Deborah Hopkinson is the award-winning author of picture books, nonfiction works, and longer fiction that include Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, winner of the IRA Award; Sky Boys, How They Built the Empire State Building, an ALA Notable and Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor winner; Apples to Oregon, an ALA Notable and winner of the Golden Kite Award; and Shutting out the Sky, an NCTE Orbis Pictus Honor winner. A frequent presenter on historical fiction, the writing and research process, and how to engage young people in history, she is primarily available for conference presentations for teachers and librarians. She lives in Corvallis, Oregon. Deborah offers those interested more information on lesson plans and classroom activities linked to her books.
Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek: A Tall, Thin Tale (Introducing His Forgotten Frontier Friend)
The 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln begs for a reading of this folksy “tall, thin tale.” We know Lincoln as our sixteenth American president, but Deborah Hopkinson shows him as a playful boy “on the other side of yesterday, before computers or cars, in the year 1816.” When 7-year-old Abe and a neighbor boy, Austin Gollaher, meander down to the swollen creek, Abe falls in. “Alas! Alack! Oh dear! Splash!” exclaims the story’s funny omniscient narrator. Luckily for Abe (and for the United States), the president’s “first friend” pulls him out and, afraid they’ll get a whipping, the two boys decide to keep the rescue a secret. Hopkinson and illustrator John Hendrix team up to create a witty slice of pioneer life with a thought-provoking message: “Remember Austin Gollaher, because what we do matters, even if we don’t end up in history books.” 2008, Schwartz & Wade/Random House, $16.99 and $19.99. Ages 5 to 8. Reviewer: Mary Quattlebaum (Children’s Literature).
Stagecoach Sal: Inspired by a True Tale
There is nothing that Sal likes to do more than help her Pa with his stagecoach route. She helps collect the fares, keep the “grown-ups from brawling and the babies from bawling.” She finally gets her chance to drive solo–with her feet not even touching the floorboards–when her Pa is injured. As Sal sets out, her ma worries that she may encounter that no-good outlaw Poetic Pete who conducts his holdups in rhyme. When she picks up a stranded, fancy dressed passenger she is not fooled at all. Inviting him to ride shotgun, Sal regales him in a booming voice with all the songs she knows from Polly Wolly Doodle to Sweet Betsy From Pike. Verse after verse she sings until she is hoarse and puts Poetic Pete to sleep. As morning dawns, she pulls up in front of the jailhouse and leads the desperado inside. This is a rollicking, lively tale with a spunky heroine sure to bring a smile to the lips of the reader. While the story has the feel of a tall tale, it is inspired by the true adventures of Delia Haskett Rawson, the first and possibly only woman stagecoach drive to deliver U.S. mail. Pen-and-ink with watercolor illustrations in sepia with touches of red and green lend an air of the old West. Just like the jarring stagecoach ride, the text bounces and winds its way across the pages and begs to be read aloud. For kids not familiar with these old chestnuts, there is a website listed to hear Sal’s favorite songs. Here is a wonderful addition to units about Westward Expansion and Women in History. 2009, Hyperion, Ages 5 to 9, $16.99. Reviewer: Beverley Fahey (Children’s Literature).
Sky Boys: How They Built the Empire State Building
This interesting picture book tells the story of the building of the Empire State Building in New York through free verse. While poetry and rhyme is not unusual in picture books, in this one, it creates a different feel as it shifts from 3rd person (omniscient) to 2nd person focus (through the eyes of a young boy). The illustrations use vivid color with blurred details to create a sense of the immensity of the building, from its incarnation to its completion. The focus on the “Sky Boys,” those men who actually walked around on the girders, provides the tension and the adventure of the story, but the author nicely balances this with the more challenging issue of out-of-work men who were willing to put their lives on the line–literally–to get a job. A final “Note about the Story” provides additional details that avid readers will certainly want to know after reading this book. This picture book is a definite winner. 2006, Schwartz & Wade Books/Random House, $16.99. Ages 5 to 10. Reviewer: Jean Boreen, Ph.D. (Children’s Literature).
Home on the Range: John A. Lomax and His Cowboy Songs
The hours were lengthy and lonesome during the cattle drive so the cowboys leading the herd would sing songs like “The Old Chisholm Trail” or “Home on the Range.” As a young boy, John Lomax heard the cowboys sing the doleful melodies as they passed near the Lomax home; he saved the songs by writing down the words. Later in life, John’s passion for the tunes and ballads was renewed while he was at Harvard University and then he began to travel in order to collect and preserve them. John A. Lomax was an ethnomusicologist. His story is shared and illustrated along with a few verses of the different cowboy songs that he collected. At the end of the story, the author includes further details about Lomax’s work and adds a note about the sources she used and includes a list of Lomax’s books of songs. This story would be a wonderful addition to a social studies unit and lends itself for discussion about recording and preserving a part of history. 2009, G. P. Putnam’s Sons/Penguin, $16.99. Ages 6 to 9. Reviewer: Carrie Hane Hung (Children’s Literature).
Conference presentations for teachers, librarians and parents are often focused on history and research. The importance of historical literacy is one aspect of the presentation with ideas for using historical fiction as well as nonfiction with young readers.
Events including students are interactive and fun. When she is able to travel by car (within range of Corvallis OR) she brings antique kitchen utensils, a bluebird box and a replica of the quilt from Sweet Clara’s story—providing hands-on participation for the students.
Power points sessions (up to 4 per day) for K-8th grade with each session aproximately 45 minutes long—shorter for K-1—shows how she does research for her books.
To learn more about Deborah and her publications please visit www.deborahhopkinson.com.