 2004—.
Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.
Merit award, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, 1991; work-in-progress grant, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, 1993; International Reading Association Award for Young People, 1994, for Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt; Golden Kite Award for Picture-Book Text, 1999, for A Band of Angels, 2004, for Apples to Oregon; American Library Association Notable Children's Books designation, 2000, for A Band of Angels, 2005, for Apples to Oranges, 2007, for Up before Daybreak and Sky Boys; National Council of Teachers of English/Orbis Pictus Award Honor Book designation, and Jane Addams Children's Book Award Honor Book designation, both 2004, both for Shutting out the Sky; Boston Globe/Horn Book Award Honor Book designation, 2006, for Sky Boys.
Bluebird Summer, illustrated by Bethanne Andersen, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 2001.
Contributor of short stories to periodicals, including Cricket.
NONFICTION FOR CHILDREN
Pearl Harbor, Dillon Press/Macmillan (New York, NY), 1991.
Shutting out the Sky: Life in the Tenements of New York, 1880-1915, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Up before Daybreak: Cotton and People in America, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2006.
HISTORICAL FICTION FOR CHILDREN
Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, illustrated by James E. Ransome, Knopf (New York, NY), 1993.
Birdie's Lighthouse, illustrated by Kimberly Bulcken Root, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1996.
A Band of Angels: A Story Inspired by the Jubilee Singers, illustrated by Raúl Colón, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1999.
Maria's Comet, illustrated by Deborah Lanino, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1999.
Fannie in the Kitchen: The Whole Story from Soup to Nuts of How Fannie Farmer Invented Recipes with Precise Measurements, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2001.
Under the Quilt of Night, illustrated by James E. Ransome, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2002.
Girl Wonder: A Baseball Story in Nine Innings, illustrated by Terry Widener, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2003.
Apples to Oregon: Being the (Slightly) True Narrative of How a Brave Pioneer Father Brought Apples, Peaches, Plums, Grapes, and Cherries (and Children) across the Plains, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2003.
A Packet of Seeds, illustrated by Bethanne Anderson, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 2004.
Hear My Sorrow: The Diary of Angela Denoto, a Shirtwaist Worker, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2004.
Billy and the Rebel: Based on a True Civil War Story, illustrated by Brian Floca, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2005.
Saving Strawberry Farm, illustrated by Rachel Isadora, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 2005.
From Slave to Soldier: Based on a True Civil War Story, illustrated by Brian Floca, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2005.
Sky Boys: How They Built the Empire State Building, illustrated by James E. Ransome, Schwartz & Wade, 2006.
Into the Firestorm: A Novel of San Francisco, 1906, Knopf (New York, NY), 2006.
Sweet Land of Liberty, illustrated by Leonard Jenkins, Peachtree (Atlanta, GA), 2007.
"PRAIRIE SKIES" SERIES; CHAPTER BOOKS
Pioneer Summer, illustrated by Patrick Faricy, Aladdin (New York, NY), 2002.
Cabin in the Snow, illustrated by Patrick Faricy, Aladdin (New York, NY), 2002.
Our Kansas Home, illustrated by Patrick Faricy, Aladdin (New York, NY), 2003.
"KLONDIKE KID" SERIES; CHAPTER BOOKS
Sailing for Gold, illustrated by Bill Farnsworth, Aladdin (New York, NY), 2004.
Adventure in Gold Town, illustrated by Bill Farnsworth, Aladdin (New York, NY), 2004.
The Long Trail, illustrated by Bill Farnsworth, Aladdin (New York, NY), 2004.
BIOGRAPHIES; FOR CHILDREN
Susan B. Anthony: Fighter for Women's Rights, illustrated by Amy Bates, Aladdin (New York, NY), 2005.
Who Was Charles Darwin?, illustrated by Nancy Harrison, Grosset & Dunlap (New York, NY), 2005.
John Adams Speaks for Freedom, illustrated by Craig Orback, Aladdin (New York, NY), 2005.
Deborah Hopkinson and You (autobiography), Libraries Unlimited (Westport, CT), 2007.
When Deborah Hopkinson was in school, she thought learning about history was boring, and often hid a novel inside her history text during class. "But eventually it did make me curious about all the missing parts," she wrote in an essay for Horn Book. "For one thing, where were the women? … And what about everyone else: African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, children? What were the rest of us doing all that time, anyway?" Questions such as these Hopkinson explores in her historical fiction for young readers, as well as in her nonfiction titles.
Hopkinson's first book, Pearl Harbor, was published in 1991 as part of Dillon Press's "Places in American History" series. Aimed at older children, the book tells the story of the surprise Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor during World War II and includes photographs showing the Hawaiian harbor both during and after the war.
For her second book, Hopkinson decided to try her hand at fiction. Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt is about a slave girl who is separated from her mother and sent to work in the fields. While living with an elderly woman named Aunt Rachel, who teaches her to sew, Clara becomes a seamstress. Preoccupied with thoughts of her mother and freedom, Clara overhears other slaves discussing the "underground railroad," and decides to use her sewing skills to help herself and other slaves escape. In her spare time, she sews a quilt; but instead of patchwork, Clara's quilt is a map detailing an escape route. When she finally does escape the plantation, she leaves the quilt for other slaves.
Hopkinson commented: "The idea for Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt came to me while listening to an NPR radio story about African American quilts. I consider this story a wonderful gift, and feel very happy that I was able to tell it." The story "brings power and substance to this noteworthy picture book," according to a reviewer for Publishers Weekly, the critic concluding that Hopkinsons's "first-rate book is a triumph of the heart."
Hopkinson gave her readers another exciting story about a brave young girl with Birdie's Lighthouse. Set in the mid-nineteenth century, the book takes the form of a ten-year-old girl's diary. Bertha "Birdie" Holland, the main character, moves to a lighthouse island in Maine with her father after he gives up life as a sailor. Birdie's brother is more interested in fishing than in the workings of the beacon light, but Birdie herself becomes fascinated with the job. Eventually, she learns enough about the lighthouse to man it herself when her father falls gravely ill.
Although Birdie is a fictional character, she is closely based on real-life girls whose heroic lighthouse adventures are well documented. The book is illustrated with watercolor and pen and ink, and these pictures were remarked upon by several reviewers as an important part of the book. Praising the work as a whole, Mary M. Burns wrote in Horn Book that, "with an exemplary assemblage of genre paintings perfectly attuned to the flow of the text," Birdie's Lighthouse "is restrained yet charged with emotion." A Kirkus Reviews contributor enthused that "period details and a spirited heroine with a clear voice make this book a genuine delight." A Publishers Weekly reviewer found Birdie's Lighthouse "atmospheric" and Birdie herself "brave and likable." While noting that the narrative "is unlikely to be mistaken for the voice of an actual young girl," the critic went on to praise Hopkinson's "careful attention to period and setting," concluding that the "nuances of feeling and historical detail shine through" in the novel. Anne Parker, writing in School Library Journal, called Birdie's Lighthouse "a shining bit of historical fiction."
Several of Hopkinson's picture books return to the issues discussed in Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt. In A Band of Angels: A Story Inspired by the Jubilee Singers, the author tells a tale based on pianist Ella Sheppard's experience at the Fisk School, which took freed slaves on a performance tour to raise money. When singing classical music, they could not draw a crowd, but when they started to sing spirituals, audiences flocked to hear them perform. Hopkinson's "lilting text interweaves subtle details about racial tensions … emphasizing the importance of education and of being true to oneself," wrote a Publishers Weekly contributor of the title. Under the Quilt of Night, which is considered to be a companion to Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, follows five families as they escape from slavery, watching for the message, through a quilt, that they have reached a safe house. "Hopkinson captures the fear of the escaping slaves, but tempers their fear with the bravery and hope that spurred them on," wrote a contributor to Kirkus Reviews. According to Marianne Saccardi in School Library Journal, "the narrative is told in a series of poems, … and the language is lovely."
Told through the eyes of young Marcia Shaw, Fannie in the Kitchen: The Whole Story from Soup to Nuts of How Fannie Farmer Invented Recipes with Precise Measurements introduces young readers to an important woman in history. "Hopkinson fashions her clever narrative after her subtitle, presenting the book as seven courses-cum-chapters," explained a Horn Book critic. Although Marcia at first resents Fannie's invasion of the kitchen, she soon becomes mystified by the magic of the young woman's cooking. It's not magic, Fannie explains, but science. A Publishers Weekly contributor called the book "prepared to perfection and served up with style," while Genevieve Ceraldi commented in School Library Journal that, "in a time of celebrity chefs on television, this is a whimsical look back to when it all began."
Though less famous that Fannie Farmer, Alta Weiss also serves as an historical role model for young women in Hopkinson's retelling of her story: Girl Wonder: A Baseball Story in Nine Innings. Weiss manages to convince a coach of a semi-professional baseball team to let her play with the men, because watching the spectacle of a girl playing baseball is sure to sell tickets. "Cleverly organized into nine brief ‘innings,’ this graphically rich, rewarding tale will inspire readers," a Publishers Weekly critic wrote of the book. In order to help readers understand the actual history behind the story, "Hopkinson enriches her burnished prose with an author's note about the real Alta Weiss," according to GraceAnne A. DeCandido in Booklist.
Hopkinson has also approached historical fiction through chapter books for beginning readers. Her "Prairie Skies" trilogy follows Charlie and Ida Jane Keller's move to Kansas from Massachusetts in the 1850s. In Pioneer Summer, the Keller family makes the long journey west, leaving behind Charlie's grandfather, who comforts Charlie by explaining that they will both still be under the same sky. Several adventures, including a fall through a frozen pond and a battle with a prairie wildfire, mark the journey. "Distinguished by taut sentences well tailored to the audience, this informative tale rolls at a promising clip," according to a Publishers Weekly contributor.
