Deborah Hopkinson (1952-) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights
Born 1952, in Lowell, MA; Education: University of Massachusetts, Amherst, B.A., 1973; University of Hawaii, M.A., 1978. Hobbies and other interests: Reading, hiking, gardening, history.
Office—Oregon State University Foundation, 850 Southwest 35th St., Corvallis, OR 97333.
Manoa Valley Theater, Honolulu, HI, marketing director, 1981-84; University of Hawaii Foundation, Honolulu, development director, 1985-89; East-West Center, Honolulu, development director, 1989-94; Whitman College, director of development administrative services, 1994-04, instructor in children's literature, 1998-99; Oregon State University Foundation, Corvalis, director of foundation relations, 2004—. Creative Fund Raising Associates, Honolulu, consultant, 1991—. Board member, National Society of Fund Raising Executives, Aloha Chapter, 1985-91.
Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.
Magazine Merit Award Fiction Honor, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCWBI), 1991, for short story; SCWBI work-in-progress grant, 1993; Children's Book Award, International Reading Association, 1994, for Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt; Silver Honor, Parents' Choice Foundation, and Blue Ribbon designation, Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, both 1997, both for Birdie's Lighthouse; American Library Association (ALA) Notable Book designation, SCBWI Golden Kite Award, and Jane Addams Award honor, all 1999, all for A Band of Angels; Washington State Book Award, and Paterson Prize, both 2002, both for Under the Quilt of Night; SCBWI Golden Kite Honor, and National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Notable Book in the Language Arts designation, both for Bluebird Summer; ALA Notable Book designation, Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award, School Library Journal and Publishers Weekly Best Books designations, Booklinks Lasting Connections honor, SCBWI Golden Kite Award, and Western Writers of America Spur Award for Storytelling, all 2004, all for Apples to Oregon; Parents' Choice Gold Award, Great Lakes Book Award, Oppenheimer Toy Portfolio Gold Award, and Jane Addams Award Honor Book, all 2003, all for Girl Wonder; William Allen White Award nomination, 2004, for Pioneer Summer; NCTE Orbis Pictus Honor, Jane Addams Award Honor, IRA Teachers' Choice designation, and James Madison Book Award Honor, all for Shutting out the Sky.
Pearl Harbor, Dillon, 1991.
Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, illustrated by James Ransome, Knopf (New York, NY), 1993.
Birdie's Lighthouse, illustrated by Kimberly Bulcken Root, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1997.
A Band of Angels: A Story Inspired by the Jubilee Singers, illustrated by Raul Colon, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1999.
Maria's Comet, illustrated by Deborah Lanino, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1999.
Bluebird Summer, illustrated by Bethanne Andersen, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 2001.
Fannie in the Kitchen: The Whole Story from Soup to Nuts of How Fannie Farmer Invented Recipes with Precise Measurements, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter, Atheneum Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 2001.
Under the Quilt of Night, illustrated by James Ransome, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2002.
Shutting out the Sky: Life in the Tenements of New York, 1880-1924, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Girl Wonder: A Baseball Story in Nine Innings, illustrated by Terry Widener, Atheneum Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 2003.
Hear My Sorrow: The Diary of Angela Denoto, a Shirtwaist Worker, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2004.
Apples to Oregon: Being the (Slightly) True Narrative of How A Brave Pioneer Father Brought Apples, Peaches, Pears, Plums, Grapes, and Cherries (and Children) Across the Plains, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter, Atheneum Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 2004.
A Packet of Seeds, illustrated by Bethanne Andersen, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 2004.
Saving Strawberry Farm, illustrated by Rachel Isadora, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 2004.
Billy and the Rebel, illustrated by Brian Floca, Atheneum Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 2005.
From Slave to Soldier: Based on a True Civil War Story, illustrated by Brian Floca, Atheneum Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 2005.
John Adams Speaks for Freedom, illustrated by Craig Orback, Aladdin (New York, NY), 2005.
Who Was Charles Darwin?, illustrated by Nancy Harrison, Grosset & Dunlap (New York, NY), 2005.
Sky Boys: How They Built the Empire State Building, illustrated by James Ransome, Atheneum Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 2006.
"KLONDIKE KID" SERIES
Sailing for Gold, illustrated by Bill Farnsworth, Aladdin (New York, NY), 2004.
The Long Trail, Aladdin (New York, NY), 2004.
Adventure in Goldtown, Aladdin (New York, NY), 2004.
"PRAIRIE SKIES" SERIES
Cabin in the Snow, illustrated by Patrick Faricy, Aladdin (New York, NY), 2002.
Pioneer Summer, illustrated by Patrick Faricy, Aladdin (New York, NY), 2002.
Our Kansas Home, illustrated by Patrick Faricy, Aladdin (New York, NY), 2003.
