Hopkinson, Deborah 1952–

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Deborah Hopkinson


American author of picture books, juvenile nonfiction, and juvenile historical fiction.

The following entry presents an overview of Hopkinson's career through 2006.


Specializing in works of historical fiction and biographical nonfiction for children, Hopkinson is the author of several thoroughly researched examinations of American history, which are generally regarded by critics as both informative and empathetic. Frequently narrated from the point-of-view of both real-life and imagined characters, Hopkinson's texts engage her young readers by utilizing adolescent protagonists and drawing parallels between past and present social issues. Hopkinson often mines her source material from such under-reported historical events as the East Coast sweat shops that forcibly employed immigrant children at the turn of the twentieth century and the exploits of the pre-Civil War Underground Railroad, exposing the obscure and fascinating aspects of her protagonists' lives as she documents the larger historical forces that shaped them. In a 2004 interview, she stated that her "goal [is] not only to capture emotional truth, but also be as accurate as possible about details of the period." Best known for such works as Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt (1993) and Hear My Sorrow: The Diary of Angela Denoto, a Shirtwaist Worker (2004), Hopkinson has authored over twenty-five books, many of which are used as instructional aides in primary schools across the country.


Hopkinson was born on February 4, 1952, in Lowell, Massachusetts, to Russell and Gloria Hopkinson. After graduating from high school, she attended the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where she earned her B.A. in 1973. Shortly thereafter, she moved to Hawaii for graduate study in Asian Studies at the University of Hawaii. After completing her M.A. in 1978, she remained in Hawaii for nineteen years, working first as a marketing director for the Manoa Valley Theater in Honolulu before becoming a specialist in fund-raising for nonprofit and academic institutions. Subsequently, she was employed as the director of development at the University of Hawaii Foundation for four years, eventually accepting positions at the East-West Center and the Creative Fund Raising Associates in Honolulu. After marrying Andrew D. Thomas, a teacher, she moved to Walla Walla, Washington, to become the development director for Whitman College. Hopkinson has since become the director of foundation relations at the Oregon State University Foundation in Corvallis, Oregon, where she lives with her husband and their two children, Dimitri and Rebekah. While living in Hawaii, Hopkinson first began writing short stories, studying children's books and the works of Patricia Wrightson in an attempt to emulate their prose styles. Getting her stories published proved difficult, but in 1990, she sold her first story, "Skate, Kirsten, Skate," to the children's magazine Cricket. Hopkinson soon became a regular contributor to Cricket, Scholastic's Storyworks magazine, and Ladybug. In 1991 her first full-length book, Pearl Harbor, a nonfiction recounting of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, was released to little fanfare as part of Dillon Press's "Places in American History" series. However, after listening to a story on National Public Radio about how slaves reputedly sewed routes to freedom in the North into their quilts, Hopkinson was inspired to write her first original work of historical fiction, Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt. Initially, she was unable to find a publisher, and the book languished in manuscript form for four years before Knopf accepted it. The volume won critical and popular acclaim, and Hopkinson has since published a wide variety of picture books, nonfiction works, and novels set against the backdrop of American history.


Although American history is Hopkinson's primary recurring subject material, the author employs both fictional and nonfictional narratives to illuminate events in America's past. Frequently, Hopkinson's texts will feature two parallel storylines—one based on fact, the other imagined—to draw her readers more deeply into her reality-based plots. Two examples of such texts are Shutting Out the Sky: Life in the Tenements of New York, 1880–1924 (2003) and Hear My Sorrow: The Diary of Angela Denoto, a Shirtwaist Worker. While the characters in both works differ greatly, they nonetheless work in conjugation with one other to explore the subject of immigration in nineteenth- and twentieth-century America. Hopkinson suggested to Library Media Connection that employing this tactic of blending fact and fiction heightens the impact of each book, but acknowledges that it can be a difficult gambit to implement: "I believe both historical fiction and nonfiction have a place in helping students learn about the past, yet it's important that students understand the difference. And that's not always easy." Some of Hopkinson's other works that utilize this strategy of simultaneous fictional and nonfictional narratives are Billy and the Rebel (2005) and From Slave to Soldier (2005), as well as her accounts of nineteenth-century slavery in Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt and its thematic follow-up Under the Quilt of Night (2002). These latter two works relate to Hopkinson's 2006 release, Up before Daybreak: Cotton and People in America, a nonfiction account of American slave labor in the nineteenth-century cotton industry. Hopkinson's youth-oriented texts are the products of thorough research, using primary sources, archival records, and personal diaries to explicitly detail the social conditions of the eras they represent. Both Billy and the Rebel and From Slave to Soldier carry the subtitle Based on a True Civil War Story, evoking real events and historical figures to ground the narrative in fact. Even a tall tale like Hopkinson's picture book 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 (2004) is based, in part, on the real-life story of pioneer Henderson Luelling, who founded the first tree farm in Oregon.

In an effort to differentiate her narratives from textbook or reference works, Hopkinson has experimented with a wide array of literary formats, with her stories taking the form of a diary in Birdie's Lighthouse (1997), a verse poem in Under the Quilt of Night, and a tall tale in Apples to Oregon, to name a few. Even when writing more traditional expository fiction, Hopkinson has fashioned creative plot structures befitting her subject. For example, Fannie in the Kitchen (2001) presents a fictive account of the famous cook, Fannie Farmer, and delivers her story in seven brief "courses," or chapters. Likewise, Girl Wonder: A Baseball Story in Nine Innings (2003) divides the real story of the pioneering, turn-of-the-century female baseball player Alta Weiss into nine "innings." Despite such clever plot inventions, Hopkinson is diligent about distinguishing fact from creative license, offering an author's note with each book describing exactly where her narrative deviates from accepted history. Her texts also include a variety of supplemental material, meant to bolster her readers' understanding of her historical backdrops. This material ranges from traditional sources—like further reading citations, timelines, and maps—to the more uncommon—such as song lyrics in Cabin in the Snow (2002), several of Fannie Farmer's most famous recipes in Fannie in the Kitchen, and instructions for building a bluebird box similar to the one owned by the protagonists in the picture book Bluebird Summer (2001).


Overall, Hopkinson has been applauded by critics for the level of creativity and historical accuracy that she has brought to her works of fiction and nonfiction, particularly in light of how the history genre is commonly approached with reluctance by many juvenile readers. In her review of Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, Nancy Vasilakis has commented that Hopkinson's "personal approach toward history is a particularly effective way to introduce the subject to younger children, adding a trenchant immediacy to their understanding of a difficult but important chapter in the country's past." Her works have won acclaim for their ability to turn often dull historical facts into engaging narratives, with teachers, in particular, complimenting Hopkinson's prose. In her appraisal of Shutting Out the Sky, Kristen Fletcher-Spear has praised Hopkinson's writing style for covering "broad subjects in easy flowing paragraphs, making the nonfiction read like fiction." Similarly, Paul Gediman and Jonathan Bing have hailed Band of Angels as a "lilting text [that] interweaves subtle details about racial tensions after the Civil War while emphasizing the importance of education and of being true to oneself." While Elizabeth Devereaux and Diane Roback have faulted Hopkinson's narrative voice in Birdie's Lighthouse—arguing that it "is unlikely to be mistaken for the voice of an actual young girl"—they have also qualified their critique, noting that the work's "nuances of feeling and historical detail shine throughout." Some have taken issue with the author's blending of historical truth and fiction, though others have quickly countered that Hopkinson has more than addressed such concerns with her in-depth author notes in each volume.


Hopkinson has received several major awards and accolades throughout her career, including the International Reading Association Award for first picture book and Reading Rainbow and Book-of-the-Month Club selections for Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt. Birdie's Lighthouse was a Maine Library Association Lupine Award nominee and Parents Choice Silver Honor Book, while Maria's Comet (1999) was named an ALA Notable Book selection. Bluebird Summer won the Golden Kite Honor Award for best picture book text, Under the Quilt of Night won the Washington State Book Award, and Girl Wonder received the Great Lakes Book Award and was named a Jane Addams Children's Book Award Honor Book. Her most award-winning book to date, Shutting Out the Sky, was named as one of the New York Public Library's 100 Books for Reading and Sharing, a NCSS/CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People, a Sydney Taylor Notable Book, a Booklist Editors' Choice, a Jane Addams Peace Award Honor Book, a NCTE Orbis Pictus honor book, and an IRA Teacher's Choice selection, among other honors. Additionally, Apples to Oregon received an ALA Book Award in 2005, and Sky Boys: How They Built the Empire State Building (2006) was selected as a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Honor Book.


Pearl Harbor (juvenile nonfiction) 1991
Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt [illustrations by James E. Ransome] (juvenile historical fiction) 1993
Birdie's Lighthouse [illustrations by Kimberly Bulcken Root] (juvenile historical fiction) 1997
A Band of Angels: A Story Inspired by the Jubilee Singers [illustrations by Raúl Colón] (juvenile historical fiction) 1999
Maria's Comet [illustrations by Deborah Lanino] (juvenile historical fiction) 1999
Bluebird Summer [illustrations by Bethanne Andersen] (picture book) 2001
Fannie in the Kitchen [illustrations by Nancy Carpenter] (juvenile historical fiction) 2001
Cabin in the Snow [illustrations by Patrick Faricy] (juvenile historical fiction) 2002
Pioneer Summer [illustrations by Patrick Faricy] (juvenile historical fiction) 2002
Under the Quilt of Night [illustrations by James E. Ransome] (juvenile historical fiction) 2002
Girl Wonder: A Baseball Story in Nine Innings [illustrations by Terry Widener] (juvenile historical fiction) 2003
Our Kansas Home [illustrations by Patrick Faricy] (juvenile historical fiction) 2003
Shutting Out the Sky: Life in the Tenements of New York, 1880–1924 (juvenile nonfiction) 2003
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 [illustrations by Nancy Carpenter] (juvenile historical fiction) 2004
Hear My Sorrow: The Diary of Angela Denoto, a Shirtwaist Worker (juvenile historical fiction) 2004
The Klondike Kid: Adventures in Gold Town [illustrations by Bill Farnsworth] (juvenile historical fiction) 2004
The Klondike Kid: The Long Trail [illustrations by Bill Farnsworth] (juvenile historical fiction) 2004
The Klondike Kid: Sailing for Gold [illustrations by Bill Farnsworth] (juvenile historical fiction) 2004
A Packet of Seeds [illustrations by Bethanne Andersen] (picture book) 2004
Billy and the Rebel: Based on a True Civil War Story [illustrations by Brian Floca] (juvenile historical fiction) 2005
From Slave to Soldier: Based on a True Civil War Story [illustrations by Brian Floca] (juvenile historical fiction) 2005
John Adams Speaks for Freedom [illustrations by Craig Orback] (juvenile nonfiction) 2005
Saving Strawberry Farm [illustrations by Rachel Isadora] (juvenile historical fiction) 2005
Susan B. Anthony: Fighter for Women's Rights [illustrations by Amy Bates] (juvenile nonfiction) 2005
Who Was Charles Darwin? [illustrations by Nancy Harrison] (juvenile nonfiction) 2005
Into the Firestorm: A Novel of San Francisco, 1906 (juvenile historical fiction) 2006
Sky Boys: How They Built the Empire State Building [illustrations by James E. Ransome] (juvenile historical fiction) 2006
Up before Daybreak: Cotton and People in America (juvenile nonfiction) 2006


Deborah Hopkinson and Sharon L. McElmeel (interview date November-December 1998)

SOURCE: Hopkinson, Deborah, and Sharon L. McElmeel. "Author Profile: Deborah Hopkinson." Library Talk 11, no. 5 (November-December 1998): 20-1.

[In the following interview, Hopkinson discusses her personal history, her writing career, and the inspiration behind her debut book, Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt.]

Little in Deborah Hopkinson's background would hint at her ability to weave a powerful story of African-Americans and slavery, but that is exactly what she did when she authored Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt. Since that first picture book was published, Hopkinson has authored several additional titles, each focusing on a historical event or person. Her New England childhood has brought her settings for stories published since Sweet Clara, but the plots themselves are woven from her passion for learning about the past.