In the second entry in the series, Cabin in the Snow, Charlie must decide whether to sympathize with the Morgans, a family they once traveled with who support slavery, or stand with his family, who are abolitionists. The final book in the trilogy, Our Kansas Home, deals with the Underground Railroad, and the dangers that the Keller family must face in order to stay true to their abolitionist beliefs. "Hopkinson tells a good story, steeped in rich history and research," wrote a Kirkus Reviews contributor of Cabin in the Snow. A Kirkus Reviews contributor wrote of Our Kansas Home that "dramatic cliffhanging chapters, brisk action, and exciting historical situations mesh together into a memorable, exciting tale." Susan Shaver, writing in School Library Journal, noted that the trilogy "brings an era of history alive, and will pique children's interest." Hopkinson used the same trilogy format in her "Klondike Kids" series, recounting the adventures of Davey Hill, the Klondike Kid, set in Alaska during the early 1800s.
Apples to Oregon: Being the (Slightly) True Narrative of How a Brave Pioneer Father Brought Apples, Peaches, Plums, Grapes, and Cherries (and Children) across the Plains sets the pioneer journey in picture-book format. A family journeys from Iowa to Oregon, keeping Daddy's fruit trees from being damaged on the journey. "The flavor is in the folksy telling of this clever tall tale," wrote a Kirkus Reviews critic. Booklist contributor Kay Weisman found the tale to be "rich in language that begs to be read out loud."
In Saving Strawberry Farm Hopkinson tells the story of how young Davy got a whole community together during the Great Depression to help Miss Elsie save her strawberry farm. "Hopkinson's graceful text [is] filled with colloquial dialogue," wrote Gillian Engberg in Booklist. Kristine M. Casper, reviewing the book for School Library Journal, considered the picture book "an excellent introduction to this time period." Sky Boys: How They Built the Empire State Building, shows another aspect of the Great Depression: how the construction of the tallest building in the world gave hope to the people of New York. Engberg complimented Hopkinson's "crisp, lyrical free verse" and suggested that the "unique, memorable title" would "enhance poetry and history units." According to a critic for Publishers Weekly, "the drama of the building's rise makes for a literally riveting account."
Along with her historical fiction, Hopkinson has also written contemporary picture books. Bluebird Summer is the story of how two young children help bluebirds return to their grandfather's yard after their grandmother dies. "Hopkinson's prose expresses the tightly knit love of the family," wrote a contributor to Publishers Weekly. Noting that the book has an open conclusion, John Peters added in Booklist that "youngsters will understand that the work, and the feelings behind it, are more important than the ostensible goal."
Two of Hopkinson's tales, Billy and the Rebel and From Slave to Soldier, invite readers to imagine life during the U.S. Civil War. The latter follows Johnny, a young African American who, when released from slavery, quickly joins the Union army. Unlike many slaves who became soldiers, Johnny is welcomed by the unit he joins, and, in a dire situation, he manages to save the entire company. "Young Civil War buffs will welcome something they can read themselves," wrote a Kirkus Reviews contributor, and Peters maintained that Hopkinson's chapter book "will bring the era and people to life for modern young readers."
Into the Firestorm: A Novel of San Francisco, 1906 is the story of Nick Dray, a Texas farm boy who moved to San Francisco to make his way in the world. When the 1906 earthquake and subsequent great fire strikes, Nick's quick thinking helps save his employer's business and the lives of two of his neighbors. "Characterization and action are strong in this memorable tale," commented a Kirkus Reviews contributor, while Kristen Oravec wrote in School Library Journal that "the terror of the 1906 disaster is brought powerfully alive" by Hopkinson.
Inspired by the research she gathered for her "Dear America" title, Hear My Sorrow: The Diary of Angela Denoto, a Shirtwaist Worker, Hopkinson's Shutting out the Sky: Life in the Tenements of New York helps young readers imagine what life would have been like for youn immigrants in America near the turn of the twentieth century. "Hopkinson's enthusiasm for research, primary sources, and individual stories that make history come alive is evident," noted a contributor to Kirkus Reviews. A Publishers Weekly critic found the book to be "a highly readable discussion of change and reform with a look at the culture, joy and play" of the era. Another nonfiction title, Up before Daybreak: Cotton and People in America, helps young readers understand how cotton and the econonics of the cotton trade helped shape the culture of the Americas. "The prose is clear, the documentation excellent … the voices of the children vivid and personal," noted a Kirkus Reviews contributor. Jennifer Mattson, writing in Booklist, felt that the complexity of America's cotton industry is "skillfully distilled for this audience," and School Library Journal critic Ann Welton recommended the book as "a first-rate report and research source."
Speaking with an interviewer for the Down Home Books Web site regarding the stylistic differences among her many picture books, Hopkinson explained: "I have tried, as much as possible, to experiment with both writing style and structure," making each book unique. As for her goal as a writer, she told Sharon L. McElmeel of Talk that she hopes "to write stories good enough, important enough, that if a library didn't have much money, they would still want to have them."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Hopkinson, Deborah, Deborah Hopkinson and You (autobiography), Libraries Unlimited (Westport, CT), 2007.
Booklist, June 1, 1997, p. 1718; April 15, 1999, Ilene Cooper, review of A Band of Angels: A Story Inspired by the Jubilee Singers, p. 1529; September 15, 1999, Carolyn Phelan, review of Maria's Comet, p. 268; April 15, 2001, John Peters, review of Bluebird Summer, p. 1564; May 15, 2001, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of Fannie in the Kitchen: The Whole Story from Soup to Nuts of How Fannie Farmer Invented Recipes with Precise Measurements, p. 1751; February 15, 2002, Cynthia Turnquest, review of Under the Quilt of Night, p. 1034; May 1, 2002, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Pioneer Summer, p. 1526; December 15, 2002, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Cabin in the Snow, p. 759; January 1, 2003, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Girl Wonder: A Baseball Story in Nine Innings, p. 880; March 1, 2003, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Our Kansas Home, p. 1197; November 1, 2003, Hazel Rochman, review of Shutting out the Sky: Life in the Tenements of New York, 1880-1915, p. 492; January 1, 2004, Hazel Rochman, review of Sailing for Gold, p. 856; May 15, 2004, Gillian Engberg, review of A Packet of Seeds, p. 1625; September 1, 2004, Kay Weisman, review of Apples to Oregon: Being the (Slightly) True Narrative of How a Brave Pioneer Father Brought Apples, Peaches, Plums, Grapes, and Cherries (and Children) across the Plains, p. 132; February 1, 2005, Hazel Rochman, review of Billy and the Rebel, p. 965; May 1, 2005, Gillian Engberg, review of Saving Strawberry Farm, p. 1590; December 1, 2005, Gillian Engberg, review of Sky Boys: How They Built the Empire State Building, p. 66; January 1, 2006, John Peters, review of From Slave to Soldier, p. 116; February 1, 2006, Ilene Cooper, review of Susan B. Anthony: Fighter for Women's Rights, p. 52; April 15, 2006, Jennifer Mattson, review of Up before Daybreak: Cotton and People in America, p. 46; September 1, 2006, John Peters, review of Into the Firestorm: A Novel of San Francisco, 1906, p. 129.
Black Issues Book Review, May-June, 2003, Adrienne Ingrum, review of Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, p. 58; January-February, 2004, Kitty Flynn, review of Shutting out the Sky, p. 101.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, July-August 1993, p. 346.
Children's Bookwatch, April, 2006, review of Sky Boys.
Horn Book, July-August, 1997, p. 443; March, 1999, Joanna Rudge Long, review of A Band of Angels, p. 190; May, 2001, review of Fannie in the Kitchen, p. 312; July-August, 2002, Susan P. Bloom, review of Under the Quilt of Night, p. 447; November-December, 2002, Deborah Hopkinson, "The Missing Parts," p. 812; March-April, 2003, Martha V. Parravano, review of Girl Wonder, p. 204; March-April, 2006, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Sky Boys, p. 172; May-June, 2006, Kathleen Isaacs, review of Up before Daybreak, p. 343.
Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 1997, p. 722; November 1, 2001, review of Under the Quilt of Night, p. 1550; April 15, 2002, review of Pioneer Summer, p. 570; August 1, 2002, review of Cabin in the Snow, p. 1133; December 15, 2002, review of Our Kansas Home, p. 1850; February 1, 2003, review of Girl Wonder, p. 232; September 15, 2003, review of Shutting out the Sky, p. 1175; February 1, 2004, review of Sailing for Gold, p. 134; March 1, 2004, review of A Packet of Seeds, p. 223; August 15, 2004, review of Apples to Oregon, p. 807; June 15, 2004, review of The Long Trail, p. 577; January 15, 2005, review of Billy and the Rebel, p. 121; April 15, 2005, review of Saving Strawberry Farm, p. 475; September 1, 2005, review of From Slave to Soldier, p. 974; January 15, 2006, review of Sky Boys, p. 85; March 1, 2006, review of Up before Daybreak, p. 231; August 15, 2006, review of Into the Firestorm, p. 2006.
New York Times Book Review, June 17, 2001, Alida Becker, review of Fannie in the Kitchen, p. 25; December 21, 2003, review of Shutting out the Sky, p. 16; January 16, 2005, Stephanie Deutsch, review of Apples to Oregon, p. 14.
Publishers Weekly, February 8, 1993, p. 87; July 12, 1993, pp. 25-26; April 14, 1997, p. 74; January 4, 1999, review of A Band of Angels, p. 90; October 11, 1999, review of Maria's Comet, p. 75; April 23, 2001, review of Fannie in the Kitchen, p. 77, review of Bluebird Summer, p. 78; November 26, 2001, review of Under the Freedom Quilt, p. 61; April 15, 2002, review of Pioneer Summer, p. 65; December 23, 2002, review of Girl Wonder, p. 71; December 1, 2003, review of Shutting out the Sky, p. 58; August 30, 2004, review of Apples to Oregon, p. 54; January 9, 2006, review of Sky Boys, p. 52.