A Band of Angels was adapted as a musical and produced in New York, NY, 2005.
An award-winning writer for children, Deborah Hopkinson introduces young readers to interesting personalities from the past, as well as shedding light on the many ways living and workplace standards have improved and allowing younger readers to more fully appreciate the advances in technology that have made everyday life relatively easy and comfortable. From creating a uniform system of measurements that would allow recipes to be universally shared in Fannie in the Kitchen: The Whole Story from Soup to Nuts of How Fannie Farmer Invented Recipes with Precise Measurements to illustrating the hardships faced by immigrants in Shutting out the Sky: Life in the Tenements of New York, 1880-1924 to the efforts of a young woman to play semi-professional baseball on a men's team in Girl Wonder: A Baseball Story in Nine Innings. In School Library Journal contributor Blair Christolon praised Hopkinson for her "outstanding job of highlighting the … drive and ambition" of seventeen-year-old Alta Weiss, the real-life subject of this fictional biography, as she becomes the first woman to play on a man's team when she joins Ohio's Vermillion Independents in 1907.
"As a girl, I always wanted to be a writer," the Massachusetts-born Hopkinson once told Something about the Author (SATA). "But I never knew what I wanted to write. Then, when my daughter Rebekah was about three, we were reading a lot of children's books. Having a full-time career and a child, I was very busy. But I thought, 'Maybe I'll try writing for children. At least the books are short!' I have since found out that simply because a story is short, that doesn't mean that it is easy to write!"
Hopkinson has since made a successful career out of penning history and historical fiction for young people. Her first book, Pearl Harbor, was published in 1991 as part of Dillon Press's "Places in American History" series. Aimed at older children, the book tells the story of the bombing of Hawaii's Pearl Harbor during World War II and includes photographs showing the area as it was during the war and as it looks today, as the site of a commemorative park. Hopkinson's focus is on the memorial erected on the site of the bombing, but she also provides a history of the Hawaiian Islands before, during, and since World War II. "There's plenty of information for students writing reports and prospective visitors without overwhelming recreational readers," noted Luann Toth in a review of Pearl Harbor, for School Library Journal.
Hopkinson returns to the topic of African-American history in the picture book A Band of Angels: A Story Inspired by the Jubilee Singers. This fictionalized account of how a group of singers managed to save the Fisk School (now Fisk University) in Nashville, Tennessee, a school established for freed slaves after the Civil War, is "both touching and inspirational," asserted Beth Tegart in School Library Journal. The story's narrator is a young girl—the great-great-granddaughter of Ella Sheppard, one of the original singers. The young narrator asks her Aunt Beth to tell yet again her favorite family story. Ella, who was born a slave, had attended Fisk for only a short time when she was asked to join a chorus that toured the northern states, raising money to help support the school. The chorus found little success performing the popular tunes of the day, but one night, in order to inspire a bored audience, Ella began singing the traditional spiritual song "Many Thousand Gone." Thereafter the group, named the Jubilee Singers for the spirituals or jubilees they sang, found enormous success touring throughout the world. "Hopkinson's … lilting text interweaves subtle details about racial tensions after the Civil War while emphasizing the importance of education and of being true to oneself," commented a reviewer for Publishers Weekly. Janice M. Del Negro noted, in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, her appreciation of the author's note, which "clearly separates fact from fiction at the conclusion of the text." In School Library Journal, Tegart proclaimed the book "a fine read-aloud with a good story, uplifting pictures, and fascinating information."
The lives of five young immigrants are profiled in Hopkinson's 2003 work, Shutting out the Sky. Between the late 1800s and the first decades of the twentieth century, thousands of immigrant families entered the United States, leaving homes and families throughout Europe, Great Britain, and elsewhere and setting their first step on New York's Ellis Island. Many of these families settled in New York City, often living in low-cost tenements while establishing their American roots. In Shutting out the Sky Hopkinson introduces a young Italian immigrant named Leonard Covello, who comes to join his father; Pauline Newman, who as a child found a job in New York's garment district and eventually became a union organizer; as well as three other children from eastern Europe, all of whom had, in adulthood, made a written record of their experiences growing up in New York's migrant communities. Basing her work on these writings, as well as on a 1890 exposé of New York's tenements by writer Jacob Riis, Hopkinson creates what Horn Book contributor Kitty Flynn described as a "well-organized social history" that features an "accessible narrative" highlighted by archival photographs, a time-line, and a list of suggested readings for interested students. In School Library Journal Carol Fazioli wrote that the text's "immediacy and vivid images make it simply a fascinating read," while in Publishers Weekly a reviewer noted that in Shutting out the Sky Hopkinson "balances a highly readable discussion of change and reform" against the colorful patchwork of cultures, "joy and play" that also existed in the city's immigrant neighborhoods.