Deborah Hopkinson grew up in Lowell, Massachusetts, attended college in Massachusetts and Hawaii, and lived in Hawaii for 19 years before settling in Walla Walla, Washington, where she currently is development director for Whitman College. The story idea for Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt began to form one morning when Hopkinson heard a story on National Public Radio about escape routes for slaves being sewn into quilts. Clearly aware that she was writing about a culture that was not her own, Hopkinson considers herself fortunate to have the book welcomed by children all over the country. "I think my experience of race was certainly affected by living in Honolulu, America's most multicultural city," she adds.

Hopkinson says she has "always, felt Sweet Clara was a gift. Whenever I worked on it, I could close my eyes and almost be there. At the time I wrote it, I hadn't even had one story appear in print. I was just this unknown aspiring writer in the middle of the Pacific Ocean." It took four years for the book to move from manuscript to published book. Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt earned Hopkinson the 1994 International Reading Association's award for a first picture book.

James Ransome's full-page illustrations are the ultimate complement to Hopkinson's text, and his dedication provides the first clue to the connection he made with the story. "For Emma Ransom, the first slave of Pattie and General Matt W. Ransom, and all the other Ransom slaves on Verona Plantation." In the book, slaves from the Verona Plantation play an important part in the gathering of escape information. Hopkinson says, "Of course we put the Verona Plantation in to reflect the fact that his [Ransome's] family were slaves there. James researched the book's illustrations in part at Colonial Williamsburg's Carter's Grove Plantation, but he also traced down Verona."

When Deborah Hopkinson started writing, her daughter, Rebekah, was only three, and Deborah was reading many children's books. With her schedule at that time, writing something short seemed more realistic. Hopkinson says, "I guess my inspiration here is the Australian writer Patricia Wrightson, who wrote one of my favorite books, The Nargun and the Stars. Wrightson worked for years as a hospital administrator and raised two children as a single mom."

Hopkinson wrote for two years without selling anything. Finally, in January 1990, Cricket Magazine published her story, "Skate, Kirsten, Skate." The author has three more books coming out and notes that, "You can't think about pressure; you can only think about being true to the story." While the success of Sweet Clara will be difficult to match, Hopkinson is strongly committed to each of her current projects.

"Silversmith's Daughter," a story that appeared in Cricket, was written after Hopkinson was wandering the stacks at the University of Hawaii library one day and found a picture of the inkstand used to sign the Declaration of Independence. After reading a travel book about a lighthouse in Iceland, her research helped her develop the premise for Birdie's Lighthouse, which was nominated for the Maine Library Association's Lupine Award.

Hopkinson's Maria's Comet, which will be illustrated by Deborah Lanino and published in 1999, was written after Hopkinson discovered Maria Mitchell's name on an Internet calendar of women in history.

A Band of Angels, also scheduled for publication in 1999, tells the story of Ella Sheppard and the Jubilee Singers of Fisk University, who in 1871 introduced the songs of slaves while on a fund-raising tour of America and Europe. Their tour raised enough money to save their school. A Band of Angels is being illustrated by Raul Colon.

Hopkinson's books and stories often feature strong female protagonists. Those come about, she says, because, "in a way I'm writing the stories I wanted to read as a child. But even more, as in the case of Ella Sheppard and Maria Mitchell, I find their stories so compelling. Writing about them is one way to share this excitement with others."

Deborah and her husband, artist Andy Thoms, are the parents of 13-year-old Rebekah and 11-year-old Dimitri. During her entire 10-plus-year writing career, Hopkinson has worked full-time. "I really don't have a regular schedule for writing," she notes. "When I am revising, I often stay up late several nights a week. I try to write when my kids are in bed." Hopkinson says her goal is "to write stories good enough, important enough, that if a library didn't have much money, they would still want to have them." In addition to the books scheduled for publication in 1999, Hopkinson has a story coming out in Cricket about the way pioneers brought seeds and plants with them when they came West. Her story about Fannie Farmer, entitled Fannie in the Kitchen, to be illustrated by Nancy Carpenter, is scheduled for publication in 2000 as is another title, Under the Quilt of the Night, which will be illustrated by James Ransome.

Deborah Hopkinson (essay date February 2005)

SOURCE: Hopkinson, Deborah. "The Day Is Long: Exploring Immigrant Lives through Fiction and Nonfiction." Library Media Connection 23, no. 5 (February 2005): 48.

[In the following essay, Hopkinson discusses her goals and methodology for constructing simultaneous fictional and nonfictional accounts of immigrant life in early twentieth-century New York City in such works as Hear My Sorrow, the Diary of Angela Denoto, a Shirtwaist Worker and Shutting Out the Sky: Life in the Tenements of New York, 1880–1924.]

Before I left Russia, some people said about America: "All you have to do is to get a big shovel and a sack, and you go into the street and shovel the gold into the sack."

         —Abraham Gamberg, Ukrainian immigrant1

In 1901, a young girl named Pauline Newman came to New York City from Lithuania. At age thirteen she began working at the Triangle Waist Company, a large factory making popular shirtwaist blouses.

Like most garment workers, Pauline averaged fifty-six hours per week, laboring from eight until six during the week and eight to five on Saturdays. Sometimes the girls worked on Sundays, too. Workers had few rights. Benefits and job security were unknown. Pauline remembered a sign in the factory: "If you don't come in on Sunday you need not come in on Monday."2

One night Pauline went to her apartment and wrote about the drudgery of her work. "Every day the same foreman, the same forelady, the same shirtwaists, shirtwaists and more shirtwaists. The same machines, the same surroundings. The day is long and the task tiresome…. In despair I ask,—dear God will it ever be different?"

Pauline sent her thoughts to the Jewish Daily Forward, a Yiddish newspaper read by many Jewish workers. To her surprise, the newspaper printed her words, which launched Pauline on a lifelong journey of activism. "… In a small way I became the voice of the less articulate young men and women with whom I worked, and with whom later I was to join in the fight for improved working conditions and a better life for us all."

I was familiar with Pauline Newman as a labor organizer of the early 20th century. Yet I didn't discover her oral history, containing fascinating details of her early life, until I began researching two books (one fiction and the other nonfiction) about immigrants and workers in New York City at the turn of the 20th century.

Dear America: Hear My Sorrow, the Diary of Angela Denoto, a Shirtwaist Worker, was published by Scholastic Inc. in October 2004. Hear My Sorrow is the fictionalized story of a 14-year-old Italian immigrant girl during the shirtwaist strike of 1909 and the Triangle Waist Company fire in March 1911. My research on this period also led to a nonfiction book on immigrant life in the tenements published in October 2003 by Orchard Books. Shutting Out the Sky: Life in the Tenements of New York, 1880–1924 has been named a Jane Addams Peace Award honor book, an NCTE Orbis Pictus honor book, and an IRA Teachers' Choice selection.

I believe both historical fiction and nonfiction have a place in helping students learn about the past, yet it's important that students understand the difference. And that's not always easy.

When I speak to students in schools, I always begin with questions and answers about the kinds of books they like, which naturally leads to the discussion of the genre of historical fiction. I emphasize that most of my stories are made-up, even if parts of them are based on true facts and require accurate research. In general, I find that students seem to understand the difference, and are well prepared by library media specialists and teachers. Still, I come back to these points again and again as we look at slides of artwork or period photographs.

A Dichotomy

Writing both a fictional and nonfiction book on the same period was an interesting process. As I worked on my fictional story, Hear My Sorrow, my goal was not only to capture emotional truth, but also be as accurate as possible about details of the period. At the same time, I wanted to infuse my nonfiction book, Shutting Out the Sky, with compelling storytelling techniques that would pull young readers into the story. Approached this way, the books were like two sides of the same coin. And my research process was much the same for both.

For instance, when researching Hear My Sorrow, I discovered that most of the standard academic sources on the 1909 shirtwaist strike focus on the role of Jewish strikers. But my protagonist in Hear My Sorrow is Italian. Therefore, I sent my first draft, which depended heavily on the standard literature available, to historian Donna Gabaccia, whose published articles and books on Italian immigration I used extensively. Dr. Gabaccia not only offered an extensive critique, she introduced me to a young professor, Dr. Jennifer Guglielmo of Smith College, who was uncovering new information on the complexities of Italian women's involvement in labor history. Thanks to the help of these two scholars, I was able to go beyond standard sources to bring more historical accuracy and complexity to the story.

In Shutting Out the Sky, I wanted to provide an introduction to tenement life in New York City during the peak years of American immigration at the turn of the century, when more than 20 million people, primarily from Russia, Eastern Europe, and Italy, came to America. Yet I did not want the book to read like a textbook. Also, I recognized that with such great numbers of people, it's sometimes hard to grasp the fact that each person was an individual, with his or her own family, culture, language, and story. That's why I chose to tell the story of immigrant life in New York through the voices and stories of a few individuals who came to America as children and young adults. As much as possible, I tried to focus on what life was like for young immigrants, including chapters on coming to America, first impressions, education, work, and family life.

Fiction vs Nonfiction

Fictional stories use words to paint an emotional picture of characters in a specific setting, but one of the most exciting parts of working on this nonfiction book was the photo research. The period photographs in Shutting Out the Sky help young readers imagine the details of daily life. Not only can young people read about the kinds of jobs children performed, they can also see kids their own age making a fort on a fire escape, working as messenger boys, or playing in the streets.

Many of us can trace our family histories back to Ellis Island; others belong to families that have come to this country more recently. Immigration, voluntary or forced, is a major theme of United States history, and a topic that students will return to again and again. I hope library media specialists and teachers will find my new books a useful addition to what is already a rich array of resources—(nonfiction, fiction, and primary sources)—as we all seek to make sense of our past, our present, and our future.


1. Bales, Carol. Tales of the Elders: A Memory Book of Men and Women Who Came to America as Immigrants, 1900–1930. Chicago: Follett Publishing Company, 1977, p. 17.

2. Ibid, p. 15.


Olga Idriss Davis (essay date spring 1998)

SOURCE: Davis, Olga Idriss. "The Rhetoric of Quilts: Creating Identity in African-American Children's Literature." African-American Review 32, no. 1 (spring 1998): 67-76.

[In the following essay, Davis explores how quilt-making is utilized as a rhetorical tool for exploring African American history in several children's novels, including Hopkin-son's Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt.]

Learning to read and write are two of the greatest accomplishments in the life of a child. The ability to create language, make meaning, and transform reality by the use of symbols provides children creative opportunities to engage the world. Language becomes the vehicle for children to locate their place in the world and to understand the social and political implications of their society. Literacy is not simply learning how to read words but, more importantly, how to "read the world" (Freire and Macedo 7). Providing children a space to locate themselves in history makes them present as agents in the struggle for self-definition and cultural identity. Their learning, then, becomes a pedagogy of empowerment and liberation.

African-American literary works have been inspired by quilt-making (Benberry 79), and several African-American women authors of children's literature have embraced this notion of reading the world by employing the quilt tradition in their stories. The implication that quilting reveals a continuum of African-American women's experience and creative expression is a recurrent theme in such works as Deborah Hopkinson's Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, Faith Ringgold's Aunt Harriet's Underground Railroad in the Sky, Courtni C. Wright's Journey to Freedom, Valerie Flournoy's The Patchwork Quilt, Patricia McKissack's Mirandy and Brother Wind, and Bettye Stroud's Down Home at Miss Dessa's. These authors present the quilt in ways which conceptualize identity and redefine history, setting in place a dialectical tension between traditional learning and critical literacy.

While traditional learning encourages the dominant discourse of cultural hegemony, critical literacy redefines the parameters of knowledge and power by making a space for oppressed voices to name their experience, reclaim their history, and transform their future. The stories of Hopkinson, Ringgold, Wright, Flournoy, McKissack, and Stroud contribute to literacy by advancing the tradition of the quilt as a form of resistance to structures of dominance and control. Working within the historical context of Black culture, these six authors provide a space for teaching children the history of struggle and the importance of family relationships. Houston Baker and Charlotte Pierce-Baker point out that "the patchwork quilt … opens a fascinating interpretive window on vernacular dimensions of lived, creative experience in the United States. Quilts, in their patched and many-colored glory offer not a counter to tradition, but, in fact, an instance of the only legitimate tradition of 'the people' that exists" (714). Baker and Pierce-Baker underscore the transformative role of the quilt. Its symbolic nature transforms children into a community of readers of the world and of culture by illuminating Black experience in America through rhetorical art.