School Library Journal, June 1993, p. 76; June, 1997, pp. 90-92; May, 2001, Karen Land, review of Bluebird Summer, p. 123; May, 2001, Genevieve Ceraldi, review of Fannie in the Kitchen, p. 143; January, 2002, Marianne Saccardi, review of Under the Quilt of Night, p. 102; October, 2002, Kristen Oravec, review of Pioneer Summer, p. 112; January, 2003, Be Astengo, review of Cabin in the Snow, p. 97; March, 2003, Susan Shaver, review of Our Kansas Home, p. 196; March, 2003, Blair Christolon, review of Girl Wonder, p. 193; Decmeber, 2003, Carol Fazioli, review of Shutting out the Sky, p. 169; April, 2004, Marian Creamer, review of A Packet of Seeds, p. 114; July, 2004, Anne Knickerbocker, review of Sailing for Gold, p. 77; September, 2004, Roxanee Burg, review of Apples to Oranges, p. 162; November, 2004, Anne Knickerbocker, review of The Long Trail, p. 107; February, 2005, Joyce Adams Burner, review of Fannie in the Kitchen, p. 57; April, 2005, Sharon R. Pearce, review of Adventure in Gold Town, and Bethany L.W. Hankinson, review of Billy and the Rebel, both p. 98; August, 2005, Kristine M. Casper, review of Saving Strawberry Farm, p. 97; October, 2005, Anne Knickerbocker, review of From Slave to Soldier, p. 116; February, 2006, Grace Oliff, review of Sky Boys, p. 120; March, 2006, John Peters, review of Girl Wonder, p. 88; May, 2006, Julie R. Ranelli, review of Susan B. Anthony, p. 112; June, 2006, Ann Welton, review of Up before Daybreak, p. 178; December, 2006, Kristen Oravec, review of Into the Firestorm, p. 146.
Talk, November-December, 1998, "Author Profile: Deborah Hopkinson."
Teacher Librarian, December, 2005, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, "Food, Glorious Food," p. 13.
Deborah Hopkinson Home Page,http://www.deborahhopkinson.com (April 24, 2007).
Down Home Books Web site,http://www.downhomebooks.com/hopkinson.htm (June, 2004), interview with Hopkinson.
Rutgers University Web site,http://www.scils.rutgers.edu/ (January, 1999), "Words from Deborah Hopkinson."
Scholastic Web site,http://www.scholastic.com/ (April 24, 2007), profile of Hopkinson.
Deborah Hopkinson contributed the following autobiographical essay to SATA:
Did you ever have dreams for your future that seemed far away and impossible to reach?
Maybe you wanted to see the Great Wall of China, scale Mt. Everest, be an astronaut, or just go surfing in Waikiki. Or perhaps you had daydreams about being a singer, playing professional sports, winning a gold medal in the Olympics, or receiving an Oscar.
Many of us have dreams like this. But often they change over time as we grow up. We end up making different choices, or find that while we love music, we can't carry a tune. We might come to realize that it's just not in the cards—someone who's five feet tall, like me, is simply not going to have what it takes to play basketball!
But every once in a while, those early childhood dreams stay with us no matter what. They don't go away, even if our life seems to be on a totally different course. And so we come to a point where we decide that after all, we have to at least try.
That's what happened to me, anyway. My fourth-grade teacher was named Miss Grace. She was silver-haired, round, and soft-spoken. She seemed very old, at least to a nine year old. We often had cold, snowy winters in my hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts. I remember that well, because like most of my classmates, I walked to school, which was probably a mile away. (I didn't know anyone whose family had more than one car.)
Now, it's fun to play in the snow, but my elementary school had a strict dress code: girls had to wear skirts or dresses. That's right: no pants or jeans, even in the winter. (This dress code didn't change until I was leaving high school!) We were allowed to wear snow pants under our skirts, so long as we took them off at school.
Perhaps Miss Grace felt sorry for all of us little girls arriving each morning with cold legs as bright red as lobsters. Or maybe she worried that we'd get sick and miss a lot of homework. In any case, what I remember most about the winter of fourth grade was that Miss Grace had a huge campaign to get each and every one of us to eat a hot breakfast every day—especially oatmeal.
If you came to school in the morning and told her you'd had oatmeal for breakfast, you'd get a gold star on a big chart on the board. I think there was probably some kind of prize for the most stars. I wouldn't know. The thing was, I hated oatmeal—no matter how much brown sugar my mom let me sprinkle on it. I just could not eat it! (I love oatmeal now, though.)
Every morning Miss Grace would ask me if I ate some good, hot oatmeal, and every morning I hung my head and mumbled, "No, Miss Grace." She'd shake her head, disappointed in my lack of gold stars. She expected more from me, she said.
The thing was, Miss Grace was used to my being a model student. I was polite. I got good grades. I didn't talk, giggle, or cause any disruption in class. I always seemed to mind my own business.
Except for the oatmeal, Miss Grace probably figured I was just about the best kind of fourth grader she could have. But what Miss Grace didn't know was that there a reason I was always so quiet in class. I wasn't being good—I was being sneaky.
It happened like this: whenever we took out our big history or geography book, I'd prop it up open on my desk, hiding my face as much as possible. Then, being careful not to make a sound, I'd open my desk, and slip out whatever chapter book I happened to be reading. I'd hide it behind the big textbook. Somehow I managed to follow along in class—and read my favorite stories at the same time!
Even now, whenever I see a kid with her head buried in a book, I see myself. To tell the truth, I haven't changed much over the years: if I'm at an airport engrossed in a good book, I'll sometimes walk right onto the plane still reading, oblivious to my surroundings.
Sometime during elementary school, I decided I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. Now, I didn't really know what I wanted to write, or what being a writer actually meant. I only knew one thing: I loved to read. I loved how stories let me slip off into other worlds. I liked reading about real-life adventures or mysteries that made me keep turning the page. I especially loved staying up late to find out how the story ended.
Reading helped me find a world that seemed so much bigger than the one I knew. I might not fit in at recess (I was horrible at jump rope and way too short for Red Rover!), but somehow I belonged in the world of books, ideas, stories, and imagination—if only I could find a way to get there.
Someday, I determined, I would write a book myself. But that someday took a long time in coming.
You've probably already figured out that I was a pretty boring kid. Just ask my sisters. I'm the oldest of three girls. My sister Bonnie is almost three years younger, and my sister Janice five years younger. And, no surprise, what they remember most is that I always seemed to be walking around with my nose in a book, or holed up in my room reading until the middle of the night.
We did play together sometimes, though. We liked to wander in the fields and meadows near our house. One of my favorite places as a kid was Polliwog Pond. Once, my sister Bonnie fell in while we were out exploring. I wouldn't let her go home until she sat on a rock and her clothes dried, because otherwise I knew I'd be in big trouble. After all, as the oldest I was supposed to be watching out for her.
Although I wasn't very good at sports like kickball, we did live near the town tennis courts. My friends and sisters and I played a lot as we were growing up. I never had formal lessons, but that didn't stop me from entering tournaments and playing on our school's team. Unfortunately, I don't think we won very much—if at all!
Our family didn't have a lot of extra money. My father worked hard: his job as an automotive machinist kept him working on his feet five days a week and half of each Saturday. My mom stayed home until my littlest sister was in school, but then she went to work to help make ends meet.
We did take one family vacation each summer, though. You see, my dad was an avid fly fisherman. He used to tie his own flies, and I loved to go down into the basement to watch him. He had set up a workbench there, with hooks and little containers full of soft, brightly colored feathers that he ordered from a specialty catalogue. Somehow, even though his hands were large, rough, and often oil-stained, he managed to create tiny imitations of real flies and insects, perfect for attracting trout.
Each summer, during my dad's two weeks of vacation, we went where the fishing was good—a small town called Rangeley in the northwest corner of Maine. It's a beautiful place, with thick forests, ponds, rivers, and several large lakes. In the winter, skiers flock to Saddleback Mountain. The Appalachian Trail passes through there, and hikers often stop in town to do laundry, buy groceries, and have a hot meal.
Rangeley is far north, close to the Canadian border, and some summers the lake was cold and it rained. But no matter what the weather, there was always something to do. And what my sisters and I remember most is going to the dump.
The dump? Yup, that's right. The Rangeley town dump was like the parking lot of a drive-in movie. And the feature attraction? Scavenging bears! On evenings when we didn't go to the dump to watch the bears, we drove along backwoods roads to find overlooks over marshy areas, perfect for viewing moose, who love to feed on water plants….
Like my dad, I fell in love with Maine. After college I spent one summer in Rangeley, working as a waitress at a place called Saddleback Lake Lodge, which sat alone on a tiny lake at the foot of Saddleback Mountain. I lived in a log cabin with a wood stove. I had to wait tables three meals a day—starting at seven in the morning until nine o'clock, when dinner ended.
The best part was my days off. I went canoeing by myself on the quiet lake, looking for families of loons. Sometimes I took long bicycle trips. It was downhill into town, but boy, what a steep climb back up to the lodge!
Once, while walking my bike back along a logging road, a large animal crossed directly in front of me. It was the closest to a moose I'd ever been. Luckily, I
stopped short because a little while later a tall, gangly calf came by, following its mother. You do not want to get between a mama moose and her baby!
Over the years, I tried to time my visits back home to coincide with the annual Rangeley vacation, and my daughter, Rebekah, can still remember picking Maine blueberries when she was little. I've also tried to bring my love of Maine into my work.
My second picture book, Birdie's Lighthouse, is based on the story of a real-life Maine lighthouse keeper named Abigail Burgess Grant, who lived on Matinicus Rock, off the coast of Maine. She moved to the island with her family when she was a girl, and later married a light keeper.
In addition, one of my very first published stories, titled "The Bread Trough," was inspired by a harrowing incident that happened to the first white family who settled in Rangeley. As they trekked through the woods on their way to Rangeley Lake, the wooden bread trough (sort of like a large tray) with the baby of the family strapped onto it, somehow fell off the sled. The scary part was that no one in the family even noticed that the baby was gone until they stopped to rest farther up the trail. Luckily, when they backtracked, they found the baby safe and sound, with her "cradle" wedged between two trees.