The author of one of America's classic cookbooks is the subject of Fannie in the Kitchen. A talented cook even at an early age, young Fannie Farmer is introduced to readers before she became affiliated with the Boston Cooking School. Here she works as a mother's helper at the Shaw home, and her desire to help the young daughter of the household refine her somewhat raw cooking skills prompts the older woman to begin the work of writing down her recipes and culinary tips. Calling the book a "delightfully humorous story about cooking and personal achievement," Booklist writer Shelle Rosenfeld cited Hopkinson's "lively, descriptive prose" for special merit. Praising the book's "clever narrative" as well as the Victorian-inspired artwork by Nancy Carpenter, a Horn Book contributor predicted that, with Hopkinson's inclusion of Farmer's recipe for Griddle Cakes, "nostalgic adults and their more modern offspring will take this book right into the kitchen."
Hopkinson's first work of historical fiction, Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, is about a slave girl who is separated from her mother and sent to work in the fields. She lives with an elderly woman named Aunt Rachel, who trains Clara as a seamstress. Despite her more comfortable surroundings, Clara remains preoccupied with thoughts of her mother and freedom, and when she overhears other slaves discussing the Underground Railroad, she decides to use her sewing skills to help herself and other slaves escape. In her spare time she sews a quilt, but instead of patchwork, Clara's quilt is a map detailing an escape route. When she finally does escape the plantation, she leaves the quilt for other slaves to use in their own escape plans.
A Publishers Weekly contributor praised Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, as "a triumph of the heart," and added that the story's basis in fact "brings power and substance to this noteworthy picture book." Many critics were impressed with Hopkinson's strong protagonist. Calling Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt an "exciting addition to the study of African-American history," Five Owls critic Lyn Lacy described Clara as a "resourceful and courageous freedom-seeker." Booklist's Janice Del Negro also lauded the strength of the book's main character: "Clara is a sympathetic and determined character not easily forgotten." Concluding her positive review of the story, Lacy wrote that Hopkinson "breathes new life into her heroine and other characters with their use of … 'old speech' dialect as a rich and valuable early-American oral tradition." As Hopkinson once explained to SATA: "The idea for Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt came to me while listening to a National Public Radio story about African-American quilt history. I consider this story a wonderful gift, and feel very happy that I was able to tell it."
Like Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, the picture book Birdie's Lighthouse is an example of the author's interest in telling historical stories with active female protagonists. Set in the 1850s, Birdie's Lighthouse takes the form of a diary kept by Bertha "Birdie" Holland, a ten-year-old girl who recounts the events during the year her father became the lighthouse keeper on Turtle Island, off the coast of Maine. Birdie's brother is a sailor, just as her father once was, and on the night of a great storm, when her father is too ill to maintain the lighthouse, Birdie must use all she has learned at her father's side to make sure the beacon shines brightly enough to guide her brother home safely. "Period details and a spirited heroine with a clear voice make this book a genuine delight," stated a Kirkus Reviews critic. Other reviewers similarly emphasized Hopkinson's authentic setting in time and place and her reliance on actual historical figures in the creation of Birdie. Anne Parker, a reviewer for School Library Journal, dubbed Birdie's Lighthouse "a shining bit of historical fiction for elementary audiences."
Other works of fiction by Hopkinson include Bluebird Summer, the story of two children who create a garden memorial to the beloved grandmother who shared her love of nature, and Under the Quilt of Night, about a young slave's flight by night through unfamiliar woodland territory in search of the next stop on the Underground Railroad. In addition, the author's highly praised three-volume "Prairie Skies" chapter-book trilogy focuses on a abolitionist New England family's move to Kansas following the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1855. Praising Bluebird Summer in Publishers Weekly, a reviewer noted that the book's text "expresses the tightly knit love of the family without going over the top," and Booklist contributor John Peters dubbed the work a "lyrical" and "moving story." Pioneer Summer, the first volume of the "Prairie Skies" series, was described by a Publishers Weekly reviewer as an "informative tale" featuring "taut sentences well tailored to the audience," while in Kirkus Reviews a contributor described the book as a "superb story" about how the abolitionist controversy played out in arenas other than the Civil War. "Hopkinson's gift is her ability to weave little details into a story," the critic added, calling Pioneer Summer an "engaging saga" in which the main protagonists, quiet Charlie Keller and his sister Ida Jane, are children firmly grounded in their own age rather than "21st century transplant[s]" or stereotypical pioneers.
In addition to her books, Hopkinson has also written for magazines, including short stories for Cricket and nonfiction for Scholastic. While her main interest "is stories that also tell about history," she added: "I also like to write about girls, because when I was a girl, there weren't many stories about the exciting things that girls can do!"