It is therefore not only useful but insightful to examine how African-American women writers incorporate the quilt tradition in children's stories and reveal the rhetorical nature of Black women's ability to transcend adversity. Rhetoric points to the legacy of a people struggling for symbols of expression through pieces of cloth and a myriad of colors. The quilt uncovers the choice of symbols Black women used within their community to create a shared, common meaning of self and the world. Thus, the quilt serves as a vehicle for re-inventing the symbolic expression of identity and freedom.

The heritage of motherhood of African-American women is illuminated by the cultural artifact of the quilt (Benberry 19; hooks 116; Wahlman and Scully 80). The quilt represents, on one hand, the African tradition of folk art and embroidery and, on the other, a political symbol of resistance by Black women to the oppression in America of being both Black and female. The Negro spiritual "I Ain't No Ways Tired" suggests one of the major characteristics of Black women's history-survival. Despite the dualities of racism and sexism, field and domestic labor, and the double duty of motherhood for both white and black children, African-American women developed methods for surviving. Hurled into slavery and oppression they, because of "brutal circumstances [,] were forced to promote the consciousness and practice of resistance" (Angela Davis 5). Black women weaved resistance into their daily lives of motherhood in the slave community.

I contend that Black women maintained their centrality to the African-American community by creating a cultural form of resistance that would transcend experience, reshape their world, and re-invent the form throughout generations. The quilt became a covert manifestation of resistance within the context of storytelling. Upon first impression, the quilt represented skill, aesthetic beauty, and charm (Benberry 23). However, upon deeper viewing, the weaving of stories into quilts became a way for Black women to defy the system of slavery. Quilts often served in the antebellum period as "codes" for escape to freedom. The stories of Hopkinson, Ringgold, and Wright underscore the defiance of Black women to slavery by means of the quilt as a code. Their stories create a culture of the quilt which names experience and reclaims the history of the struggles and triumphs of freedom.

Central to each author's work is a woman-centered ethic of motherhood. Woven within this ethic are motifs of struggle, survival, and family relationships. Barbara Christian acknowledges the theme of motherhood as central to the philosophy of both African and African-American peoples as well as its function as a symbol of creativity and continuity (214). Of motherhood and its relationship to freedom she states, "… it is related to the historical process within which these people have been engaged, a process that is an intertwining of tradition, enslavement, and the struggle for their people's freedom" (213).

In Deborah Hopkinson's Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt (1993), Afrocentric motherhood borders the quilt motif through means of empowerment and liberation. An enslaved girl torn from her mother at the age of twelve, Clara is sent to work in the fields on another plantation. Pained by the separation from her natural mother, Clara is brought up by an "other-mother" in the community of slaves (Hill-Collins 129). Aunt Rachel represents the tradition of extended-family networks of black women who nurture and take personal accountability for all the Black community's children. Learning from Aunt Rachel, Clara is rescued from field work and develops the skill of sewing. She is characterized as a young girl who transforms herself and her community through the representation of the quilt. Attempting to assist her community, to reach the Underground Railroad, Clara pieces together scraps of cloth with scraps of information gathered from other slaves to create a quilt "map" that provides the codes of escape and, ultimately, freedom.

Situating motherhood in its historic and cultural space, Hopkinson centers Clara in the exigencies of slavery and oppression, thereby providing an exploration into the quilt as a symbol of the political struggle of African Americans for freedom. The rhetoric of the quilt in Hopkinson's story illustrates the ways in which othermothers in the slave community taught their young women essential elements of resistance and liberation through symbols of expression and narrativity. For Hopkinson's readers, Clara's quilt provides cultural insight into the meaning of slavery from young children's perspectives. Clara represents the way in which youth of the African-American enslaved resisted with self-definition, self-valuation, and empowerment.

Upon escaping to freedom through the memory of her stitched quilt, Clara states,

We went north, following the trail of the freedom quilt. All the things people told me about, all the tiny stitches I took, now I could see real things…. It was like being in a dream you already dreamed.


Each stitch represents Clara's determination to keep the dream of freedom alive while making certain she "works" toward that freedom. An implicit message for readers is that children, too, are agents of change. Taking responsibility for one's own education is to stitch today's skills for tomorrow's successes. Clara's stitches reveal to young readers that they, too, may locate themselves in the history of America and learn that, even in oppression, there are ways of resistance and liberation. Through her quilted map, Clara reunites with her mother and reaches freedom. The quilt remains at the plantation in the slave quarters to aid in the journey for others. Clara concludes, "Sometimes I wish I could sew a quilt that would spread over the whole land, and the people just follow the stitches to freedom, as easy as taking a Sunday walk" (28). This statement signifies a child's willingness to make, and faith in making, all things right with her artistic expression of goodness and freedom. But the road to freedom is unlike the "yellow brick road" that leads to the Land of Oz. Freedom is a long and arduous journey, a fabric pieced together from a legacy of survival.

Author Faith Ringgold also captures the place of quilts in African-American history when she employs the symbol of the North Star motif in her story quilts and presents its rhetoric as a message of protection. Ringgold's characters in Aunt Harriet's Underground Railroad in the Sky (1992), along with her celebrated artistic work, examine the legacy of African-American women's history. Her story quilts in the form of children's books re-claim Black women's lives of remembering, celebrating, and giving praise (hooks 115) while also revealing a desire so often expressed by African Americans—to fly away from oppression to freedom.

The rhetoric of the quilt in this story frames Afrocentric motherhood in its ethic of care. With Harriet Tub-man as her guide, Cassie retraces the steps escaping slaves took on the Underground Railroad in order to reunite with her younger brother Be Be. The story chronicles the siblings' attempt to escape slavery and, with the help of Aunt Harriet, reach Canada.

The role of Aunt Harriet provides young readers an understanding of the quilt as a code of solidarity, shelter, and safety for slaves in the ante-bellum period. Not only does Ringgold's story locate young readers in history, but it also challenges them to learn of the quilt as a guiding force when danger is near. The quilt symbolizes the struggle to claim self and freedom:

Aunt Harriet's whispering voice said, "Go on to a weather-beaten frame house with a star quilt flung on the roof. If you don't see the quilt, hide in the woods until it appears. Then it is safe to go in. The next night, follow the road to the bridge, several miles away."


Be Be and Cassie reunite in the sky with a circle of Black women dressed in white flying around them. That they are Black women surrounding the children in the sky reveals another theme of African-American culture. The women provide a physical and psychological base for shielding Cassie and Be Be while transforming their future with the success of flying to freedom. Ringgold's illustration of women in white signifies the spirituality of motherhood—the circle of love, peace, and the powerful symbol it represents for the community's well-being. Ringgold employs the rhetoric of the quilt in unique ways by placing "othermothers" in the center of safety for the young. While claiming the narrative as a way of engaging young readers to enter into the sociopolitical reality of the nineteenth century, she transforms their future through literacy for the twenty-first. In addition, young readers locate the importance of their lives interwoven with the lives of their grand-ancestors. As the sister-brother team embrace, they reflect upon their journey, the pain of separation, and the loss of the family bond—all central issues in the experiences of their ancestors. Cassie and Be Be respond to their world of newfound freedom thus:

I kissed Be Be over and over, and I made him promise he'd never, ever leave me again. "I love you, Cassie, but I had to go," Be Be said. "Freedom is more important than just staying together, and what's more, I got to ride on the Underground Railroad with Harriet Tubman. Now I know what our great-great-grandparents survived when they were children."


Young readers are invited to enter the family bond between sisters and brothers who, despite the vicissitudes of life, maintain the heritage of the ancestors. Surviving and maintaining kinship, in spite of all adversity, are of the utmost importance.

Courtni C. Wright's Journey to Freedom (1994) also emphasizes the role of the quilt on the Underground Railroad to freedom. Within the rhetoric of the enslaved, the language of freedom is rich with metaphor, simile, and spiritual symbolism of faith and trust, coupled with the struggles and fears associated with escape. Harriet Tubman, the "conductor" on the Underground Railroad, is portrayed in simile as both a type of Moses leading her people out of bondage to freedom and a political activist who, when necessary, reveals her pistol as a weapon to protect her passengers.

The Underground Railroad was a network of safe houses, and enslaved African Americans were passengers who slept and ate in barns, cellars, and secret rooms during the day. At night, the passengers continued northward until they reached "station masters" who hid them until it was safe to continue their escape. Station masters were abolitionists, supporters of the antislavery movement, and people with a consciousness to assist African Americans with shelter, food, and clothing on their journey.

Wright employs the quilt as a turning point in the story of the last few days of one family's journey to reach freedom in Ontario, Canada. While leading escaped slaves out of bondage, Harriet Tubman waits for the code of safety represented by the quilt. As the family approaches the station master's house, a quilt awaits them on the porch. The narrator of the story, young Joshua, explains:

Each morning at dawn, we stop at the edge of the forest until we see the station master hang a quilt on the porch railing. If it has the color black in its pattern, we walk into the yard. It is the "All's clear" sign known only by the conductors and station masters on the Railroad.


Here the tradition of the quilt is a rhetorical artifact of conscience. That is, the patterns and colors symbolize the political exigencies of slavery and express the concern of White Americans about the importance of moral, social, and ethical issues of the time. The quilt functions to alter reality by providing information about a hiding place for weary fugitive slaves. For the dominant culture, a quilt hung on a porch gave it freshness, while the enslaved saw the quilt as a symbol of hope for life in freedom's land. Freedom was within reach when the quilt was within sight.

As the Negro spiritual "I Shall Not Be Moved" reflects a tree planted by the water, the quilt shall not be moved as a tradition of defiance and dialectical response to social and political circumstances. The rhetoric of the quilt exposes systems of domination and illuminates the ways in which marginalized groups contest their lived experiences and express their meanings of the world. Furthermore, the quilt represents a ritualized practice of connection-making, unification, and harmonizing (Hillard 116).

Wright illustrates the quilt as an icon of a working community. Not only is the community a subversive element, but the story teaches young readers that engaging in a unity of purpose between Black and White Americans is possible when ethical and moral principles seek innovative methods to engender equitable rights and privileges. The rhetorical purpose of the quilt, then, is to invite young readers into the meaning-making process of history, while providing a public space for naming their experience and renaming the world.

The works of Flournoy, McKissack, and Stroud point to cultural identity in a rhetorical motif of Black family traditions. In The Patchwork Quilt by Valerie Flournoy (1985), cultural identity is created by the rhetoric of Black family experience. Flournoy provides the story of three generations of African-American women by presenting a motif of the daily task of women creating a quilt. She explores the relationship between a grandmother and her granddaughter Tanya who, when her grandmother falls ill, takes up the quilt and completes it, illustrating the circle of the African-American family tradition that will not be broken. Flournoy symbolically joins diverse pieces of experience, trust, and sharing into a coherent pattern that is both a history of African-American mothers as well as the transformational experience of young Tanya by way of the quilt.

Tanya's grandmother is introduced as a symbol of power, not as a white-male-created matriarchal figure (Hill-Collins 117); she is a recorder of family history. She teaches Tanya the language of respect for the quilt, raising her consciousness to appreciate the scraps and pieces of cloth that are symbolic of the day-to-dayness of life and its experiences:

"Whatcha gonna do with all that stuff?" Tanya asked.

"Stuff? These ain't stuff. These little pieces gonna make me a quilt, a patchwork quilt."

"I know what a quilt is, Grandma. There's one on your bed, but it's old and dirty and Mama can never get in clean."

"It ain't dirty, honey. It's worn, the way it's supposed to be…. My mother made me a quilt when I wasn't any older than you. But sometimes the old ways are forgotten."


The transformative power of relationships between Black women and children is not intended to control or dominate, according to Patricia Hill-Collins. Rather, the child's knowing of her or his place in tradition transforms and binds the family, uplifts the race, and provides members of the family and community self-reliance and independence essential for resistance (132).