Often when I visit schools, kids ask me about the kinds of books I liked to read when I was a girl. We didn't have a lot of money to buy books, so mostly I went to the library. But I do still own a few of the same books I had then. One is a copy of Robert McClusky's wonderful picture book, Make Way for Ducklings, which my grandmother gave me on my second birthday.
Some of my other favorites were The Secret Garden and The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I devoured series. We didn't have as many then as we do now, but I especially liked the "Trixie Belden" and the "Happy Hollisters" books (I think you can find old copies on eBay!). I can still remember how excited I was one Christmas morning when I got a whole box of books as a present. (Are you starting to see a pattern here? I really, really liked to read!)
When I was older, I read lots of historical fiction, such as Hawaii, by James Michener, or Arundel, by Kenneth Roberts. By the time I was in middle school, I was reading (though maybe not fully understanding) classical British literature such as Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, which are still two of my all-time favorites. I also read the novels of Charles Dickens, and liked Great Expectations and David Copperfield the best. At the same time, I liked real-life adventure books like Sir Edmund Hillary's The Conquest of Everest.
Although I love to read (and write) nonfiction now, back then I preferred to read fiction. I think part of the reason was that there simply weren't as many excellent nonfiction works and biographies for young readers as there are now. There was, however, one nonfiction series I remember well. It was called "Childhood of Famous Americans."
Over the years I've talked to lots of people (especially "baby boomers" like me) who recall this series, too. And what everyone remembers most is that all the books had bright orange covers. Most people just call them the "the orange biographies." The books were fictionalized stories about real people: Clara Barton, Helen Keller, Eleanor Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington.
Most of the orange biographies in our school library were about famous men. I couldn't help wondering, why aren't there more books about girls? That was probably the first time I seriously began thinking about the role of women in history. It's no surprise, then, that many of the books I've gone on to write have been about girls and women, especially those whose stories aren't very well known.
One of these women was Maria Mitchell, America's first woman astronomer. Maria Mitchell was born in Nantucket, Massachusetts in the early 1800s, and she became the first American woman to discover a comet. She used to watch the stars from her family's rooftop with her father. Later she taught astronomy at Vassar College. There's even a crater on the moon named after her! When I first heard about the life of Maria Mitchell, I thought, "Wow. I grew up in Massachusetts and went to school there, but I never learned anything about this pioneer in American science." That's one of the reasons I wrote my picture book Maria's Comet, to make sure that other kids—who might want to study the stars someday—could find out about this fascinating woman.
Another book I wrote about a woman of the past is titled Fannie in the Kitchen. This story is about another Massachusetts woman named Fannie Merritt Farmer. When Fannie Farmer was about sixteen or seventeen, or so the story goes, she went to work as a mother's helper in the home of Mrs. Charles Shaw. While she was there, Fannie taught young Marcia Shaw, the daughter of the household, to cook. My story tells how Fannie decided to use exact measurements in recipes to make cooking easy for little Marcia.
Fannie Farmer later went on to write The Boston Cooking School Cookbook, one of the most popular cookbooks ever published. (I wish I could say that I'm a good cook, but, unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. But that's one of the best things about being an author. You can write about things, like cooking, singing, sewing, or climbing the Chilkoot Pass, without actually having to be good at them in real life.)
If you've read any of my books, you've probably noticed that I write a lot about history. The fact is, though, that when I was growing up I never thought of myself as someone who was interested in the past. I found history books pretty boring. I mean, does anyone really enjoy memorizing the dates of battles or the names of presidents?
But something happened back in Miss Grace's fourth-grade class that makes me think that I probably would have liked history better if I'd been able to learn about it differently. It was one of those times when we reading that big old history textbook. Only this time, I was actually paying attention to it rather than my own book!
And I can actually remember sitting at my desk and coming across a short description of the Underground Railroad. It wasn't much, just a few sentences about enslaved people escaping on the Underground Railroad, with those two words in bold. (If the term was bolded, of course, this meant we had better learn what it was, because it might be on a test.)
But the truth was, I actually did want to know what it was! "Trying to escape from slavery must have been so hard to do," I remember thinking. "How did people have the courage? What was it actually like?"
At the time, that one mention of the Underground Railroad was about all I could find in our textbook. Back then, we didn't have the Internet. "There just has to be more about this Underground Railroad," I thought. "If I only knew where to find it."
When I finally became a children's writer, I remembered that feeling of sitting in class and being curious about something. I remembered wanting to know more. I guess in a way, I'm still that kind of person who loves to discover something new.
And that's how I came to write about history.
I didn't like middle school much at all. But things definitely began to look up in high school. On the very first morning in my homeroom, a friendly red-haired girl in the seat in front of me turned around to introduce herself.
"I'm Vicki Hemphill," she said. Well, we've been friends since. In high school we worked part time at the same ice cream parlor. Later we were roommates in college, hiked the Appalachian Trail, went on vacations together with our families, and for the past three years have lived with our families about an hour away from one another in Oregon.
I wanted to go to college, but I knew money was limited. So as soon as I turned sixteen I got a job. I worked twenty hours a week during the school year and full time in the summer. Luckily, I got at least one scholarship, too. After I graduated from high school at age seventeen, I entered the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. I'd thought about being a writer, but I didn't think I could actually support myself writing. I wasn't sure what else to do, though. So I became an English major because—you guessed it—it gave me the chance to read lots of books!
The University of Massachusetts was about eighty miles away. College became my first experience away from my home. Still, maybe because I loved reading about adventures, I was restless to travel even farther. Since I couldn't afford to attend a college out of state, in my sophomore year I took part in a one-year domestic exchange program. I decided to go as far from Massachusetts as I could—and that meant going to the University of Hawai'i at Manoa, in Honolulu. It was my first real adventure.
I'd been on an airplane only once before—now I was flying thousands of miles away. Stepping off the plane in Honolulu, I can still remember how magical everything looked and smelled: plumeria blossoms perfumed the air, the ocean sparkled a deep, warm, blue, and the green hills of Oahu boasted luscious plants and trees I'd never imagined.
That year in Honolulu was life-changing in many ways. I'd never lived in such a diverse city before, with people from Japan, China, Samoa, the Philippines, and many small Pacific islands. I felt very much at home among Hawaii's diverse cultures and made lots of friends. I went swimming in the ocean, visited other islands, and was even invited to a real luau. And, of course, after years of New England winters, I liked the warm, sunny weather, too.
When the year was up I returned to Massachusetts to finish my degree. After I graduated, it was difficult to find a job. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do for a career. I still liked to read and occasionally thought about writing, but I had no idea how to begin—or how I would be able to support myself.
After about a year of working as a waitress, I decided to go back to school. I'd gotten interested in Japan and Japanese literature in college. And what better place to study Asia than Honolulu? So I returned to the University of Hawai'i and entered the Asian Studies graduate program. It took three years, but eventually I earned a master's degree with a focus on Japanese language, philosophy, and history.
The longer I lived in Honolulu, the more I loved it. And it wasn't just the food. In graduate school I met my husband, Andy Thomas, who was earning a degree in fine arts from the university. We both were interested in Zen Buddhism and practiced under Roshi Robert Aitken in the Diamond Sangha for a number of years. I've found that the creative process of writing and meditation are much alike. Just sitting quietly and counting your breaths from one to ten takes attention and practice. And I have used this quality of attention in my writing also.
Sometimes people end up in careers they didn't really plan for, and that's what happened to me. After graduate school I had two degrees—but no job! After a long search, I found my first professional position—as a staff writer for the American Red Cross in Honolulu. My job required me to write grant proposals, press releases, newsletter articles, and fundraising letters. I realized there were many more kinds of writing than I'd ever imagined.
I also discovered that I liked working in nonprofit organizations. Somehow I'd manage to stumble into the field of development: a career that fit well with my skills. People who work in development help to raise money for nonprofit organizations, such as schools, theatres, museums, symphonies, universities, wildlife conservation groups, and public radio stations.
After the American Red Cross, I took a job at a small theatre, the Manoa Valley Theatre, doing similar work. The theatre was a very unusual place to work. Many years before, the building had been a church. It was quite small; the theatre itself only fit about one hundred people. The theatre office came with two cats. It wasn't unusual to walk into work in the morning and find a cat sitting on the papers you'd left on your desk the night before.
I love cats, but I didn't like some of the other creatures we often came across in Hawaii's tropical climate: cockroaches and centipedes. In fact, centipedes are just about my least favorite thing in the world. I've been bitten twice, and let me tell you, centipedes can really cause pain.
Our daughter, Rebekah, was born while I was working at the theatre. While both Andy and I worked part time when she was a baby, eventually I took a full time position in development at the University of Hawai'i Foundation, writing grant proposals to raise money for scholarships, research, and other university programs. Ever since then, all my jobs have been on university or college campuses. I like meeting students and professors—and I'm always learning new things.
A lot of writers don't have a day job, but I still do. My current job is director of foundation relations at Oregon State University Foundation. I help raise money to do a lot of different things at the university, such as allow scientists to do research on energy, health, and climate change; buy a new piece of equipment; build a new facility for classrooms or research; and help get more scholarships so students who want to attend college can afford to do so.
You may be wondering, how did this person ever get to be a children's author? After all, there hasn't been much yet about writing books for kids.
Well, the truth is that although I'd thought about wanting to be a writer for a long time, I didn't actually do any creative writing for many years. I took one creative writing class in college, but I didn't like it very much. In high school I wrote one short story, but that was about it.
Now, this doesn't mean I wasn't writing at all. I was—I was writing every day at work, although I didn't really think of that as the kind of writing I really wanted to do. But as it turned out, the writing I was doing for my job played an important part in leading me to become a children's author—and so did my daughter, Rebekah.
