I am very honored to present an interview of Deborah Hopkinson, author of such House of Hope favorites as Apples to Oregon and Fannie in the Kitchen, here today. Ms. Hopkinson has a number of other books to her credit, including
- The Humblebee Hunter
- First Family
- Stagecoach Sal
- Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek
- John Addams Speaks for Freedom
- Shutting Out the Sky
Ms. Hopkinson and I chatted via email, and I am happy to share our conversation here with you today!
Hi, Deborah! I am so happy to have this opportunity to interview you because you are one of my favorite writers of historical fiction for kids. (And no, I don’t say that to all the authors I interview!) My girls, who are now 7 and almost 6, first read Apples to Oregon two years ago when they were only 5 and 3, and we loved it, even then. We’ve since read Fannie in the Kitchen, which inspired us to make our own Fannie Farmer pancakes, and most recently, Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek, which not only captivated me and my girls, but also my parents, who were visiting. Well, I could go on and on about how much we’ve enjoyed all of your books that we’ve read, but I won’t.
Instead, I’ll ask you the standards first interview question: how did you get started writing?
I loved books as a girl and always wanted to be a writer, but it wasn’t until I had a baby myself and discovered picture books that I thought that perhaps as a working mom I could try something short. Writing a long novel just seemed too daunting! It took me a couple of years to sell my first magazine story and about four years to sell my first picture book, Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt.
You seem to have a real passion for history. In Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek, you address the issue of historiography in such a way that it’s accessible even to young children. I love that!
Can you tell a little bit more about your background that shaped this passion?
I was never a history major in school, but I was always interested in women’s history. My undergraduate degree is in English and my master’s is in Asian Studies, with a history minor. But it wasn’t really until I began interested myself in writing about women in history that I realized how much I loved research. (Well, I can say that I did a 30-page term paper in 6th grade on the history of horse racing, so perhaps the seeds were there all along!) The more I have written about history, the more fascinated I have become.
I think the artistic collaboration between you and John Hendrix in Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek is brilliant! Obviously, you were very involved in the illustrating process for this book. How did this work?
Actually, I was not at all involved in the process. The words that you see in the text – where the author actually speaks to the illustrator, were completely set before the artist got the manuscript. John Hendrix then worked with editor Anne Schwartz and art designer Lee Wade on translating this “metafictive” text into a picture book.
I read on your website that you have a full-time career in addition to writing. How do you manage to balance all the demands on your time?
Yes, I have always worked in philanthropy and am presently vice president for advancement for Pacific Northwest College of Art, raising funds for a college of art and design as well as a crafts museum in Portland, OR. It would be great to write full time but that is harder than ever to make work these days. So, like many people, I work a lot!
What does a typical writing day look like for you?
Normally I can write only on weekends. I usually get to the gym for a 7am or 8am class on Saturdays, hit the grocery store, then get on my computer for the rest of the day. Sundays are a repeat.
I haven’t had the opportunity to read every one of your books, so I might be wrong about this, but I think all of your historical fiction is of the picture book variety. Do you have any plans to write a longer work of historical fiction?
Actually, I have written longer works. I’ve published three longer nonfiction works (Shutting out the Sky, Up Before Daybreak and Titanic: Voices from the Disaster, which will be published in March. I have also published two previous longer works of historical fiction: Dear America: Hear My Sorrow, and a middle grade novel entitled Into the Firestorm, A Novel of San Francisco, 1906. I have two ready for chapters series for young readers, Prairie Skies and The Klondike Kid of three books each, geared for about 2nd grade readers. These latter are available as e-books if you are unable to find print versions.
As it happens, the book I am now working on is a middle grade novel entitled A Trail of Coffins, set in London about John Snow and the cholera epidemic of 1854. I’m a great fan of Dickens (which is why I am so excited about the publication of A Boy Called Dickens in January 2012, and I am excited to be working in this time period.
Who is your favorite author of children’s literature? Illustrator?
Well, I have many favorite authors and books so it is hard to choose one. I am a great fan of Debbie Wiles, Suzanne Collins, Christopher Paul Curtis, Lois Lowry and Gary Schmidt. I have been really fortunate to have wonderful illustrators for my books, including Nancy Carpenter, Jen Corace, John Hendrix (who illustrated both my ABE and Dickens books) Carson Ellis, and Raul Colon (who will be illustrating Annie and Helen in 2012), and James Ransome.
Thank you so much, Ms. Hopkinson, for taking time to answer my questions! Although I could’ve been better prepared (obviously!), I always enjoy the opportunity to chat with the authors who inspire me and my children so much! I am most excited about her new book about Charles Dickens that is coming out in early 2012. Be sure to check back here tomorrow; I’ll be reviewing some of Ms. Hopkinson’s books for Read Aloud Thursday!