Flournoy employs the quilt as a symbol of transformation because it recalls and speaks to the past. Grandmother reminds Tanya that"'… a quilt won't forget. It can tell your life story'" (9). Tanya reaffirms this notion by reminding her mother of the power of the quilt. That grandmother is not alone inside the house as family members frolic in the snow is the basis for Tanya's explanation:

"I don't like leaving Grandma in that house by herself," Mama said. "I know she's lonely."

"Grandma isn't lonely," Tanya said happily. "She and the quilt are telling each other stories."

Mama glanced questioningly at Tanya, "Telling each other stories?"

"Yes, Grandma says a quilt never forgets!"


Tanya's mother, Mama, appears detached from the symbolic power of Afrocentric motherhood. A product of the black middle class, she has become alien-ated from the cultural heritage symbolized by the quilt. Her embrace of Western culture causes her to value the commodification and mass production of the quilt rather than its African threads rooted in the transforming power of family experience. Mama exclaims to Grandma:

"You don't need these scraps. I can get you a quilt."

Grandma looked at her daughter and then turned to her grandchild. "Yes, your mama can get you a quilt from any department store. But it won't be like my patchwork quilt, and it won't last as long either."


It is not until she has a personal experience with Tanya's grandmother in the presence of the quilt that Mama returns to her identity stitched within the values of traditional African culture:

Mama sat at the old woman's feet. Tanya … knew Grandma was telling Mama all about quilts and how this quilt would be very special … then she saw Mama pick up a piece of fabric, rub it with her fingers, and smile. From that moment on both women spent their winter evenings working on the quilt.


Motherhood woven with the rhetoric of the quilt tradition offers Mama a way of transforming her self-identity and cultural identity. She locates herself in the realm of an intergenerational continuum, connecting her to mother, daughter, and African female ancestors. In so doing, Mama reclaims the tradition of Afrocentric motherhood and becomes a "bridge," as it were, between Grandma and Tanya. Her transformation becomes more evident when Grandma falls ill and cannot complete the quilt she calls "her masterpiece." Mama demonstrates the ethics of caring and personal accountability by looking after her mother, on the one hand, and continuing the daily task of the quilt with Tanya, on the other:

[Tanya] knew how to cut the scraps, but she wasn't certain of the rest. Just then Tanya felt a hand resting on her shoulder. She looked up and saw Mama. "… You cut more squares, Tanya, while I stitch some patches together," Mama said.


The mother-child relationship is often submitted in literature from the perspective of mothers' influences on their children. However, the rhetoric of the quilt informs how Black children affirm their mothers and how important that affirmation is in a society which denigrates Blackness and Afrocentric motherhood. In her essay "A Child of One's Own," Alice Walker offers this vision: "We are together, my child and I. Mother and child, yes, but sisters really, against whatever denies us all that we are" (75). Flournoy connects the mother-daughter team as spiritual sisters, symbolic of the defiance against the illness which has denied Grandma a place in her family's quilting tradition. In their defiance, Mama and Tanya realize each patch is symbolic of experiences of the entire family, with the exception of Grandma. Removing a few patches from Grandma's old quilt, Tanya stitches her grandmother's experience of transcending illness into the family narrative, which illustrates the power of the child to imbue the Afrocentric tradition and avoid the circle from being broken. Flournoy persuades her readers to see how the quilt in its rhetorical dimension provides a source of renewal, ancestral traditions, and cultural connections to intergenerational relations. With delicate stitches, the quilt offers African-American readers a catalyst for self-definition and empowerment through the folkways of creativity and Afrocentric motherhood.

Patricia McKissack's Mirandy and Brother Wind (1988) weaves the quilt in multiple patterns of symbolic representation. Celebrating small, Black town life, McKissack presents the quilt as a preservation of the social fabric of African-American culture. Integrating nature with dance and the desire of a young girl to win first prize in the Junior Cakewalk provides an insightful look into the quilt as a symbol of the connectedness of a people imbedded in nature and in their community By her efforts to capture the wind, Mirandy attempts to make Brother Wind her partner for the cakewalk celebration.

The cakewalk is a dance rooted in the tradition of enslaved Africans who used the dance as an expression of life and a celebration of grace and pride. For one to win the yearly cakewalk dance contest was an honor. The cakewalk becomes the binding thread to preserve the community's socio-cultural sense of shaping public representation of young people. In the cakewalk, dancers parade in couples while the elders of the community judge them on kicks and swirls, style and precision. At the conclusion of the dance, the winning couple was given a cake to take home. Oftentimes the cakewalk foreshadowed budding relationships developing between the young in the community.

Mirandy seeks the wind for special talents to provide a winning partnership. Grandmama Beasley tries to warn Mirandy of the effervescence and imperceptibility of Brother Wind and confides, "'Can't nobody put shackles on Brother Wind, chile. He be special. He be free'" (5). Mirandy goes throughout the community asking neighbors the ways in which to catch Brother Wind until she is told an old African-American myth:

… put black pepper in Brother Wind's footprints. That would make him sneeze. While he's busy sneezing, slip up behind and throw a quilt over him….


Believing in the mythology of the community, Mirandy tries to conjure Brother Wind:

Mirandy rushed home and got the black-pepper mill and one of Ma Dear's quilts…. Sneaking up behind him, Mirandy commenced to grinding pepper. Then she threw the quilt. But—whoosh! Brother Wind was gone.


Mirandy is incapable of capturing Brother Wind with the quilt because its symbolic purpose is violated by her action. The rhetorical distinction of the quilt is to liberate rather than confine. As an oppressive force, Mirandy's use of the quilt is antithetical to the symbolic representation of freedom. Young readers are invited into a dialectic of the struggle to be free, on the one hand, and the dynamics between oppressed and oppressor, on the other. More importantly, readers of this story see the quilt used as a contradiction to its sociopolitical intent. Thus, McKissack employs the quilt to engage readers into a meaning-making dialogue about the political nature of culture. Mirandy realizes that, in order to "have Brother Wind do [her] bidding" (4), she must return the quilt to its traditional "code of safety" and locate other means of persuasion. Later in the story the quilt hangs over the clothesline in the backyard of Mirandy's house, reifying the cultural tradition of the quilt as a symbol of liberation and empowerment.

In The Black Family Dinner Quilt Cookbook, produced by Dorothy I. Height and the National Council of Negro Women, the notion of the quilt as a symbol of resistance and of inter-generational relationships is underscored:

Quilts containing black fabric or made in the Rob Peter to Pay Paul patchwork pattern were hung on clothes lines as a way to signal a refuge for escaping bondsmen. Southern burial traditions also figure into quilting since enslaved African-Americans used quilts to wrap the bodies of their loved ones for their "final journey."


The idea of the quilt as a storytelling device for resistance illuminates the brilliance of slave women to preserve the quilt tradition, and to shape the future through rhetorical means of naming, locating experience, and recalling the past. Like the oral tradition of West Africa, African-American quilts reclaim the values of the ancestors. The communal effort toward safety, security, love, and comfort are pieced together by the old Black folks of Mirandy's community.

In Bettye Stroud's Down Home at Miss Dessa's (1996), young readers are transported into the world of African-American sisters who spend the day caring for an elderly neighbor. The quilt becomes the connecting force between young and old. It symbolizes the passing of an era where companionship of neighbors proved vital to the network and fabric which held together the African-American community. At Miss Dessa's farmhouse on a country dirt road in the South, young girls could learn the tradition of quilting while honoring the elderly who had so much love, knowledge, and experience to share.

The African-American cultural tradition teaches that all children are the responsibility of the community because they are the future of that community Miss Dessa was an "othermother" who embraced this ethic: "Miss Dessa was an old woman … and kept an eye on us—mending each skinned knee or bruised elbow we came crying about. Miss Dessa always knew how to make us feel better" (2). The importance of identifying the role of children in the continuum of community and cultural history is exemplified when Miss Dessa becomes incapacitated. Falling from her porch when her glasses slip from her face, Miss Dessa relies on the love and care of her young neighbors The sisters run home to call Mama and the doctor. Interested in helping Miss Dessa, they mend her glasses with blue yarn found in the yarn bag she uses in making quilts. Confined to her rocker while recovering from the fall, Miss Dessa maintains her quilting work. She teaches the tradition of quiltmaking to the girls while simultaneously securing their bond of friendship, respect, and love, which grows ever stronger:

Miss Dessa sat in her rocker and sewed quilt pieces together. "Sit beside me, Girl, and I'll show you."… Miss Dessa made quilts on a frame that hung from the ceiling. Together we worked on a special quilt for her daughter who lived in New York City.


The quilt provides a connection to the cultural tradition of the South and a bond between generations. Stroud also establishes Miss Dessa as a "keeper of the culture" of Afrocentric sisterhood in constructing a quilt which binds the generations of women in a culture of rural life, homegrown love, and cultural identity. Miss Dessa's daughter may have chosen urban American life in the North, but Miss Dessa keeps her centered in cultural identity by way of the quilt.

The story concludes with the sisters expressing their love for Miss Dessa by reading to her while she sleeps under a patchwork quilt:

"Let's read Miss Dessa a bedtime story," Baby Sister said. I found an old book of fairy tales and read aloud. Miss Dessa snuggled under the patchwork coverlet, her eyelids drooping and her breathing soft. I carefully laid Miss Dessa's glasses on the dresser and Baby Sister tucked her in.


Understanding the quilt as a product of rhetorical invention provides a new perspective on the relationship between narrative and cultural identity. As stories are told and retold from generation to generation, the narrative genre provides a format for a person to understand who he or she is to become and what role the person is to play in society. Walter R. Fisher contends that the stories humans select to tell and to believe demonstrate a "universal logic" of values and common sense (66). This suggests that narration lay at the incipience of understanding all of human communication. In African-American women's communication, the quilt is an expression of the rhetorical nature of art and a representation of Black women's culture:

Story quilts are narrative rather than abstract. They flow directly out of the oral tradition which used story telling as a way to impart the culture and preserve the history of a people. Story telling and the story quilt impart moral and spiritual lessons as well as personal family genealogy for future generations. To view a story quilt is to learn about the quilters, their families, values and life experiences. One has only to review West African history to understand the role of using narrative in the creation of textile pieces.

                                            (Benberry 114)

The rhetoric or narrative of the quilt, then, reveals life in America through the experience of Black women and their ability to transcend adversity. By relaying their experiences in narrative form, Black women have defined and re-defined the parameters of American life for themselves and their communities. Similar to the slave narrative as a cultural artifact, quilts are distinctly rhetorical documents because they "reveal a dimension of language that serves as a means toward an end, with hopes of agreeing upon a distinct vision of society. That vision is freedom" (Olga I. Davis 38). Speaking of the slave narrative Charles Davis and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., state, "… in that lettered utterance is assertion of identity and in identity is freedom—freedom from slavery, freedom from ignorance, freedom from non-being, freedom from even time" (157). The nature of rhetoric viewed from the perspective of the narrative illuminates the works by Flournoy, Hopkinson, Ringgold, McKissack, Stroud, and Wright. In each of their works cultural identity is created by the symbolic tradition of the quilt and its representation of Afrocentric motherhood.

The Negro spiritual "Will The Circle Be Unbroken" provides a rhetorical focus that uncovers the underlying query of Margaret Burroughs's poem concerning African-American existence in the culture of White America: "What shall I tell my children who are Black?" (qtd. in Bell-Scott, et al., xiii). Transforming literacy through the process of reading the world, I submit, is a viable answer. Paulo Freire suggests that education is an act of knowing. He contends to know reality and how it is created is to develop in readers a kind of critical reading or critical understanding of society which allows transformation of self and society (Shor and Freire 45).

Flournoy, Hopkinson, Ringgold, McKissack, Stroud, and Wright speak in their stories with ideologically infused voices. They create a world in which children readers are implored to "hear, believe, and understand" that world (Lanser 291-93). Transforming literacy through the piecing of history, experience, and resistance in their stories suggests that African-American women authors of children's literature continue to make sure the circle of cultural identity is never broken.