Each week Rebekah and I went to the library to choose some books to take home. I couldn't help noticing that there seemed to be many more picture books than when I was a girl. And that's when I began to think again about my old dream. Maybe, I thought, I could write stories for children. After all, picture books were short, short enough for a working mom to try. I wouldn't have to worry about starting a three-hundred-page novel and never getting the chance to finish it.
At first, I was scared of being rejected. But that's where my job came in. When you write a grant proposal to a private foundation, such as the Ford Foundation or the Gates Foundation, you frequently get turned down. That's just the way it is. Fundraisers know that the competition is fierce. Sometimes there are projects that just fit better than yours. Sometimes your proposal isn't as good as it could be.
I had already learned that when a proposal got rejected, it didn't mean I should stop trying. I knew it was just part of the competitive world of fundraising, and I didn't let it stop me from doing my job. No, I would just get back to work, writing a new proposal. So, why should I be afraid of being rejected as a children's author? There was only one way to find out if I could really become a writer and publish a book: I had to begin. I had to try.
As it turned out, it's a good thing I was really determined to be a writer, because it took a lot longer to get published than I ever expected. Every weekend, I'd get up at six in the morning to write stories. Then I'd send them out regularly to publishers. The result? Rejection letter after rejection letter—soon I had a file full of rejections!
Curiosity may be one of the most important things a writer needs to succeed. But you also need perseverance. If you want to be a writer, you simply can't give up. Still, after two years of trying, I didn't seem to be getting anywhere. Maybe I wasn't meant to be a writer after all.
Then I got lucky. One Saturday, I attended a writers' workshop. The presenter gave us a great piece of advice. "Start by sending your stories to magazines," she told us. "If you can get published there, you'll get practice working with editors, and you can also include your publication credits when you submit your stories to book publishers."
I was happy to take her advice since I certainly wasn't getting anywhere on my own. And to my amazement, it worked! The very first story I sent to Cricket magazine, "Skate, Kirsten, Skate," was accepted.
I still faced many challenges though. Over the next couple of years I was able to sell several stories to magazines, but I didn't seem any closer to my dream of publishing a real book. Those rejection letters from publishers just kept coming.
Then one day I heard a piece on National Public Radio about African-American quilts, and the legend that quilts were once associated with the Underground Railroad. There does not appear to be any actual historical evidence for this. But the idea made me think about one of the questions I'd had back in Miss Grace's classroom: "What would it have been like to travel on the Underground Railroad?"
Hearing that piece on the radio inspired me to write a story about a slave girl who sews a map to escape on the Underground Railroad. It was called Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt. I sent it to ten or twelve different publishers. But I still kept getting rejection letters.
Then one day at work my phone rang. I picked it up and a voice said, "My name is Anne Schwartz, I'm an editor at Random House. We'd like to publish your book."
At last! Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt was published in 1993 and has been my most successful book. In 1994, I sold my second picture book, Birdie's Lighthouse. That same year, we left Hawai'i. In addition to Rebekah, we now had a son, Dimitri, who was adopted from Russia in May of 1992, when he was six years old.
Adopting Dimitri, who was living in an orphanage north of Moscow, was a challenging adventure for all of us. Rebekah, who was eight years old, my husband, Andy, and I flew from Honolulu to New York City to meet Dimitri, who was brought to the United States with some other children by the director of his orphanage.
Of course at the time Dimitri didn't speak or understand any English. At six years old he must have been very confused as to who these new people actually were! Dimitri had never ridden in cars or gone to restaurants. He certainly had never seen a swimming pool or the ocean. He'd never gone trick-or-treating on Halloween. And probably he'd never had a birthday party. We all had a lot of challenges to face in the years ahead. But Dimitri had a wonderful, patient sister and dedicated teachers who helped him adjust to a new life.
With two children, we found that our tiny rental house in Honolulu was too crowded. Reluctantly, we decided to move back to the mainland. I found a job at Whitman College, a small college in Walla Walla, Washington. The town of Walla Walla, which is in the southwest corner of Washington state, was quite a change from living in Hawai'i. It was a lot colder, for one thing! Walla Walla is surrounded by wheat fields and rolling hills. It's four or five hours from the ocean.
No more beaches or palm trees. Rebekah, who had grown up in Hawaii, now was going sledding and skiing for the first time.
"We may not be able to go to the beach anymore, but if we have our own house, we can get a dog," my husband and I promised the kids. One night, some friends called us. They'd found a young dog abandoned in a ditch by their farmhouse. "We'll take her!" we decided.
As it turned out, Zoe was just the first of many pets. We'd already brought two cats with us from Hawaii. But now that we had lots of space, Dimitri was able to indulge his growing love of animals.
Thanks to Dimitri, at one time or another our family has had just about every kind of pet you can imagine: dogs, cats, finches, canaries, chickens, pigeons, doves, a ferret, chinchillas, frogs, snakes, quail, turkeys, geese, and even sheep and a couple of peacocks.
Not all the animals got along, though, and we had our share of disasters, especially when our dogs got loose and chased Dimitri's chickens. It's no surprise that Dimitri has been working in pet stores since he was fifteen and also does a lot of pet sitting and dog walking.
Although Zoe is no longer with us, we now have two cats, including a calico who is about seventeen years old and who has been with us since Honolulu, when Rebekah was in kindergarten. We have a young Golden Retriever named Kona. And then there is my dog, Pea (a Hawaiian word meaning bear and is pronounced payuh), who really does look like a bear sometimes!
When Dimitri was in elementary and middle school, he sometimes traveled with me around Washington and Oregon as I visited schools to talk about writing and books with kids. Since my presentation also included slides of my family and pets, most of the students were a lot more interested in asking questions about Dimitri's animals than they were about my books. And, of course, they wanted his autograph.
Whenever I visit schools, kids always ask me where I get the ideas for my books. The answer is, really, I get them from everywhere: from things I read, hear on the radio, from something I see on television or in a film, something that's happened in my own life, or even just from an idea in my own head. Story ideas are all around us: in newspapers, books, museums, library and museum exhibits; on the radio, roadside markers, the Internet; and, of course, in our personal experiences.
How does it actually work? Well, for example, Apples to Oregon, a tall tale based on the true story of a pioneer family who brought the first apple trees to Oregon on the Oregon Trail, came about because I saw one note about it in a magazine article.
I couldn't help thinking, "What would it have been like to be a pioneer and carry seven hundred fruit trees across the plains?" Instead of telling the story exactly as it happened, though, it seemed more fun to make it a tall tale about the ups and downs of this incredible family. That's why the subtitle is Being the (Slightly) True Narrative of How a Brave Pioneer Father Took Apples, Peaches, Pears, Plums, and Cherries (and Children) across the Plains.
Thanks to Anne Schwartz, my editor, and Nancy Carpenter, the illustrator, this picture book has won several
awards, including a prize for storytelling from the Western Writers of America.
Sometimes the ideas for stories come from other people. James E. Ransome, who illustrated two of my books, Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt and Under the Quilt of Night, both stories about the Underground Railroad, once told me that he really wanted to paint the Empire State Building.
"That sounds interesting," I said.
And so I researched the building and in 2006 we published the award-winning picture book Sky Boys: How They Built the Empire State Building. The book gets it title from the men who climbed high up on the steel frame. They were called "sky boys." The book gave me the chance to include fascinating facts about the Empire State Building itself.
I also like writing stories that come out of my personal experience, even though the finished book is usually a lot different from what actually happened. For instance, when we lived in Walla Walla, I loved to go to the U-pick strawberry farm near our house.
I love the way fresh strawberries smell in the early summer—and the way they taste, too. I'd often go early in the morning and pick a whole flat of berries. I'd stoop or kneel in the hay between the rows. By the time I got home my fingers would be bright red from the juice. I liked picking strawberries so much I wanted to find a way to put it into a story. And eventually I did, in a book about a sister and brother during the Great Depression of the 1930s. The title is Saving Strawberry Farm.
Once, when we were going for a walk in the countryside around Walla Walla, I saw a bluebird for the very first time. Now, just seeing a bluebird wasn't enough to write a whole story about. But eventually I found a way to create a story around that experience. Bluebird Summer is about two kids who go stay with their grandpa after their grandmother's death. Their grandmother loved bluebirds, and by the end of the story the kids have decided to build bluebird houses in her honor—and to help bluebirds find safe places to nest, too.
I also like to choose topics I know a little bit about. Both my kids loved playing soccer, baseball, and softball. For several years, Rebekah was a pitcher for her softball team. Watching my daughter play ball made me curious about the history of women in baseball and softball, so I went to the library and found a book about the history of women in baseball. One story about Alta Weiss, who pitched for a men's minor league team in 1907, caught my eye. She was such a good player she got the nickname "Girl Wonder." That seemed like a great name for a book, and so I turned Alta's story into a picture book called Girl Wonder: A Baseball Story in Nine Innings.
When I visit schools, I often get asked why I like to write about history. It's true that a lot of my books are historical fiction, while others are nonfiction, or informational books, about the past. There are many different genres, or types, of books to write. Some people love science fiction, or fantasy, or mysteries. While it's not always the case, many times authors like to write the same kinds of stories they enjoy reading. After all, if you love science fiction and you've read it all your life, chances are you know what makes this kind of story good.
Each kind of writing is a bit different. For example, although many parts of an historical fiction story are made up, usually it's also based on something that actually happened, or the story might be set in a certain time period.
I sometimes take liberties with the historical facts to make stories more exciting or dramatic. But even if I'm making up a part of the story, I still need to do a lot of research. I want my readers to feel as if they are actually there, whether the story is set on the streets of New York City or on the Chilkoot Pass in the midst of a driving snowstorm.
Do you like doing research? Not everyone does, but I happen to love it. To me, research is a bit like solving a puzzle. It's a chance to make a discovery and learn something new. Research helps me understand history better, especially what life was like for ordinary people.
