25 Women to Read Before You Die

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Kids' Q&A

Deborah Hopkinson

Describe your latest project.
I love historical anniversaries. They help give kids a way to make sense of when events happened. And 2009 is an especially exciting year because it marks the bicentennial of both Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin, who were born on the exact same day, as well as the 150th birthday of Oregon's statehood.

Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek: A Tall, Thin Tale explores an incident in Lincoln's childhood when he was saved from drowning by his friend, Austin Gollaher.

I think kids will really love John Hendrix's illustrations for Abe. We wanted this book to encourage children to ask questions about history, such as "What really happened?" "Do ordinary people belong in history?" "How can we begin to understand what happened in the past?"

The story is also meant to be lots of fun!

  1. Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek: A Tall, Thin Tale (Introducing His Forgotten Frontier Friend)
    $17.99 New Hardcover add to wishlist
    "What you can know for sure is that this is a book you should add to your shelves." School Library Journal (starred review)

    "This unusual and often amusing picture book offers much more than an illustrated reminiscence." Booklist (starred review)

  2. 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
    $4.95 Used Trade Paper add to wishlist
    "Prepared to perfection and served up with style, this historical nugget imagines an interlude in the life of cookbook pioneer Fannie Farmer." Publishers Weekly (starred review)
  3. Sky Boys: How They Built the Empire State Building
    $8.95 Sale Hardcover add to wishlist
    "[A] fascinating look at a slice of American history and a worthwhile addition to any collection." School Library Journal

    "[A] literally riveting account." Publishers Weekly

What fictional character would you like to be your friend, and why?
I would like Jane Eyre to be my friend. To be honest, it's not just because I love her independence and brave spirit. I also like the idea that she might be willing to share her inheritance.

If you could choose any story to live in, which story would it be? Why?
I know it's obvious and unimaginative, but I have to admit I'm one of those. That's right, it has to be Pride and Prejudice. Why? It's simple: I long for a life where my daily grind includes sitting in the morning room, reading novels and writing letters.

Several years ago, I even dragged my daughter on a sort of literary pilgrimage to Bath, where, I am pleased to say, we met Austenites far more fanatical than I am.

What is your favorite literary first line?
It's a three-way tie:

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." —Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

"Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show." —Charles Dickens, David Copperfield

"I come from a family with a lot of dead people." —Deborah Wiles, Each Little Bird That Sings (a National Book Award finalist for young people)

How did the last good book you read end up in your hands?
In addition to being a writer and having a day job as the Vice President for Advancement at the Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, I also review books. Lynn Green of BookPage sent me The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins to review, and it kept me up all night. Recommended for when you really want to escape into a story!

Tell us about your pets.
I grew up in a family where we didn't really have many pets, and I've been trying to make up for it ever since. We now have only two dogs, two cats, and a canary, but when we lived in Walla Walla, our son had, at various times, pigeons, chickens, ducks, chinchillas, quail, a sheep, a ferret, finches, and snakes. We drew the line at an emu.

Right now, my old dog is the queen of the dog park. She looks like a bear, and we want to get her a sign to wear that reads: "I know I look like a bear. But I don't know what kind of dog I am."

Who are your favorite characters in history?
My favorite characters in history are people I've gotten to know by writing books about them: Maria Mitchell, America's first woman astronomer who discovered a comet and taught astronomy to young women at Vassar; Oscar Chapman, a government official who lived by his principles and helped make it possible for Marian Anderson to sing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1939; Matthew Alexander Henson, the incredible African American explorer who went to the North Pole with Robert Peary; and of course, those two extraordinary men who share a birthday: Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin.

Make a question of your own, then answer it.
Q: What one word do people always choose when asked to describe their history classes in school?

A: All audiences answer this question the same: boring. So what can I do to change that? When I walked up the worn, uneven stone steps of Jubilee Hall, I couldn't help shivering, because I realized that Ella Sheppard Moore, the young Jubilee singer I write about in A Band of Angels, had also walked there, full of pride that she helped build that building and save Fisk University.

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Deborah Hopkinson is most recently the author of Sky Boys: How They Built the Empire State Building. She is also the author of the ALA Notable Book, Apples to Oregon. She lives in Coravilis, Oregon.


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