Works Cited

Baker, Houston A., Jr., and Charlotte Pierce-Baker. "Patches: Quilts and Community in Alice Walker's 'Everyday Use.'" Southern Review ns 21 (1985): 706-20.

Bell-Scott, Patricia, et al. Double Stitch, New York: Harper, 1991.

Benberry, Cuesta. Always There: The African-American Presence in American Quilts. Louisville: Kentucky Quilt Project, 1992.

Christian, Barbara. Black Feminist Criticism. New York: Pergamon P, 1985.

Davis, Angela. "Reflections on the Black Woman's Role in the Community of Slaves." Black Scholar 3 (Dec. 1971): 3-15.

Davis, Charles, and Henry L. Gates, Jr. The Slave's Narrative. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1985.

Davis, Olga I. "It Be's Hard Sometimes: The Rhetorical Invention of Black Female Persona in Pre-Emancipatory Slave Narratives." Diss. U of Nebraska, 1994.

Fisher, Walter R. Human Communication as Narration: Toward a Philosophy of Reason, Value, and Action. Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 1987.

Flournoy, Valerie. The Patchwork Quilt. New York: Penguin, 1985.

Freire, Paulo, and Donald Macedo. Literacy: Reading the Word and the World. Boston: Bergin & Garvey, 1987.

Height, Dorothy I., and The National Council of Negro Women, Inc. The Black Family Dinner Quilt Cookbook. New York: Fireside, 1993.

Hill-Collins, Patricia. Black Feminist Thought. New York: Routledge, 1990.

Hillard, Van E. "Census, Consensus, and the Com-modification of Form: The NAMES Quilt Project." Quilt Culture: Tracing the Pattern. Ed. Cheryl B. Tornsey and Judy Elsley. Columbia: U of Missouri P, 1994. 112-24.

hooks, bell. Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics. Boston: South End P, 1990.

Hopkinson, Deborah. Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt. New York: Knopf, 1993.

Lanser, Susan S. The Narrative Act: Point of View in Prose Fiction. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1981.

McKissack, Patricia C. Mirandy and Brother Wind. New York: Knopf, 1988.

Ringgold, Faith. Aunt Harriet's Underground Railroad in the Sky. New York: Crown, 1992.

Shor, Ira, and Paulo Freire. A Pedagogy for Liberation. South Hadley: Bergin & Garvey, 1987.

Stroud, Bettye. Down Home at Miss Dessa's. New York: Lee & Low, 1996.

Wahlman, Maude Southwell, and John Scully. "Aesthetic Principles in Afro-American Quilts." Afro-American Folk Arts and Crafts. Ed. William Ferris. Boston: Hall, 1983. 79-97.

Walker, Alice. "A Child of One's Own: A Meaningful Digression within the Work(s)." Ms. 8 (Aug. 1979): 47-50, 72-75.

Wright, Courtni C. Journey to Freedom. New York: Holiday House, 1994.



Luann Toth (review date April 1992)

SOURCE: Toth, Luann. Review of Pearl Harbor, by Deborah Hopkinson. School Library Journal 38, no. 4 (April 1992): 134.

Gr. 4-6—Attractive, serviceable introductions to two national monuments [appear in Hopkinson's Pearl Harbor and Catherine Reef's Ellis Island]. In five readable chapters, each book traces the background and historical significance of its subject and includes a timeline, visitors' information, and a detailed index. There's plenty of information for students writing reports and prospective visitors without overwhelming recreational readers. Black-and-white and full-color photographs and reproductions capture the drama and importance of these sites. However, the maps are small, confusing, and downright misrepresentational. Plenty of other titles are available on Pearl Harbor and World War II for this age group. Fisher's Ellis Island: Gateway to the New World (Holiday, 1986) provides excellent historical coverage and Jacobs's Ellis Island: New Hope in a New Land (Scribners, 1990) includes current information on the renovation of the facility.


Nancy Vasilakis (review date May-June 1993)

SOURCE: Vasilakis, Nancy. Review of Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by James E. Ransome. Horn Book Magazine 69, no. 3 (May-June 1993): 328-29.

Sweet Clara [in Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt ] isn't quite twelve years old when she is separated from her mother and brought to Home Plantation to work in the fields. Clearly unsuited for rigorous physical labor, Clara is taught to sew by Aunt Rachel, the kind woman in whose cabin she has come to live. The industrious girl's skills as a seamstress soon lead her to the Big House. There, she hears gossip about runaway slaves traveling north toward a place called Canada. Surreptitiously, Clara begins to save scraps of colored cloth for a quilt that becomes a map depicting the route of the Underground Railroad and the way to freedom. She eventually escapes herself by the path that has by now been stitched into her memory, leaving the quilt behind as a guide to others. The smooth, optimistic first-person vernacular of the story is ably accompanied by James Ransome's bright, full-page paintings, in which the predominant hues are yellow and green, suggesting the hopeful spirit of those seeking to escape their bonds. The narrative is based on a true incident in African-American history, and the background scenes are modeled after the plantation on which the artist's ancestors worked as slaves. Such a personal approach toward history is a particularly effective way to introduce the subject to younger children, adding a trenchant immediacy to their understanding of a difficult but important chapter in the country's past.

Karen James (review date June 1993)

SOURCE: James, Karen. Review of Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by James E. Ransome. School Library Journal 39, no. 6 (June 1993): 76.

K-Gr. 3—Clara, a young slave, works as a seamstress and dreams of freedom [in Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt ]. Overhearing drovers talk of escaping North enables her to make a patchwork map of the area. When she escapes, she leaves the quilt behind to guide others. Based on a true event, this is a well-written picture book. Ransome's oil paintings, however, are perhaps too smooth and rich for the story they tell. The world depicted is too bright, open, and clean. For example, in the first scene Clara has been put to work in the cotton fields. Supposedly too frail to last long at such work, she is pictured as a slim, serious, yet sturdy girl. The bright yellow sky and the charming smile of the boy with her belie the realities of the back-breaking work. In another scene, young Jack, who has been brought back the day before from running away, looks solemn, but not distressed, and is wearing what appears to be a freshly ironed white shirt. Again, the image distances viewers from the realities of the situation. Clara's escape to Canada, too, is marvelously easy, although she does say, "But not all are as lucky as we were, and most never can come." It is not easy to present the horrors of slavery to young children; thus, even though Ransome's illustrations, and to some extent the text, err on the side of caution, this is an inspiring story worth inclusion in most collections.


Elizabeth Devereaux and Diane Roback (review date 14 April 1997)

SOURCE: Devereaux, Elizabeth, and Diane Roback. Review of Birdie's Lighthouse, by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Kimberly Bulcken Root. Publishers Weekly 244, no. 15 (14 April 1997): 74-5.

Inspired by stories of real 19th-century lighthouse heroines, this atmospheric book [Birdie's Lighthouse ] uses a diary format to shape a portrait of a brave and likable girl. The tall-format volume, slender and graceful much like a lighthouse itself, whisks readers to the rocky Maine coast. There, on tiny Turtle Island, a 10-year-old girl takes up residence in a lighthouse when her father is appointed keeper in 1855. Born in a seaside cottage on a night the waves roared "awful loud," the girl has been told that she is "kin to the ocean," although her diary entries, which sensitively recount the difficulties she faces in adjusting to a harsh life of isolation, express some initial skepticism. Her dedication to her new life is realized in a dramatic episode in which, filling in for her ill father, she keeps the whale-oil lamps burning through a stormy northeaster so that her brother's fishing boat can reach harbor safely. Fine, meticulous strokes and a preponderance of shadowy blues and grays give Root's (When the Whippoorwill Calls) pen-and-ink and watercolor pictures the look of etchings. The accomplished art underscores the immediacy of Hop-kinson's (Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt ) narrative and its careful attention to period and setting. While the text is unlikely to be mistaken for the voice of an actual young girl, its nuances of feeling and historical detail shine through. Ages 4-9.

Mary M. Burns (review date July-August 1997)

SOURCE: Burns, Mary M. Review of Birdie's Lighthouse, by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Kimberly Bulcken Root. Horn Book Magazine 73, no. 4 (July-August 1997): 443.

A tall and slender book size adds an unusual physical dimension to [Birdie's Lighthouse, ] this glimpse of life on a small lighthouse island in mid-nineteenth-century Maine. Using a diary format, the author maintains the perspective and voice of a ten-year-old girl without sounding forced, as Birdie, the central character, describes her heroic efforts to keep the warning lights blazing during a northeaster when her father is too ill to work. The story is carefully structured with sufficient foreshadowing to make Birdie's feat plausible. (And if there are still doubters, an author's note describes similar real-life deeds by female watchers on these lonely outposts.) The artwork, watercolor with pen and ink, uses superb composition and an authoritative palette, recalling the feeling of the sea in the work of Ardizzone. In an exemplary assemblage of genre paintings perfectly attuned to the flow of the text, the whole is restrained yet charged with emotion.


Paul Gediman and Jonathan Bing (review date 4 January 1999)

SOURCE: Gediman, Paul, and Jonathan Bing. Review of A Band of Angels: A Story Inspired by the Jubilee Singers, by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Raúl Colón. Publishers Weekly 246, no. 1 (4 January 1999): 90.

A groundbreaking African-American chorus founded in 1871 inspires this warm and moving picture book [A Band of Angels: A Story Inspired by the Jubilee Singers ]. "Grandma Ella was born into slavery … but no one could chain her voice," begins Aunt Beth in response to the girl narrator's request for her favorite story. After the Civil War, Ella becomes one of the first students to attend the Fisk School, a newly formed institution for freed slaves in Nashville. She has been at her studies only a short time when the school's run-down buildings and dire financial situation puts Fisk on the verge of closing. But Professor White, who teaches music, recruits Ella and fellow members of the school chorus to tour the northern states and raise money for Fisk. In the North, the singing group meets with harsh discrimination that moves them to perform not the slotted popular tunes of the day but the "powerful songs of courage" known as spirituals—a program change that earns them both money and accolades. Hopkinson's (Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt ) lilting text interweaves subtle details about racial tensions after the Civil War while emphasizing the importance of education and of being true to oneself. Colón's (My Mama Had a Dancing Heart) watercolor and coloredpencil compositions are awash in soft, golden light. His characteristic crosshatching technique adds texture and depth to each painting, and scenes of the chorus lost in song—voices raised, eyes closed—reveal the courage and heart of these trailblazing singers. Ages 5-8.

Joanna Rudge Long (review date March-April 1999)

SOURCE: Long, Joanna Rudge. Review of A Band of Angels: A Story Inspired by the Jubilee Singers, by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Raúl Colón. Horn Book Magazine 75, no. 2 (March-April 1999): 190-91.

Founded for former slaves in 1866, Fisk School (now Fisk University) had a struggle to survive its early years. To raise money, music teacher George White took his group, the Jubilee Singers, on tour. At first, the popular music they sang failed to attract an audience; but when they offered the hitherto unfamiliar music of their own heritage, they not only became famous but were also instrumental in introducing spirituals to the world. With the help of Fisk librarian Beth Howse (great-granddaughter of Ella Sheppard, the singers' pianist), Hopkinson tells Ella's fictionalized story [in A Band of Angels ] as it's related by "Aunt Beth" to a niece who treasures this significant family history and imagines what it was like to be part of the historic group. Beginning with Ella's struggle to earn tuition for a longed-for education and the determination of all the students to keep their school alive, Hopkinson credits Ella herself with the dramatic turnaround when a bored audience was finally captivated. On the spur of the moment, Ella played and sang "Many Thousand Gone"; the others joined in, to ringing applause. Ironically, the tour became such a success that they never returned to Fisk to graduate; they did, however, save their school. Colon's handsome illustrations—monumental figures in richly textured brown, blue, and rust suffused with the golden tones of old photos—capture the dignity of the singers and the eloquence of their performance. A note on the history of the Jubilee Singers, who still perform, closes the book; endpapers feature portraits of nine of the singers.


