It is my privilege today to share a brief interview I conducted with author Deborah Hopkinson as a part of the blog tour for her newest picture book, Knit Your Bit.
Since this is the second time I’ve interviewed Ms. Hopkinson, I decided to focus on her newest book and another of her new titles, Annie and Helen. (You can read the first interview here. It provides more background.) Enjoy!
We live close to Helen Keller’s birthplace, so we here at the House of Hope have a compelling interest in Helen Keller. How did you become interested enough in Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller to write a book about them?
I am often inspired by photographs, and one morning I saw a news story about a newly discovered photograph of Anne and Helen. I sent it to Anne Schwartz, my editor, and began my research soon after.
I love the images you used in the book; they seem to capture the spirit of their relationship beautifully. What sort of research did you do to tell Annie and Helen’s story so well?
I grew up in Lowell, Massachusetts, but actually lived in the town of Tewksbury, which is next to it, until I was four. I became intrigued with Annie Sullivan, who was sent to a sort of work house in Tewksbury as a young girl. When I found her letters from those first few months teaching Helen, I knew that was the story I wanted to tell – not just of Helen’s breakthrough, but how this young teacher forged her own innovative teaching methods. Annie’s letters are wonderfully detailed and descriptive, and through them you can see how inspired she was by the progress Helen was making.
Regarding Knit Your Bit, how did you come to write this very interesting story? World War I era picture books are rare, at least as far as I know, so this one is a welcome addition to historical fiction collections.
Knit Your Bit also has its genesis in a photograph – in this case, a photograph of firemen of the Makiki Fire Station in Honolulu knitting in WWI. I discovered it years ago, when I worked at the American Red Cross in Honolulu. It was my first professional position, and part of putting together the newsletter was a focus on the history of the Red Cross in Hawai’i. I have never forgotten that photograph, and with the anniversary of WWI approaching, I decided to do more research. I came across the Central Park Knitting Bee of 1918 and made that the core of this very simple story.
By now we’ve read many of your picture books, and I’ve noticed that you have a penchant for finding little-known stories and making them come alive. Do you go looking for stories, or do they just find you? (I’m thinking specifically here of titles like Fannie in the Kitchen, etc.)
During school visits, I like to tell students that finding stories is a matter of having your story antennae up and ready – at all times! I definitely go looking for stories in everything I read, hear, or experience. I got the idea of writing Fannie in the Kitchen from a book about women inventors, Girl Wonder in a title about the history of women in baseball, Apples to Oregon from an article about the origins of the fruit industry in Oregon.
This October, my new middle grade novel, The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel will be published. I got the idea after reading an adult nonfiction book by Steven Johnson called The Ghost Map, about the 1854 cholera epidemic. Stories are everywhere!
Do you knit?
I do knit, but NOT very well! In fact, Mikey in my story has me beat – I stick to scarves.
Well, Ms. Hopkinson can stick to writing, as far as I’m concerned. 🙂 We’re big fans of all the books of hers that we’ve managed to get our hands on here at the House of Hope. We also want to offer a hearty congratulations for her Titanic: Voices from the Disaster: it won Sibert and YALSA nonfiction honor distinctions at this year’s ALA midwinter convention. Congratulations!