When I look at newspapers from the era, listen to interviews with real people, and read contemporary journals and letters, I can begin to understand a bit more about a certain time period or event. And that makes it a lot easier to write about.
More than likely, you'll have to do research papers in school now and then. Here are a few tips that have worked for me:
- It's great to get as many books and articles as possible about your topic. But it's just as important to know how to evaluate your source. Does it have good footnotes? Is the person writing it an expert? And if you are reading something written by a person who was involved in an event, what is their point of view? For instance, think about a U.S. Civil War battle. If you had two newspapers—one in the North and one in the South—how might their reporting on the battle be different?
- Don't be afraid to contact an expert to get help with a question. Many scholars are happy to answer questions by email, especially if you identify yourself as a student.
- If you're writing about something in your own town, don't be shy about interviewing someone in person to get information.
- Be careful when using the Internet! Understand where your information is coming from. Yes, you can Google just about everything, but unless you look carefully at the Web site, you don't know if the information on it is reliable. Don't take the easy way out—check your source! Developing good "information literacy" skills now will help you throughout high school and college—and in future jobs also.
- It's not always possible, but if you ever have the chance to do research in person, try to do it. Going there and seeing a place you are writing about with your own eyes is invaluable. For example, suppose you are writing about the history of your town. You might find some old pictures. But it's even more fun to go to the center of town and look around. Imagine what you would see and hear if you were standing on the same street corner a hundred years ago.
Researching a book can take a long time. But when I finally finish my research, the next challenge is actually sitting down to write the story. No matter how many
books I have published (and I have sold more than thirty), this part never seems to get easier. All writers need perseverance and determination. But I will give you a tip—the most important thing about being a good writer is being able to revise your work. The best writers keep working, and are willing to try something and fail, until their story is the best it can be.
Now, you might think that the word revision just means correcting spelling and grammar or polishing "sloppy copy" to a final paper. Not! When we go to the doctor to get our vision tested, we're getting our eyes checked. And so I like to think of the word revision very literally: "re-vision" means "to see again."
To revise your writing means looking at all parts of your story or paper with new eyes—as if you are somehow looking at it for the first time. This is sometimes hard to do after you've struggled with it for a long time. Reading it aloud helps a lot, and also getting feedback from other people.
Another important part of revision is to look not only at what you've written, but at what's NOT there. In other words, is something important missing?
I learned this lesson the hard way. Once, as part of my job, I had to write a speech for the president of the University of Hawai'i. The president was giving away teaching awards to a number of professors. Well, I gathered all the information about each professor who was getting an award. I made the speech perfect. But then, when the awards were announced, someone was missing! It was so embarrassing to be sitting in a room with two hundred people and realize that I had made such a big mistake. Worse, I had made the president look bad also. You see, I had forgotten to go back and check each name in the final speech against the original list of winners, to make sure that I had not forgotten anyone. In other words, I had looked at and corrected everything in the speech itself—but not what wasn't there.
Looking at what might be missing from a piece of writing is an essential part of revising. Needless to say, I learned this lesson well and I use it not only when writing my books, but also in my job.
Writing is a little bit like baking bread. It takes time for the yeast to grow and the dough to rise. In the same way, revision takes time. Stories, like bread dough, seem to come alive as they sit and when we knead them. New ideas, connections, and possibilities appear. And then, somehow, it feels done. With bread, you pop it into the oven and when it's ready you have the satisfaction of sharing something you made with your family and friends.
Stories are like this, too. When we are done with the writing and revising, the editor and publisher put everything together and produce a finished product—something that you made that you can now share with the world.
About My Books
Sometimes kids ask me which of the books I've written are my favorites. That's a little like asking which pet you like best. Still, I thought I'd share with you a little about some of my most recent books and how I came to write them.
Into the Firestorm: A Novel of San Francisco, 1906
For a second, the shaking let up. Then it started in again, violent and more twisting, An image flashed through Nick's mind of Gran wringing clothes over the wash tin with her tough, strong hands. That was it. The earth was being wrung out of shape.
Into the Firestorm was published in 2006, one hundred years after the great San Francisco earthquake and fire. It's my first middle-grade novel and I had a wonderful time writing it.
The San Francisco earthquake occurred at 5:13 A.M. on Wednesday, April 18, 1906. It's estimated that about three thousand people died in this disaster, primarily as a result of collapsing buildings. Most of the physical damage to the city occurred not from the quake itself, but in three days of raging fires.
One newspaper account of stories of the disaster was of a boy named Nicholas Dray, who had apparently escaped from a poor county farm and had been taken in by a local merchant just a few days before the fire. Left alone while his new employer was away on business, Nick braved a soldier's gun to rescue his employer's retriever, Brownie. Supposedly the boy said, "He is a very good dog."
To research Into the Firestorm, I relied on excellent primary sources, including letters, photographs, and eyewitness accounts. I also traveled to San Francisco to walk around Jackson Square, the story's setting, to help me imagine Nick, his friend Annie, and their journey to safety. I also changed the dog's name to Shakespeare—Shake for short!
If, like me, you like adventure stories, I hope you'll read this book!
The "Prairie Skies" Series
Grandpa pulled Charlie close. "I hear they've got big skies our there in Kansas Territory. But it's the same sky that covers us here. If you aks me, the sky's a lot like love. It just spreads out over folks no matter how far apart they are."
I first became interested in the period just before the U.S. Civil War while helping Dimitri and Rebekah with their history homework. The books in the "Prairie Skies" series are: Pioneer Summer, Cabin in the Snow, and Our Kansas Home.
The stories follow Charlie Keller and his family as they leave from Massachusetts in 1855 for Lawrence, Kansas. This was a time when people were debating whether slavery should spread to America's territories in the West. The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 created the territories of Kansas and Nebraska. It ended the Missouri Compromise, an agreement in 1820 that forbid slavery in the lands of the Louisiana Purchase except for Missouri, and it changed the law about whether slavery could spread to the territories.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act established that Kansas would be a free state or a slave state based on how the people in Kansas voted. People from pro-slavery Missouri and free-soil Northerners, like the fictional Keller family, flocked to Kansas to have a voice in the territory's future. Since the groups wanted different things, they soon clashed. To research these books I went to Kansas and read lots of letters, memoirs, and books. Mostly I think readers will like the story of one family's struggles to make a new life in a new place.
The "Klondike Kid" Series
It wasn't even noon, but it seemed we had been climbing for hours. The day was so overcast and gray, it felt like late afternoon. My breath came in ragged gasps. Five more steps before resting, I told myself. Now five more.
The "Klondike Kid" series includes three short books: Sailing for Gold, The Long Trail, and Adventure in Gold Town. The Klondike Gold Rush took place at the very end of the nineteenth century. Word of a gold discovery on the Yukon River in Canada's Klondike Valley reached the "outside" in 1897. When the steamer Portland docked in Seattle in July of that year, returning miners had to drag their suitcases down the gangplank because they were so weighted down with gold! Thousands of people caught gold fever, drawn by the promise of riches and adventure.
But it wasn't easy to get to the Klondike. Men and women journeyed thousands of miles in harsh conditions. Most people never made any money at all. Many gave up before they reached the boom town of Dawson City. Those who made it that far learned that the richest stakes had been claimed long ago.
The "Klondike Kid" series follows the adventures of an eleven-year-old boy named Davey Hill, who is living in Seattle when the book begins. Orphaned, he is staying in the boarding house where he and his widowed mother lived before she died. There he is treated like a servant by Mrs. Tinker, the owner. Davey eventually makes his way to the Klondike, and through his adventures we see not only the world of the prospectors, but that of the pioneering frontier photographers whose pictures capture the hope—and, in many cases, the heartbreak—of the men, women, children, and animals who made the long, harrowing trek into the wilderness.
Hear My Sorrow: The Diary of Angela Denota, a Shirtwaist Worker
It was dark and wet this morning, almost as if the skies had decided to cry … and the rain streamed on top of my head and into my eyes. No one spoke. As one, we began to follow behind the hearse. Along the way, in the tenements, women leaned out their windows and waved white handkerchiefs. They were silent at first. But as we passed, low mourning moans burst from their lips.
This book is the story of a fourteen-year-old girl named Angela who works in a factory in New York City. The story is about the tragedy of the Triangle Waist Company fire, which took place on March 25, 1911, and killed one hundred-forty-six people, mostly teenaged girls.
But I also wanted to write about the lives of the girls and their families who worked at that time in the garment industry in New York. Not long before the fire, in the fall of 1909, the workers had gone on strike for improved conditions. This strike is called the Uprising of the Twenty Thousand. Although the workers made some gains, conditions didn't really improve until after the Triangle disaster. Finally, then, people realized that things had to change.
Like many children at the time, the girl in my story, Angela Denoto, must leave school at the age of fourteen to go to work to help her family. We see the strike and the fire through her eyes. Most workers in the garment industry were young Jewish and Italian immigrants living on New York City's Lower East Side. The women usually worked very long hours, earning between seven and fourteen dollars a week.
To research this story, I read many books about the strike and the fire. I also read newspapers of the time. And I went to New York City. I visited the Lower East Side Tenement Museum and stood on the sidewalk outside the building where the fire took place. There is a
small plaque on the wall there. Standing on the same sidewalk where many young girls fell to their deaths made me want to do as good a job as I could writing this book so that their stories would not be forgotten.
I did so much research for Hear My Sorrow that it made me want to write a nonfiction book about the same time period. And so I wrote a book called Shutting out the Sky: Life in the Tenements of New York, 1880-1924. The book includes actual photographs and stories of real people who came to America as immigrants during this time. Like my other recent nonfiction book, Up before Daybreak: Cotton and People in America, this book is how I am trying to make history interesting to kids.
These books are about the lives of ordinary children and their families—the people whose names never appeared in that big history textbook I read so long ago in Miss Grace's fourth-grade classroom.