Jennifer M. Brown and Diane Roback (review date 11 October 1999)

SOURCE: Brown, Jennifer M., and Diane Roback. Review of Maria's Comet, by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Deborah Lanino. Publishers Weekly 246, no. 41 (11 October 1999): 75.

This poetic picture book [Maria's Comet ] imagines the childhood of Maria Mitchell, America's first woman astronomer. Like Hopkinson's previous heroines (Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt; Birdie's Lighthouse ), Maria (pronounced ma-RYE-ah) possesses determination, a questioning spirit and a gentle heart. Though Maria helps her mother care for her eight siblings and keeps tidy their home on Nantucket Island in the early 1800s, she never loses her infectious love for the stars, a passion she inherited from her father. When her brother Andrew asks her to run away with him to a life on the sea, Maria determines, "I will be an explorer, but I want to sail the sea of stars." The author plants the seeds for Maria's later accomplishments (the first professor of astronomy at Vassar; a co-founder of the Association for the Advancement of Women) in the first-person narrative: "Each constellation is a patchwork of stories / passed down from the beginning of time." Lanino (The Littlest Angel) augments this powerful image with an equally potent rendering of Maria's rooftop communion with the stars, her eyes wide as the celestial configurations illuminate the sky. The artist closes the distance between earth and stars with the warmth and softness that permeate each illustration. This lilting story, combined with closing notes on both Mitchell and astronomy, will likely ignite further interest in its passionate protagonist. Ages 4-8.


Jeff Zaleski, Diane Roback, Jennifer M. Brown, and Jason Britton (review date 23 April 2001)

SOURCE: Zaleski, Jeff, Diane Roback, Jennifer M. Brown, and Jason Britton. Review of Bluebird Summer, by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Bethanne Andersen. Publishers Weekly 248, no. 17 (23 April 2001): 78.

In this affecting collaboration [Bluebird Summer ], Hopkinson (Fannie in the Kitchen ) and Anderson (Seven Brave Women) use the renewal of nature to echo the cycle of life after two children lose their grandmother. Narrator Mags and her younger brother, Cody, have spent each summer on their grandparents' farm, where bluebirds always graced the fence bordering Grandma's garden. But after Grandma's death, Gramps sold off his wheat fields, and new houses have replaced the trees in which the birds used to nest and weeds have overtaken the garden. Mags and Cody, each in their own way, begin their efforts to coax the bluebirds back. And when their grandfather realizes their plan, "It was one of those moments that gathers everything into it. It gathered the birdhouse and the garden. It gathered us and our love for Grandma and all our summer days and nights together." Hopkinson's prose expresses the tightly knit love of the family without going over the top, and she wisely avoids a contrived conclusion. Readers do not witness the return of the birds, but Mags leaves them with a convincing note of optimism that the flock will reappear the following spring. Against a wheat-colored backdrop, Andersen's wispy, light-filled gouache and oil paintings effectively capture the tale's considerable emotion and hope. An inspiring story about coping with loss and honoring personal legacies. Ages 6-up.

Karen Land (review date May 2001)

SOURCE: Land, Karen. Review of Bluebird Summer, by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Bethanne Andersen. School Library Journal 47, no. 5 (May 2001): 123-24.

Gr. 2-5—When Mags, the narrator, and her younger brother, Cody, visit Gramps at the farm [in Bluebird Summer ], they realize how different things are without Grandma. Although the wheat fields are still present, they belong to someone else. Grandma's garden is "a tangle of thistles and grass." Cody wonders where the bluebirds are and his sister remembers that Grandma said she had a deal with them. She'd grow their favorite foods and, in return, they'd warble in each new day. Mags begins to restore the garden while Cody studies the birds' habits. When he appears to be missing, his grandfather gets a call from Mr. Nelson's general store. Cody has walked the two miles to the store all by himself and has purchased a bluebird nesting box with his own money. Together, Gramps and Cody comfort one another and help build a loving memorial to Grandma. Coupled with the rich text are wheat-colored pages containing hints of painted flowers, nests, or bluebird eggs that blend into the splendid illustrations. A concluding section, "About Bluebirds," states that these birds "were once one of America's most common birds" and notes the address and Web site for the North American Bluebird Society.


Susan P. Bloom (review date May-June 2001)

SOURCE: Bloom, Susan P. Review of Fannie in the Kitchen, by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter. Horn Book Magazine 77, no. 3 (May-June 2001): 312.

Resourceful Marcia Shaw resents the intrusion of cook Fannie Farmer into her Victorian home, but Fannie wins Marcia over by making the young girl her assistant in the kitchen [in Fannie in the Kitchen ]. When Marcia, in awe of Fannie's abilities, declares that "cookery is magic," Fannie, calling cooking "an art and science that anyone can learn," decides to write down her instructions for success in the kitchen. Hopkinson fashions her clever narrative after her subtitle, presenting the book as seven courses-cum-chapters. Nancy Carpenter uses a computer to produce a confection that blends nineteenth-century etchings and engravings with her own zestful water-color illustrations of the more up-to-date Marcia and Fannie (the rest of the cast—Mama, Papa, baby, and friends—are all snatched and manipulated images from Victorian art). The puckish, pluckily drawn Marcia mixes batter in an authentic period bowl, sifts cocoa from a real old-time tin, and puts her cake into a vintage ornately decorated iron stove. Hopkinson's seventh course (the nuts) shares more about the real Fannie Farmer, and, no surprise, concludes with a recipe for Fannie Farmer's Famous Griddle Cakes. Nostalgic adults and their more modern offspring will take this book right to the kitchen.

Catherine M. Andronik (review date September-October 2001)

SOURCE: Andronik, Catherine M. Review of Fannie in the Kitchen, by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter. Library Talk 14, no. 4 (September-October 2001): 44.

We've all heard of the Fannie Farmer cookbook. "Fannie Farmer" is not an invented trademark; she was a real person, a cooking teacher who stressed recipes and careful measurement. She began her career in the Shaw home in Boston, which Hopkinson takes as the setting for her clever sketch of this Victorian-era woman and her accomplishments [in Fannie in the Kitchen ]. Fannie's story is told in seven "courses" (chapters), and is seen through the eyes of young Marcia Shaw, a little know-it-all who reluctantly, then enthusiastically, realizes that she can learn a thing or two about cooking from her mother's new helper. The humorous illustrations combine Victorian etchings and prints with computer enhancements. The observant reader will enjoy finding "Fannie's hints" scattered throughout the book; Fannie's recipe for griddlecakes is included as well. Amazingly, in just over 30 pages of brief text, readers discover a cultural icon, pick up a few cooking tips, meet a young lady with personality to spare, and enjoy a few smiles along the way! Highly Recommended.


Kirkus Reviews (review date 1 August 2002)

SOURCE: Review of Cabin in the Snow, by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Patrick Faricy. Kirkus Reviews 70, no. 15 (1 August 2002): 1133.

[In Cabin in the Snow, t]he Keller family, a free-soil Kansas family recently transplanted from Massachusetts, faces the struggle of their first winter in Hop-kinson's second installment in the Prairie Skies trilogy that began with Pioneer Summer. Mr. Keller and his son Charlie leave for a supply trip to Lawrence that ends up being anything but routine. They hear of the murder of a free-soil man and, on their trip home, end up in the middle of an argument between the 15 pro-slavery men and some free-soil farmers. Fearing that the town of Lawrence might be at risk, Mr. Keller agrees to join the men. Nine-year-old Charlie is left with the responsibility of driving the oxen team home and becoming the man of the family in his father's absence. With his mother about to give birth, his sisters to care for, and the worries about dwindling food supplies in the winter ahead, Charlie's plate is full. There is no time for his characteristic daydreaming and birdwatching. When Charlie runs into Mr. Morgan and his daughter Flory again, the Keller family is torn. On one hand, the Morgans are in need of a safe place to stay and the children remember them fondly from their time together on the steamboat. On the other hand, the Morgans, with their pro-slavery ideas, stand for everything the Kellers are opposed to. When Mama gives birth early, the Kellers have little choice but to trust and accept help from Flory and her father. The family must rely on each other, and the help of others, to make it through a terrible blizzard without Papa. Once again, Hopkinson tells a good story, steeped in rich history and research, and leaves her young readers satisfied, yet ready to know more, promised in the forthcoming Our Kansas Home. (author's note, recipe, song lyrics) (Fiction. 6-10)

Susan Dove Lempke (review date 15 December 2002)

SOURCE: Lempke, Susan Dove. Review of Cabin in the Snow, by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Patrick Faricy. Booklist 99, no. 8 (15 December 2002): 759.

Gr. 2-4—Charlie and his family are beginning to grow used to their new life on the Kansas prairie, where they have moved to become part of the free-state movement [in Cabin in the Snow ]. With increasing pro-slavery activities, tensions are rising. When Charlie's father is needed to defend the town, Charlie becomes the man of the house—just as winter is setting in and his mother is expecting a baby. Hopkinson does an admirable job of unraveling a complex moment in history for young readers; at the same time she tells an exciting story with an engaging young hero. Appended notes add historical context; there are also a recipe for apple fruitcake, the words to the song "Shenandoah," and an explanation distinguishing the fact from the fiction.


Kirkus Reviews (review date 15 April 2002)

SOURCE: Review of Pioneer Summer, by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Patrick Faricy. Kirkus Reviews 70, no. 8 (15 April 2002): 570.

Hopkinson (Bluebird Summer, 2001, etc.) tells the engaging saga of a pioneer family's move to Kansas in her first foray into Ready-for-Chapters reading. [In Pioneer Summer, ] Charlie and Ida Jane are moving from Massachusetts, where their parents and other abolitionists are trying to tip the balance against slavery in the region. Mr. Keller's reassuring voice tells his children (and the child reader) about the Missouri Compromise and the Kansas-Nebraska Act without burdening them with excessive historical details. Charlie, a quiet, thoughtful boy, who loves to collect items from the natural world, is not a stereotype, nor is he a 21st-century transplant. Ida Jane is not a quiet, long-suffering daughter who dutifully cooks and quilts in the background. The children wrestle with their parents' abolitionist philosophies as they wrangle with their little sister Sadie, who is quite a handful. Hopkinson's gift is her ability to weave little details into a story: Charlie's old dog Danny and grandfather are both too old for the trip; a minor character explains riverboat life; Mr. Keller has a brush with cholera; the job of building a house and putting in crops is much more challenging than the children would ever have thought; and the ever-present big sky draws them together and keeps them connected. While most young children have been introduced to the facts of the Civil War, slave life, and the Underground Railroad, many are unaware of the enormous changes that were taking place in the Midwest at the time. This superb story will whet their appetites for future news of the Keller family as they find their place in "Bleeding Kansas." (author's note) (Fiction. 6-10)

Kristen Oravec (review date October 2002)

SOURCE: Oravec, Kristen. Review of Pioneer Summer, by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Patrick Faricy. School Library Journal 48, no. 10 (October 2002): 112.

Gr. 2-4—The Kansas territory is brought to life in [Pioneer Summer, ] this breezy and appealing first installment in a chapter-book series focusing on the prairie. In 1855, Charlie and his abolitionist family leave Massachusetts to join other New Englanders who want to create a free state in Kansas. The eight-year-old is reluctant to leave his home, his grandfather, and his dog, and is unsure what all the antislavery talk means. The story follows the Kellers' travels by train, steamboat, and wagon. Once at their destination, they must struggle to establish a farm and build a cabin before the onset of winter. Told in brief chapters, the story is related in simple and straightforward language. Slavery and abolitionists are explained succinctly and clearly. The chapters flow smoothly into one another, and the continuous action will keep readers hooked. Charlie is an appealing character, and through his eyes, children see some of the harsher aspects of prairie life-from sickness; fire; and worries about food, money, and shelter to some of its beauty, including the vast, blue prairie sky. Readers will eagerly await the next episode in this adventurous series.


Diane Roback, Jennifer M. Brown, Jason Britton, and Jeff Zaleski (review date 26 November 2001)

SOURCE: Roback, Diane, Jennifer M. Brown, Jason Britton, and Jeff Zaleski. Review of Under the Quilt of Night, by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by James E. Ransome. Publishers Weekly 248, no. 48 (26 November 2001): 61.