Biographical and Critical Sources
Black Issues Book Review, May-June, 2003, Adrienne Ingrum, review of Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, p. 58.
Booklist, February 15, 1992, p. 1103; April 15, 1993, Janice M. Del Negro, review of Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, p. 1514; June 1 and 15, 1997, pp. 1718-1719; April 15, 2001, John Peters, review of Bluebird Summer, p. 1564; May 15, 2001, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of Fannie in the Kitchen, p. 1751; December 1, 2001, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Fannie in the Kitchen, p. 658; February 15, 2002, Cynthia Turnquest, review of Under the Quilt of Night, p. 1034; March 1, 2002, Ilene Cooper, review of Fannie in the Kitchen, 1146; December 15, 2002, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Cabin in the Snow, p. 759; January 1, 2003, GraveAnne A. DeCandido, review of Girl Wonder: A Baseball Story in Nine Innings, p. 880; March 1, 2003, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Our Kansas Home, p. 1197; November 1, 2003, Hazel Rochman, review of Shutting out the Sky: Life in the Tenements of New York, 1880-1924, p. 492; January 1, 2004, Hazel Rochman, review of Sailing for Gold, p. 856; January 1, 2004, review of Shutting out the Sky, p. 779; May 15, 2004, Gillian Engberg, review of A Packet of Seeds, p. 1625; September 1, 2004, Kay Weisman, review of Apples to Oregon: Being the (Slightly) True Narrative of How a Brave Pioneer Father Brought, Apples, Peaches, Pears, Plums, Grapes, and Cherries (and Children) across the Plains, p. 132.
Boys's Life, April, 2004, review of Gold Rush, p. 8.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, February, 1999, Janice M. Del Negro, review of A Band of Angels: A Story Inspired by the Jubilee Singers, pp. 204-205.
Five Owls, March-April, 1993, Lyn Lacy, review of Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, p. 89.
Horn Book, March-April, 1999, pp. 190-191; May, 2001, review of Fannie in the Kitchen, p. 312; July-August, 2002, Susan P. Bloom, review of Under the Quilt of Night, p. 447; March-April, 2003, Martha V. Parravano, review of Girl Wonder, p. 204; January-February, 2004, Kitty Flynn, review of Shutting out the Sky, p. 101.
Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 1997, review of Birdie's Lighthouse, p. 722; April 15, 2002, review of Pioneer Summer, p. 570; August 1, 2002, review of Cabin in the Snow, p. 1133; December 15, 2002, review of Our Kansas Home, p. 1850; February 1, 2003, review of Girl Wonder, p. 232; September 15, 2003, review of Shutting out the Sky, p. 1175; February 1, 2004, review of Sailing for Gold, p. 134; March 1, 2004, review of A Packet of Seeds, p. 223; June 15, 2004, review of The Long Trail, p. 577; August 15, 2004, review of Apples to Oregon, p. 807; January 15, 2005, review of Billy and the Rebel, p. 121.
Publishers Weekly, February 8, 1993, review of Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, p. 87; April 14, 1997, p. 74; January 4, 1999, review of A Band of Angels, p. 90; April 23, 2001, review of Fannie In the Kitchen, p. 77, and review of Bluebird Summer, p. 78; April 15, 2002, review of Pioneer Summer, p. 65; December 23, 2002, review of Girl Wonder, p. 71; January 6, 2003, review of Maria's Comet, p. 62; December 1, 2003, review of Shutting out the Sky, p. 58.
Reading Teacher, November, 2004, review of Shutting out the Sky, p. 291.
School Library Journal, April, 1992, Luann Toth, review of Pearl Harbor, p. 134; June, 1993, p. 76; June, 1997, Anne Parker, review of Birdie's Lighthouse, pp. 91-92; February, 1999, Beth Tegart, review of A Band of Angels, p. 84; October, 2002, Kristen Oravec, review of Pioneer Summer, p. 112; March, 2003, Blair Christolon, review of Girl Wonder, p. 193, and Susan Shaver, review of Our Kansas Home, p. 196; December, 2003, Carol Fazioli, review of Shutting out the Sky, p. 169; April, 2004, review of Girl Wonder, p. 22, and Marian Creamer, review of A Packet of Seeds, p. 114; July, 2004, Anne Knickerbocker, review of Sailing for Gold, p. 77; September, 2004, Roxanne Burg, review of Apples to Oregon, p. 162; October, 2004, review of Shutting out the Sky, p. 31; November, 2004, Anne Knickerbocker, review of The Long Trail, p. 107; February, 2005, Joyce Adams Borner, review of Fannie in the Kitchen, p. 57.
Deborah Hopkinson Web site, http://www.deborahhopkinson.com (April 2, 2005).
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