Do you remember the question I asked at the beginning of this essay: Did you ever have dreams for your future that seemed far away and impossible to reach? My dream of being a writer seemed that way to me for a long time. It takes hard work, luck, lots of support from others, and determination to make any dream come true. I'm still working on my dream, and still trying to become a better writer.
I hope you have the courage to follow your dreams, too.
"Hopkinson, Deborah 1952-." Something About the Author. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 26, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/children/scholarly-magazines/hopkinson-deborah-1952-0
"Hopkinson, Deborah 1952-." Something About the Author. . Retrieved July 26, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/children/scholarly-magazines/hopkinson-deborah-1952-0
Hopkinson, Deborah 1952-
HOPKINSON, Deborah 1952-
Born February 4, 1952, in Lowell, MA; daughter of Russell W. (a machinist) and Gloria D. Hopkinson; married Andrew D. Thomas (an artist); children: Rebekah, Dimitri. Education: University of Massachusetts, Amherst, B.A., 1973; University of Hawaii, M.A., 1978. Hobbies and other interests: Reading, hiking, gardening, history.
Home— 1940 Northwest 27th St., Corvallis, OR 97330. Office— Oregon State University Foundation, 850 Southwest 35th St., Corvallis, OR 97333. E-mail— firstname.lastname@example.org.
Manoa Valley Theater, Honolulu, HI, marketing director, 1981-84; University of Hawaii Foundation, Honolulu, development director, 1985-89; East-West Center, Honolulu, development director, 1989-94; Whitman College, director of development administrative services, 1994-04, instructor in children's literature, 1998-99; Oregon State University Foundation, Corvalis, director of foundation relations, 2004—. Creative Fund Raising Associates, Honolulu, consultant, 1991—. Board member, National Society of Fund Raising Executives, Aloha Chapter, 1985-91.
Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.
Magazine Merit Award Fiction Honor, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCWBI), 1991, for short story; SCWBI work-in-progress grant, 1993; Children's Book Award, International Reading Association, 1994, for Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt; Silver Honor, Parents' Choice Foundation, and Blue Ribbon designation, Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, both 1997, both for Birdie's Lighthouse; American Library Association (ALA) Notable Book designation, SCBWI Golden Kite Award, and Jane Addams Award honor, all 1999, all for A Band of Angels; Washington State Book Award, and Paterson Prize, both 2002, both for Under the Quilt of Night; SCBWI Golden Kite Honor, and National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Notable Book in the Language Arts designation, both for Bluebird Summer; ALA Notable Book designation, Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award, School Library Journal and Publishers Weekly Best Books designations, Booklinks Lasting Connections honor, SCBWI Golden Kite Award, and Western Writers of America Spur Award for Storytelling, all 2004, all for Apples to Oregon; Parents' Choice Gold Award, Great Lakes Book Award, Oppenheimer Toy Portfolio Gold Award, and Jane Addams Award Honor Book, all 2003, all for Girl Wonder; William Allen White Award nomination, 2004, for Pioneer Summer; NCTE Orbis Pictus Honor, Jane Addams Award Honor, IRA Teachers' Choice designation, and James Madison Book Award Honor, all for Shutting out the Sky.
Pearl Harbor, Dillon, 1991.
Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, illustrated by James Ransome, Knopf (New York, NY), 1993.
Birdie's Lighthouse, illustrated by Kimberly Bulcken Root, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1997.
A Band of Angels: A Story Inspired by the Jubilee Singers, illustrated by Raul Colon, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1999.
Maria's Comet, illustrated by Deborah Lanino, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1999.
Bluebird Summer, illustrated by Bethanne Andersen, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 2001.
Fannie in the Kitchen: The Whole Story from Soup to Nuts of How Fannie Farmer Invented Recipes with Precise Measurements, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter, Atheneum Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 2001.
Under the Quilt of Night, illustrated by James Ransome, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2002.
Shutting out the Sky: Life in the Tenements of New York, 1880-1924, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Girl Wonder: A Baseball Story in Nine Innings, illustrated by Terry Widener, Atheneum Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 2003.
Hear My Sorrow: The Diary of Angela Denoto, a Shirtwaist Worker, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2004.
Apples to Oregon: Being the (Slightly) True Narrative of How A Brave Pioneer Father Brought Apples, Peaches, Pears, Plums, Grapes, and Cherries (and Children) Across the Plains, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter, Atheneum Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 2004.
A Packet of Seeds, illustrated by Bethanne Andersen, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 2004.
Saving Strawberry Farm, illustrated by Rachel Isadora, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 2004.
Billy and the Rebel, illustrated by Brian Floca, Atheneum Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 2005.
From Slave to Soldier: Based on a True Civil War Story, illustrated by Brian Floca, Atheneum Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 2005.
John Adams Speaks for Freedom, illustrated by Craig Orback, Aladdin (New York, NY), 2005.
Who Was Charles Darwin?, illustrated by Nancy Harrison, Grosset & Dunlap (New York, NY), 2005.
Sky Boys: How They Built the Empire State Building, illustrated by James Ransome, Atheneum Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 2006.
"KLONDIKE KID" SERIES
Sailing for Gold, illustrated by Bill Farnsworth, Aladdin (New York, NY), 2004.
The Long Trail, Aladdin (New York, NY), 2004.
Adventure in Goldtown, Aladdin (New York, NY), 2004.
"PRAIRIE SKIES" SERIES
Cabin in the Snow, illustrated by Patrick Faricy, Aladdin (New York, NY), 2002.
Pioneer Summer, illustrated by Patrick Faricy, Aladdin (New York, NY), 2002.
Our Kansas Home, illustrated by Patrick Faricy, Aladdin (New York, NY), 2003.
A Band of Angels was adapted as a musical and produced in New York, NY, 2005.
An award-winning writer for children, Deborah Hopkinson introduces young readers to interesting personalities from the past, as well as shedding light on the many ways living and workplace standards have improved and allowing younger readers to more fully appreciate the advances in technology that have made everyday life relatively easy and comfortable. From creating a uniform system of measurements that would allow recipes to be universally shared in Fannie in the Kitchen: The Whole Story from Soup to Nuts of How Fannie Farmer Invented Recipes with Precise Measurements to illustrating the hardships faced by immigrants in Shutting out the Sky: Life in the Tenements of New York, 1880-1924 to the efforts of a young woman to play semi-professional baseball on a men's team in Girl Wonder: A Baseball Story in Nine Innings. In School Library Journal contributor Blair Christolon praised Hopkinson for her "outstanding job of highlighting the … drive and ambition" of seventeen-year-old Alta Weiss, the real-life subject of this fictional biography, as she becomes the first woman to play on a man's team when she joins Ohio's Vermillion Independents in 1907.
"As a girl, I always wanted to be a writer," the Massachusetts-born Hopkinson once told Something about the Author (SATA ). "But I never knew what I wanted to write. Then, when my daughter Rebekah was about three, we were reading a lot of children's books. Having a full-time career and a child, I was very busy. But I thought, 'Maybe I'll try writing for children. At least the books are short!' I have since found out that simply because a story is short, that doesn't mean that it is easy to write!"
Hopkinson has since made a successful career out of penning history and historical fiction for young people. Her first book, Pearl Harbor, was published in 1991 as part of Dillon Press's "Places in American History" series. Aimed at older children, the book tells the story of the bombing of Hawaii's Pearl Harbor during World War II and includes photographs showing the area as it was during the war and as it looks today, as the site of a commemorative park. Hopkinson's focus is on the memorial erected on the site of the bombing, but she also provides a history of the Hawaiian Islands before, during, and since World War II. "There's plenty of information for students writing reports and prospective visitors without overwhelming recreational readers," noted Luann Toth in a review of Pearl Harbor, for School Library Journal.
Hopkinson returns to the topic of African-American history in the picture book A Band of Angels: A Story Inspired by the Jubilee Singers. This fictionalized account of how a group of singers managed to save the Fisk School (now Fisk University) in Nashville, Tennessee, a school established for freed slaves after the Civil War, is "both touching and inspirational," asserted Beth Tegart in School Library Journal. The story's narrator is a young girl—the great-great-granddaughter of Ella Sheppard, one of the original singers. The young narrator asks her Aunt Beth to tell yet again her favorite family story. Ella, who was born a slave, had attended Fisk for only a short time when she was asked to join a chorus that toured the northern states, raising money to help support the school. The chorus found little success performing the popular tunes of the day, but one night, in order to inspire a bored audience, Ella began singing the traditional spiritual song "Many Thousand Gone." Thereafter the group, named the Jubilee Singers for the spirituals or jubilees they sang, found enormous success touring throughout the world. "Hopkinson's … lilting text interweaves subtle details about racial tensions after the Civil War while emphasizing the importance of education and of being true to oneself," commented a reviewer for Publishers Weekly. Janice M. Del Negro noted, in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, her appreciation of the author's note, which "clearly separates fact from fiction at the conclusion of the text." In School Library Journal, Tegart proclaimed the book "a fine read-aloud with a good story, uplifting pictures, and fascinating information."
The lives of five young immigrants are profiled in Hopkinson's 2003 work, Shutting out the Sky. Between the late 1800s and the first decades of the twentieth century, thousands of immigrant families entered the United States, leaving homes and families throughout Europe, Great Britain, and elsewhere and setting their first step on New York's Ellis Island. Many of these families settled in New York City, often living in low-cost tenements while establishing their American roots. In Shutting out the Sky Hopkinson introduces a young Italian immigrant named Leonard Covello, who comes to join his father; Pauline Newman, who as a child found a job in New York's garment district and eventually became a union organizer; as well as three other children from eastern Europe, all of whom had, in adulthood, made a written record of their experiences growing up in New York's migrant communities. Basing her work on these writings, as well as on a 1890 exposé of New York's tenements by writer Jacob Riis, Hopkinson creates what Horn Book contributor Kitty Flynn described as a "well-organized social history" that features an "accessible narrative" highlighted by archival photographs, a time-line, and a list of suggested readings for interested students. In School Library Journal Carol Fazioli wrote that the text's "immediacy and vivid images make it simply a fascinating read," while in Publishers Weekly a reviewer noted that in Shutting out the Sky Hopkinson "balances a highly readable discussion of change and reform" against the colorful patchwork of cultures, "joy and play" that also existed in the city's immigrant neighborhoods.