Dramatic oil paintings and compelling verse-like prose combine to portray the harsh yet hopeful experience of travel along the Underground Railroad [in Under the Quilt of Night ]. Hopkinson and Ransome revisit the theme of their first collaboration, Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt. This time readers journey the precarious trail to freedom with a young runaway as she escapes to Canada via clandestine routes and dangerous nighttime treks. The intense opening spread features three panels showing her nameless family running for their lives by the light of the full moon, some shoeless or with only rags on their feet. (Subsequent pages show snarling dogs and overseers in hot pursuit.) The story comes to a formidable climax when they're almost discovered hiding in the back of a wagon. Hopkinson names each segment of the journey ("Running," "Waiting," "Hiding") and her narrative conveys the emotional and physical hardships of the trip ("Fear is so real, it lies here beside me"). The author connects the metaphorical protective quilt of night with folkloric elements (legend has it that quilts with blue center squares indicated safe houses on the Underground Railroad). Ransome fills in the characterizations with portraits that convey a strong familial connection and the kindness of the conductors along the way. This suspenseful story successfully introduces and sheds light on a pivotal chapter in America's history for youngest readers. Ages 5-10.

Marianne Saccardi (review date January 2002)

SOURCE: Saccardi, Marianne. Review of Under the Quilt of Night, by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by James E. Ransome. School Library Journal 48, no. 1 (January 2002): 102.

Gr. 2-5—In this companion [Under the Quilt of Night ] to Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt (Knopf, 1993), a nameless young slave narrates the story of her escape with a small band of slaves. When they come to the edge of a town, she sees a woman leave a quilt with blue center squares out to air, takes it as a sign that the house hides runaways, and leads the group inside. There they receive dry clothing, food, and shelter for the night. The next day they leave hidden in a wagon, face a terrifying moment when would-be captors intercept them, and finally take the road to Canada and freedom. Ransome's dark oil paintings are a visual metaphor for the quilt of darkness that hides the runaways and are in sharp contrast to the brilliant, golden-hued scene depicting the girl's celebration of her freedom, arms outstretched, head raised to the sky where flying birds symbolize the liberty she is about to experience. The close-up scene of the slaves' pursuers astride galloping horses, led by dogs with teeth bared, is appropriately scary. The narrative is told in a series of poems, printed in negative type on the dark ground, and the language is lovely. In an author's note, Hopkinson acknowledges that she mixes fact with folklore, for some historians believe there is no proof there were actually quilts with hidden meanings to mark safe houses. Yet this story is powerfully told and provides a fine entry into this period of history.


GraceAnne A. DeCandido (review date 1-15 January 2003)

SOURCE: DeCandido, GraceAnne A. Review of Girl Wonder: A Baseball Story in Nine Innings, by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Terry Widener. Booklist 99, nos. 9-10 (1-15 January 2003): 880-81.

Gr. 2-4—"Nothing could keep me from baseball … By the time I was seventeen I'd struck out every boy in town." In prose that reflects the easy rhythms of balls and strikes, Hopkinson tells the story of teenager Alta Weiss [in Girl Wonder: A Baseball Story in Nine Innings ], who in 1907 pitched for a semipro all-male team in Ohio. Alta's first-person narrative begins with her own memory of playing catch, and her family's image of her throwing a corn cob at a barn cat at the age of two. Alta practices, plays, and wins over the crowd in her first game. That summer she's the draw of her team, the Independents; people come to see "Girl Wonder" play. She plays a second season, but then she goes on to medical school (the only female in the class of 1914). Hopkinson enriches her burnished prose with an author's note about the real Alta Weiss and a chronology of women in baseball. Widener's exaggerated faces and rubbery-looking bodies are set in a picture plane of bright acrylics, where a bat or glove might pop out over the edge: a logo of ball and bats marks the innings of Al-ta's life. There's a sturdy charm to Alta's voice, and an unmistakable passion for the game. The black-and-white photograph on the back of the dust jacket brings added dimension to the story of a young woman who follows her dreams.

Martha V. Parravano (review date March-April 2003)

SOURCE: Parravano, Martha V. Review of Girl Wonder: A Baseball Story in Nine Innings, by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Terry Widener. Horn Book Magazine 79, no. 2 (March-April 2003): 204.

Hopkinson's newest picture book [Girl Wonder: A Baseball Story in Nine Innings ] is "inspired by" the life of pioneering female baseball player Alta Weiss, who in 1907 pitched for the Vermilion Independents, a semipro team. Hopkinson tells her story with practiced skill—vivid details, lively language, varied pacing—and her subject is worth the effort. Hopkinson's Alta is passionately determined (she gets up early every morning to practice, even in winter: "the bitter Ohio cold couldn't put out the fire inside me. I threw that ball again and again till all my muscles knew what to do"); confident ("I must have been born to play baseball"); and clever (she talks the unwilling Independents coach into giving her a chance by pointing out her commercial value as a curiosity). Hopkinson zips through Alta's early years and then slows down to take us pitch-by-pitch through her first dramatic inning for the Independents. The book ends with a grown-up Weiss, now a doctor, encouraging a likely-looking little girl ("Hey, you with the glove…. Come on over. Did you ever hear the story of the Girl Wonder?")—and, by implication, another generation of female ballplayers. The illustrations are trademark Widener: broad, somewhat exaggerated, but conveying much emotion and narrative content. With a concise, informative author's note, a timeline ("Highlights of Women in Baseball"), and, as a finishing touch, a black-and-white photo of a formidable-looking Weiss in mid-windup on the back cover.


Susan Shaver (review date March 2003)

SOURCE: Shaver, Susan. Review of Our Kansas Home, by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Patrick Faricy. School Library Journal 49, no. 3 (March 2003): 196.

Gr. 2-4—Told with simple, clearly written sentences and taut dialogue, [Our Kansas Home, ] this exciting addition to the series relates the adventures of Charlie Keller's family, who moved to the Kansas Territory from Massachusetts to find a new life and to help keep slavery from spreading. They want their territory to enter the Union as a free state, but the pro-slavery people are more powerful and backed by unruly and violent border ruffians. When the dissidents burn down the Free State hotel, Papa senses the danger and sends Charlie and his dog Lion home. On the way, they encounter a young slave who is trying to make her way to Canada. Charlie takes Lizzie home and his mother comes up with a plan to help her. This high-interest, early chapter book brings an era of history alive, and will pique children's interest, including older reluctant readers. A brief background of the period with several Web sites should encourage further exploration into the events touched upon in this book.


Kitty Flynn (review date January-February 2004)

SOURCE: Flynn, Kitty. Review of Shutting Out the Sky: Life in the Tenements of New York, 1880–1924, by Deborah Hopkinson. Horn Book Magazine 80, no. 1 (January-February 2004): 101.

Hopkinson describes Jacob Riis's 1890 book exposing the deplorable conditions of New York City tenement housing as having "such powerful pictures and words that readers were carried directly into the world of the tenements" [in Shutting Out the Sky: Life in the Tenements of New York, 1880–1924 ]. The same can be said of Hopkinson's own absorbing look at the lives of immigrant children and young adults in New York at the turn of the twentieth century—a time of unprecedented immigration to America. This well-organized social history covers a lot of ground and draws much of its intensity from firsthand accounts. The opening chapters reflect the progression many immigrant children (and adults) made from dreams of easy wealth and happiness to the bleak reality of tenement life. The accessible narrative, effectively supported by well-placed sepia-toned archival photographs, documents the struggles of young immigrants (including dangerous living and working conditions, poverty, lack of education) to carve out better futures for themselves and their families in spite of the obstacles they faced just to survive. A final chapter, filling in later accomplishments made by five specific young people, ends the book on a note of promise. A timeline, list of further reading, bibliography, chapter notes, and index enhance this fascinating glimpse into the past.

Kristin Fletcher Spear (review date February 2004)

SOURCE: Spear, Kristin Fletcher. Review of Shutting Out the Sky: Life in the Tenements of New York, 1880–1924, by Deborah Hopkinson. Library Media Connection 22, no. 5 (February 2004): 80.

[Shutting Out the Sky: Life in the Tenements of New York, 1880–1924 ] is an excellent look at immigration and tenement life through the eyes of five young people. Author Deborah Hopkinson follows the five from their lives in their birth countries, to their struggles to survive as immigrants in the Lower East Side tenements of New York City at the turn of the 20th century. By following these young people, readers are given a much clearer picture of how life in the early 20th century was for many poor immigrants. In the end, each of these people succeed in life rather than fail, but many of the tribulations they go through—struggling to learn English, trying to find work, and surviving the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire—make their successes even larger. Hopkinson covers broad subjects in easy flowing paragraphs, making the nonfiction read like fiction. She covers the working environment, markets, and tenement lifestyles. She ends with what happened to each of the young people and looks to the future. Included is a timeline, selection for further reading, Web site searching, and an extensive index. Filled with archival pictures from the time period, this book will open many readers' eyes to the world of immigrants—past and present. Recommended.


Roxanne Burg (review date September 2004)

SOURCE: Burg, Roxanne. Review of Apples to Oregon, by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter. School Library Journal 50, no. 9 (September 2004): 162-63.

K-Gr. 4—In this original tall tale [Apples to Oregon ], Delicious describes her family's journey from Iowa to Oregon in the 1800s. Daddy loves the idea of going west but he can't bear to leave his apple trees behind. He constructs two special wagons, fills them with "good, wormy dirt," and packs in hundreds of plants and trees.

"Apples, ho!" he cries, and off they go. When they reach the Platte River—"wider than Texas, thicker than Momma's muskrat stew"—Delicious helps her father build a raft to ferry the seedlings—and the family—across. Everyone makes it to the other side, just barely. Before long, a hailstorm hits, scattering bonnets, petticoats, and even Daddy's drawers. Other larger-than-life challenges await the family, but inventive Delicious always manages to save the day. Soon, they're all floating down "the mighty Columbia." They plant those trees in Oregon soil, and everyone lives happily ever after. An author's note explains that this story is based loosely on Henderson Luelling, a pioneer who really did transport plants and fruit trees to Oregon in 1847. Hopkinson's version, of course, is just pure fun and make-believe. Carpenter's oil paintings are filled with vivid shades that reflect the changing scenery. Amusing details abound, and the slightly exaggerated humor of the pictures is in perfect balance with the tone of the text. The plucky heroine—wearing a bright red dress, white pinafore, and confident smile—often takes center stage. An entertaining choice for storytimes or an amusing supplement to units on westward expansion.

Kay Weisman (review date 1 September 2004)

SOURCE: Weisman, Kay. Review of Apples to Oregon, by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter. Booklist 101, no. 1 (1 September 2004): 132.

K-Gr. 3—The pair that created Fannie in the Kitchen (2001) offers another food-related picture book for youngsters [in Apples to Oregon ]. When Papa decides to move from Iowa to Oregon his biggest concern is not his family but his apples—and his peaches, plums, grapes, cherries, and pears! He constructs a dirt-filled wagon to transport his fruit saplings, while his family travels in a smaller cart. Along the way, they encounter the requisite Oregon Trail hardships, but luckily daughter Delicious is clever enough to help her family (and Papa's precious darlings) arrive safely at their new home. Based loosely on the life of Henderson Luelling, who founded Oregon's first nursery in 1847, Hopkinson's alliterative tall tale is rich in language that begs to be read out loud ("'Guard the grapes! Protect the peaches!' Daddy howled"), and Carpenter's colorful oil paintings add to the exaggerated fun. Some apple facts and a historical note are appended.


Kirkus Reviews (review date 1 February 2004)

SOURCE: Review of The Klondike Kid: Sailing for Gold, by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Bill Farnsworth. Kirkus Reviews 72, no. 3 (1 February 2004): 134.

