Sunday, September 21, 2008

Deborah Hopkinson: Author Interview

I'm thrilled to be hosting Deborah Hopkinson on the first stop of her Blog Tour! You probably know her from her many, spectacular historical fiction books. She's been winning awards since her very first book, SWEET CLARA AND THE FREEDOM QUILT, which won the International Reading Association award in 1994. Her books have won ALA recognition, as well as many state awards. Deborah was born in Lowell, Massachusetts. She earned a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Massachusetts and a master's in Asian Studies from the University of Hawaii. She is a great supporter of education and loves to do school visits. Plus, she has a ton of great resources for teachers and librarians on her website.

Click here to see a few of my favorite books by Deborah.

Here is her brand new book: ABE LINCOLN CROSSES A CREEK

Let's get o
n with the Interview! (several of the questions were contributed by students)

Q: When did you get started writing? Did you write as a child?

A: As a girl I loved to read fiction, and I have wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. I didn’t write much as a child, although I did keep a journal. It wasn’t until I had a little girl of my own that I began writing.

When I began taking my daughter, Rebekah, to the library I suddenly realized that picture books were short enough for a busy working mom to try. And so I did!

I think reading is the best preparation you can make for being a writer. And remember, most of us have to do some kind of writing whatever job we get. 

It’s all practice!

Q: Are you a full time writer or do you work in another occupation in addition to writing?

A: No, I am not a full time author. I work in philanthropy, which means I raise money to help others. I do lots of writing in my day job too.

Q: Since most of your books are picture books and younger reader chapter books, what made you decide to write INTO THE FIRESTORM, your middle school/YA novel?

A: Actually, before I wrote Into the Firestorm I had written a longer fiction piece for middle grade readers, a Dear America diary called Hear My Sorrow. I also wrote two longer nonfiction books for older readers. So it was a natural step to try a novel for middle grade readers. I love history and couldn’t resist the opportunity to learn more about the Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire in 1906, which forms the setting for Nick’s story in Into the Firestorm.

Q: I was surprised to read that you didn't like history much as a child. But I know what you mean. History in textbooks isn't the same as reading stories about history. What inspired you to write historical fiction?

A: The part of history I did like was being able to learn on my own and do research. I actually wrote a really long term paper in the sixth grade about horse racing! I didn’t study history much in college, though. But when I began to search for topics to write about I returned to history. Historical fiction and nonfiction are great ways to learn more about ordinary people who lived before us who often did extraordinary things!

Q: Do you enjoy the research involved with writing historical fiction?

A: I guess most kids will think I am a real nerd, but the truth is I could do research all day long! I love poking into libraries, finding old books no one has checked out in years, poring over maps, and looking on the Internet. Of course, the very best research takes place when I have the chance to actually go someplace and see it with my own eyes! I remember walking up the old stone stairs to Jubilee Hall of Fisk University, where my book A BAND OF ANGELS is set, and getting shivers just thinking that the young people in my book probably walked up and down these very same stairs long ago.

Q: After researching so many time periods for your books, is there a time in American history that you're particularly fond of?

A: Most of my books are set during the 1800s, and it really was a fascinating time in American history. So many dramatic events happened, including the Civil War, and the beginnings of the suffrage movement, as well as the arrival of many immigrants. The more I write about this period the better I understand how our country came to be.

Q: Which do you like writing better: picture books or chapter books?

A: Well, since I still have a full time job, I do like writing picture books, partly because they are shorter and easier to concentrate on when I come home tired from work!

Q: My students are always curious about how illustrators are selected for picture books. Can you tell us a little about that process? Do you get to have some input?

A: In most cases, a book’s editor chooses the artist for the book. The author may have some input but may not make the final decision. Sometimes, though, it’s possible to get together with an illustrator and come up with an idea. For instance, illustrator James Ransome and I put our heads together to come up with the theme of building the Empire State Building in SKY BOYS How They Built the Empire State Building.

Q: Did you have any favorite authors while growing up?

A: My favorite books growing up were The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austin, and Jane Eyre, written by Charlotte Bronte. I still love these books. In fact, I have a tape of The Secret Garden in my car to listen to right now!

Q: Who are some of your favorite authors now?

A: I have many favorite authors! I like reading books for young readers by Deborah Wiles, Cynthia Rylant, Christopher Paul Curtis, and Lois Lowry. And I still read Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen a lot!

Q: What do you enjoy most about being a successful, published author?

A: It is a wonderful feeling to create something new, like a book. But it’s even better to be able to share that book with kids. I love meeting young people and talking about books. And luckily, being an author means I get to do that a lot.

Q: Tell us about your new book, ABE LINCOLN CROSSES A CREEK. Did something inspire you to write this story?

A: The year 2009 is the 200th anniversary of Abe Lincoln’s birth. My new book tells a story about Abe as a boy most people don’t know: how he was rescued from downing when he was seven by his friend, Austin Gollaher. I think it’s a fun book about two boys getting into trouble that that kids today will like – especially the pictures!

Thanks so much for taking time away from your busy schedule to answer some questions for my students and readers! We’re looking forward to reading your new book.

Read more about Ms. Hopkinson on her website or blog:

Thanks again to Deborah Hopkinson for appearing, courtesy of Provato Marketing, for other stops on the tour please check