The author of one of America's classic cookbooks is the subject of Fannie in the Kitchen. A talented cook even at an early age, young Fannie Farmer is introduced to readers before she became affiliated with the Boston Cooking School. Here she works as a mother's helper at the Shaw home, and her desire to help the young daughter of the household refine her somewhat raw cooking skills prompts the older woman to begin the work of writing down her recipes and culinary tips. Calling the book a "delightfully humorous story about cooking and personal achievement," Booklist writer Shelle Rosenfeld cited Hopkinson's "lively, descriptive prose" for special merit. Praising the book's "clever narrative" as well as the Victorian-inspired artwork by Nancy Carpenter, a Horn Book contributor predicted that, with Hopkinson's inclusion of Farmer's recipe for Griddle Cakes, "nostalgic adults and their more modern offspring will take this book right into the kitchen."
Hopkinson's first work of historical fiction, Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, is about a slave girl who is separated from her mother and sent to work in the fields. She lives with an elderly woman named Aunt Rachel, who trains Clara as a seamstress. Despite her more comfortable surroundings, Clara remains preoccupied with thoughts of her mother and freedom, and when she overhears other slaves discussing the Underground Railroad, she decides to use her sewing skills to help herself and other slaves escape. In her spare time she sews a quilt, but instead of patchwork, Clara's quilt is a map detailing an escape route. When she finally does escape the plantation, she leaves the quilt for other slaves to use in their own escape plans.
A Publishers Weekly contributor praised Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, as "a triumph of the heart," and added that the story's basis in fact "brings power and substance to this noteworthy picture book." Many critics were impressed with Hopkinson's strong protagonist. Calling Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt an "exciting addition to the study of African-American history," Five Owls critic Lyn Lacy described Clara as a "resourceful and courageous freedom-seeker." Booklist 's Janice Del Negro also lauded the strength of the book's main character: "Clara is a sympathetic and determined character not easily forgotten." Concluding her positive review of the story, Lacy wrote that Hopkinson "breathes new life into her heroine and other characters with their use of … 'old speech' dialect as a rich and valuable early-American oral tradition." As Hopkinson once explained to SATA: "The idea for Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt came to me while listening to a National Public Radio story about African-American quilt history. I consider this story a wonderful gift, and feel very happy that I was able to tell it."
Like Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, the picture book Birdie's Lighthouse is an example of the author's interest in telling historical stories with active female protagonists. Set in the 1850s, Birdie's Lighthouse takes the form of a diary kept by Bertha "Birdie" Holland, a ten-year-old girl who recounts the events during the year her father became the lighthouse keeper on Turtle Island, off the coast of Maine. Birdie's brother is a sailor, just as her father once was, and on the night of a great storm, when her father is too ill to maintain the lighthouse, Birdie must use all she has learned at her father's side to make sure the beacon shines brightly enough to guide her brother home safely. "Period details and a spirited heroine with a clear voice make this book a genuine delight," stated a Kirkus Reviews critic. Other reviewers similarly emphasized Hopkinson's authentic setting in time and place and her reliance on actual historical figures in the creation of Birdie. Anne Parker, a reviewer for School Library Journal, dubbed Birdie's Lighthouse "a shining bit of historical fiction for elementary audiences."
Other works of fiction by Hopkinson include Bluebird Summer, the story of two children who create a garden memorial to the beloved grandmother who shared her love of nature, and Under the Quilt of Night, about a young slave's flight by night through unfamiliar woodland territory in search of the next stop on the Underground Railroad. In addition, the author's highly praised three-volume "Prairie Skies" chapter-book trilogy focuses on a abolitionist New England family's move to Kansas following the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1855. Praising Bluebird Summer in Publishers Weekly, a reviewer noted that the book's text "expresses the tightly knit love of the family without going over the top," and Booklist contributor John Peters dubbed the work a "lyrical" and "moving story." Pioneer Summer, the first volume of the "Prairie Skies" series, was described by a Publishers Weekly reviewer as an "informative tale" featuring "taut sentences well tailored to the audience," while in Kirkus Reviews a contributor described the book as a "superb story" about how the abolitionist controversy played out in arenas other than the Civil War. "Hopkinson's gift is her ability to weave little details into a story," the critic added, calling Pioneer Summer an "engaging saga" in which the main protagonists, quiet Charlie Keller and his sister Ida Jane, are children firmly grounded in their own age rather than "21st century transplant[s]" or stereotypical pioneers.
In addition to her books, Hopkinson has also written for magazines, including short stories for Cricket and nonfiction for Scholastic. While her main interest "is stories that also tell about history," she added: "I also like to write about girls, because when I was a girl, there weren't many stories about the exciting things that girls can do!"
Biographical and Critical Sources
Black Issues Book Review, May-June, 2003, Adrienne Ingrum, review of Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, p. 58.
Booklist, February 15, 1992, p. 1103; April 15, 1993, Janice M. Del Negro, review of Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, p. 1514; June 1 and 15, 1997, pp. 1718-1719; April 15, 2001, John Peters, review of Bluebird Summer, p. 1564; May 15, 2001, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of Fannie in the Kitchen, p. 1751; December 1, 2001, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Fannie in the Kitchen, p. 658; February 15, 2002, Cynthia Turnquest, review of Under the Quilt of Night, p. 1034; March 1, 2002, Ilene Cooper, review of Fannie in the Kitchen, 1146; December 15, 2002, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Cabin in the Snow, p. 759; January 1, 2003, GraveAnne A. DeCandido, review of Girl Wonder: A Baseball Story in Nine Innings, p. 880; March 1, 2003, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Our Kansas Home, p. 1197; November 1, 2003, Hazel Rochman, review of Shutting out the Sky: Life in the Tenements of New York, 1880-1924, p. 492; January 1, 2004, Hazel Rochman, review of Sailing for Gold, p. 856; January 1, 2004, review of Shutting out the Sky, p. 779; May 15, 2004, Gillian Engberg, review of A Packet of Seeds, p. 1625; September 1, 2004, Kay Weisman, review of Apples to Oregon: Being the (Slightly) True Narrative of How a Brave Pioneer Father Brought, Apples, Peaches, Pears, Plums, Grapes, and Cherries (and Children) across the Plains, p. 132.
Boys's Life, April, 2004, review of Gold Rush, p. 8.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, February, 1999, Janice M. Del Negro, review of A Band of Angels: A Story Inspired by the Jubilee Singers, pp. 204-205.
Five Owls, March-April, 1993, Lyn Lacy, review of Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, p. 89.
Horn Book, March-April, 1999, pp. 190-191; May, 2001, review of Fannie in the Kitchen, p. 312; July-August, 2002, Susan P. Bloom, review of Under the Quilt of Night, p. 447; March-April, 2003, Martha V. Parravano, review of Girl Wonder, p. 204; January-February, 2004, Kitty Flynn, review of Shutting out the Sky, p. 101.
Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 1997, review of Birdie's Lighthouse, p. 722; April 15, 2002, review of Pioneer Summer, p. 570; August 1, 2002, review of Cabin in the Snow, p. 1133; December 15, 2002, review of Our Kansas Home, p. 1850; February 1, 2003, review of Girl Wonder, p. 232; September 15, 2003, review of Shutting out the Sky, p. 1175; February 1, 2004, review of Sailing for Gold, p. 134; March 1, 2004, review of A Packet of Seeds, p. 223; June 15, 2004, review of The Long Trail, p. 577; August 15, 2004, review of Apples to Oregon, p. 807; January 15, 2005, review of Billy and the Rebel, p. 121.
Publishers Weekly, February 8, 1993, review of Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, p. 87; April 14, 1997, p. 74; January 4, 1999, review of A Band of Angels, p. 90; April 23, 2001, review of Fannie In the Kitchen, p. 77, and review of Bluebird Summer, p. 78; April 15, 2002, review of Pioneer Summer, p. 65; December 23, 2002, review of Girl Wonder, p. 71; January 6, 2003, review of Maria's Comet, p. 62; December 1, 2003, review of Shutting out the Sky, p. 58.
Reading Teacher, November, 2004, review of Shutting out the Sky, p. 291.
School Library Journal, April, 1992, Luann Toth, review of Pearl Harbor, p. 134; June, 1993, p. 76; June, 1997, Anne Parker, review of Birdie's Lighthouse, pp. 91-92; February, 1999, Beth Tegart, review of A Band of Angels, p. 84; October, 2002, Kristen Oravec, review of Pioneer Summer, p. 112; March, 2003, Blair Christolon, review of Girl Wonder, p. 193, and Susan Shaver, review of Our Kansas Home, p. 196; December, 2003, Carol Fazioli, review of Shutting out the Sky, p. 169; April, 2004, review of Girl Wonder, p. 22, and Marian Creamer, review of A Packet of Seeds, p. 114; July, 2004, Anne Knickerbocker, review of Sailing for Gold, p. 77; September, 2004, Roxanne Burg, review of Apples to Oregon, p. 162; October, 2004, review of Shutting out the Sky, p. 31; November, 2004, Anne Knickerbocker, review of The Long Trail, p. 107; February, 2005, Joyce Adams Borner, review of Fannie in the Kitchen, p. 57.
Deborah Hopkinson Web site, http://www.deborahhopkinson.com (April 2, 2005).
"Hopkinson, Deborah 1952-." Something About the Author. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 26, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/children/scholarly-magazines/hopkinson-deborah-1952
"Hopkinson, Deborah 1952-." Something About the Author. . Retrieved July 26, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/children/scholarly-magazines/hopkinson-deborah-1952