Hopkinson brings her sharp research and thoughtful storytelling to the story of the Klondike Gold Rush [in The Klondike Kid: Sailing for Gold ] in the first of a planned series about Davey in Alaska. Eleven-year-old orphan David Hill lives with Mrs. Tinker in her Seattle boardinghouse, where he pays his way doing chores, finding boarders, and watching the ships sail in and out of Puget Sound. He has a secret dream, one that he can share with only Cook. He wishes to find his uncle Walt, who now lives in Alaska. He sends a letter to him, but never hears anything. He waits at the docks for boats from Alaska, and he scans the crowd for his uncle's face. When he meets a photographer bound for the Klondike, Davey hatches a daring plan to stowaway on the ship, the Al-ki. The cliffhanger chapter endings, frequent realistic pencil sketches, and generous font that are the trademark of the Ready-for-Chapters series, along with Hopkinson's eye for compelling historical details, make this particularly fine fare for beginning readers. (Fiction. 6-9)


Sharon R. Pearce (review date April 2005)

SOURCE: Pearce, Sharon R. Review of The Klondike Kid: Adventures in Gold Town, by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Bill Farnswoth. School Library Journal 51, no. 4 (April 2005): 98.

Gr. 3-5—In this final installment in the trilogy, [The Klondike Kid: Adventures in Gold Town, ] orphaned Davey, 11, continues his search for his uncle, his only relative. As this book opens, he is anxious for the ice to melt so that he and Big Al can make the trip down the Yukon River. Following a successful journey, they set up shop in Dawson City, with Davey selling sourdough pancakes and starting a dog pound for the numerous strays around. The book's brevity, large type, and quick action will appeal to older reluctant readers. However, they will need some background about the Alaska Gold Rush. The major event of a fire sweeping through Dawson City pales in comparison to the reunion between boy and his uncle. Things tie up a bit too neatly, and characters and relationships established in the first book are not developed in the third. Add this book to complete the trilogy, and not as a single-item purchase.


Marian Creamer (review date April 2004)

SOURCE: Creamer, Marian. Review of A Packet of Seeds, by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Bethanne Andersen. School Library Journal 50, no. 4 (April 2004): 114.

Gr. 1-4—In this poignant account of a pioneer family's experiences [A Packet of Seeds ], Annie relates how she and her family leave their home and journey west. While her father sees the promise of new land just waiting to be claimed, her mother feels the sorrow of saying good-bye to loved ones. On the morning of their departure, each of Momma's friends gives her a small white packet. Life is hard on the prairie, and when the woman gives birth to a baby girl in the spring, she is too sad to name her. With the help of her father and brother, Annie clears a patch of earth for a kitchen garden. Realizing Annie's intentions, her mother asks her to bring the packets, which contain seeds for daisies, larkspur, poppies, and hollyhocks. Momma rolls up her sleeves to begin planting, finally ready to make this place her home. Using clear language with a homespun flair, Hopkinson captures a child's perception of events. The illustrations, breathtakingly executed in gouache and oil paints, effectively depict the windswept prairie. Young readers will appreciate the work and adversities the pioneers faced and what they had to do to prepare the land for the nonnative trees, flowers, and plants that have survived long after. An author's note provides more information about women settlers and pioneer plants. A moving and enriching look at a slice of American history.


Kirkus Reviews (review date 15 January 2005)

SOURCE: Review of Billy and the Rebel: Based on a True Civil War Story, by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Brian Floca. Kirkus Reviews 73, no. 2 (15 January 2005): 121.

In this upper-level Easy Reader [Billy and the Rebel ], a young Confederate deserter repays with a courageous act the Gettysburg family that shelters him. As the great battle rages nearby, Billy and his mother huddle anxiously in their farmhouse—joined in the night by a trembling young soldier who begs asylum. Dressed in new clothes and warned not to speak lest his accent give him away, the fugitive silently helps when marauding soldiers demand food, then as the defeated southern army retreats, rescues Billy, who recklessly antagonizes a passing horseman. Floca depicts the young folk and the farm, but not the battle itself, in sketchy watercolors; Hopkinson follows up with a note explaining that the episode is based on a true story. The theme of friendship across lines of antagonism will kindle deep responses in more than just students of the Civil War. (Easy reader. 7-9)

Hazel Rochman (review date 1 February 2005)

SOURCE: Rochman, Hazel. Review of Billy and the Rebel: Based on a True Civil War Story, by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Brian Floca. Booklist 101, no. 11 (1 February 2005): 965-66.

Gr. 1-3—Based on a true Civil War story, this compelling Ready-to-Read title [Billy and the Rebel ] is written from the viewpoint of a boy on a farm near Gettysburg. As the battle comes closer, Papa is hiding in town, and Mama and Billy shelter a young, scared rebel deserter. They call him Cousin. When Mama is away helping the wounded Union soldiers, Cousin saves Billy from an angry, desperate rebel soldier. The spare, simple words tell the home-front story without a big battlefield panorama—just the distant sound of deadly cannon and the fear and anger. Floca's line-and-watercolor illustrations show exhausted soldiers in dirty uniforms and the long lines of defeated men. A final note fills in the history behind this well-told tale of friends and enemies.


Kirkus Reviews (review date 1 September 2005)

SOURCE: Review of From Slave to Soldier: Based on a True Civil War Story, by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Brian Floca. Kirkus Reviews 73, no. 17 (1 September 2005): 974.

Johnny loves his Uncle Silas, his mule Nell and the cows he herds back and forth each day. But he does not love being a slave. And when Uncle Silas plants the idea of service in the Union army in Johnny's brain, it's pretty easy for him to join up with Company C as it marches through the Hogatt farm. Adding to the Ready-to-Read early reading series, Hopkinson brings her research and storytelling talents to another little-known chapter in U.S. history for children [in From Slave to Soldier: Based on a True Civil War Story ]. Floca's simple, flat watercolors match the straightforward prose, and the blue-washed night scenes match the tension as Johnny performs an act of heroism to save the company. Though the acceptance the white soldiers show to their new recruit seems unreal, a helpful author's note documents the kindness of these particular Union soldiers. Young Civil War buffs will welcome something they can read themselves. (Nonfiction. 5-8)


Kristine M. Casper (review date August 2005)

SOURCE: Casper, Kristine M. Review of Saving Strawberry Farm, by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Rachel Isadora. School Library Journal 51, no. 8 (August 2005): 97.

PreS-Gr. 2—This beautifully illustrated picture book [Saving Strawberry Farm ] is set in a Midwestern town in 1933. Although times are hard, Mom sends young Davey to Mr. Russell's store to buy ice to make lemonade for a special Fourth of July treat. While there, he helps Miss Elsie carry a bag to her truck and learns that the kind woman is going to lose her farm to the bank. When Mr. Russell explains the idea of a penny auction, Davey keeps his coin instead of spending it on candy. On the way home, he shows it to the townspeople and encourages them to attend the auction. Later that day, he starts the bidding by yelling, "One penny for Strawberry Farm!" Other folks chime in, raising the amount by nickels and dimes instead of dollars, until Miss Elsie makes the final bid and is able to buy back her property. Isadora uses colored pencils to create the soft-edged, full-page illustrations. Vivid hues depict the red-hot sun and the hazy heat of July, as well as the smiling faces of Miss Elsie's helpful neighbors. Hopkinson's straightforward text is framed in orange and pale yellow. A brief author's note provides factual background about the Great Depression, the drought that devastated the land, and the role of the general store, making this story an excellent introduction to this time period.


Ilene Cooper (review date 1 February 2006)

SOURCE: Cooper, Ilene. Review of Susan B. Anthony: Fighter for Women's Rights, by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Amy Bates. Booklist 102, no. 11 (1 February 2006): 52.

Gr. 2-4—The life and times of Anthony get a brisk treatment in this book [Susan B. Anthony: Fighter for Women's Rights ] in the Ready-to-Read: Stories of America series, but new readers will still gain familiarity with one of the mothers of the feminist movement. Hopkinson gets right into it: "Anthony wanted to reform or change America." The book then moves on to one of the pivotal moments in young Anthony's life: her father's refusal to promote a young woman in his mill—even though she was the most qualified worker. The text rolls quickly through her work as an abolitionist and her segue, along with her friend Elizabeth Cady Stanton, into her tireless efforts for woman's suffrage. The disappointment that came when African American men received the vote before women comes through even in this short account, as does the seemingly endless wait until the Nineteenth Amendment passed in 1920. Browns, tans, and blues predominate in the watercolors and tend to flatten the action, but the pictures carry nicely across the spreads, and Anthony is portrayed as a formidable figure, even when young.


Publishers Weekly (review date 9 January 2006)

SOURCE: Review of Sky Boys: How They Built the Empire State Building, by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by James E. Ransome. Publishers Weekly 253, no. 2 (9 January 2006): 52.

A second-person narrative voice places readers at the construction site of (at that time) the world's tallest skyscraper [in Sky Boys: How They Built the Empire State Building ]. From the first line, "It's the end of winter, / and your pop's lost his job," the grim realities of the Depression form the story's backdrop. Opening spreads show a boy collecting firewood from "that old hotel / they tore down at / Thirty-fourth and Fifth." Hopkinson (Fannie in the Kitchen ) infuses an emotional charge in her dramatization of the building's erection ("a symbol of hope / in the darkest of times"), while also folding technical details into lyrical prose: "First come rumbling flatbed trucks, / bundles of steel on their backs, / like a gleaming, endless river / surging through / the concrete canyons of Manhattan." Ransome's oil paintings, in hues of blue, gray and russet brown, capture the scale and increasing elevation at which the "sky boys" worked. Framed against white clouds, men stand precariously on steel scaffolding. One spread, divided into vertical quarters, shows the building's progress in June, July, August and November; the next, a climactic vertical spread, boldly labeled "5:42 pm March 18, 1931," depicts workers stationed on the pinnacle mast, an American flag billowing, behind them. Photographs of the site's actual construction decorate the endpapers, and an endnote offers even more details. The subplot about the father and son (who tour the completed building at the book's close) seems tacked on, but the drama of the building's rise makes for a literally riveting account. Ages 4-9.

Kirkus Reviews (review date 15 January 2006)

SOURCE: Review of Sky Boys: How They Built the Empire State Building, by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by James E. Ransome. Kirkus Reviews 74, no. 2 (15 January 2006): 85.

"A symbol of hope in the darkest of time," the Empire State Building was built in record time during the Great Depression. In their latest collaboration, Hopkinson and Ransome beautifully depict its construction in one year and 45 days, as seen through the watchful eyes of a young boy [in Sky Boys: How They Built the Empire State Building ]. The free-verse narrative and dynamic oil paintings are a superb one-two punch, nicely complemented by endpapers celebrating the photographs of Lewis Hine, who documented the construction of the Empire State Building from 1930 to 1931. Poetic lines are packed with information, and the palette ranges from blue-sky days to rich nighttime hues to beautiful bursts of oranges, yellows and blues. As in Mordicai Gerstein's The Man Who Walked between the Towers (2003), perspectives range from ground-level views to soaring vistas to dizzying looks down to earth from above. A beautiful work befitting its subject. (Picture book/nonfiction. 4-9)

Additional coverage of Hopkinson's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Thomson Gale: Contemporary Authors, Vol. 143; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 72; Literature Resource Center; and Something about the Author, Vols. 76, 108, 159.



Bush, Elizabeth. Review of Up before Daybreak: Cotton and People in America, by Deborah Hopkinson. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 59, no. 10 (June 2006): 456.

Suggests that Hopkinson's "broad overview" of the cotton industry in Up before Daybreak: Cotton and People in America neglects several key issues.

Deutsch, Stephanie. Review of Apples to Oregon, by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter, and A Packet of Seeds, by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Bethanne Andersen. New York Times Book Review (16 January 2005): 14.

Offers a positive assessment of Apples to Oregon and A Packet of Seeds, calling both works "lovely."

Lempke, Susan Dove. Review of Sky Boys: How They Built the Empire State Building, by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by James E. Ransome. Horn Book Magazine 82, no. 2 (March-April 2006): 172.

Notes that Sky Boys focuses more on the "symbolic value" of the Empire State Building rather than its actual construction.

Odean, Kathleen. Review of Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by James E. Ransome. In Great Books for Girls, pp. 58-9. New York, N.Y.: Ballantine Books, 1997.

Offers a brief critical overview of Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt.

About this article

Hopkinson, Deborah 1952–

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