Friday, February 22, 2013

KNIT YOUR BIT- Deborah Hopkinson

If you're a fan of historical fiction or picture book biographies, you probably know Deborah Hopkinson. Hopkinson's most recent book, TITANIC:VOICES FROM THE DISASTER has been on many award lists, including the CYBILS, Sibert and YALA Excellence in nonfiction. Last year, she released A BOY CALLED DICKENS, One of my personal favorites is KEEP ON, about Matthew Henson, the African American explorer who discovered the North Pole with Admiral Peary. Deborah is a master at finding unusual tidbits that make history interesting for kids (and adults!).

This week, Hopkinson's latest picture book, KNIT YOUR BIT,  was released. KNIT YOUR BIT is the story of Mikey, a  young boy whose father has gone off to fight in World War I. Everyone in the United States is doing their "bit" to help the war effort, and Mikey's teacher encourages her class to have a Knitting Bee to make winter clothing for the soldiers. At first, Mikey and his friends are reluctant to help because they believe knitting is an activity for girls, but eventually, their desire to help wins out, and they end up participating in a knitting bee at Central Park. Author's notes in the back of the book give more information about the knitting effort during World War I.

For a more detailed summary of the book, go to Jules Danielson's Kirkus Review here

This week, I had the privilege of interviewing Deborah.

1)     Some authors of historical fiction and/or biography seem to
concentrate on a certain part of the country/world, or a certain time
period. Your topics, on the other hand, seem to vary widely. How do you
select your topics? Or maybe a better question is how do your topics
find you?
I began with a strong interest in women’s history and have been especially drawn to the 19th century, both in England and in the U.S.  It was such a time of incredible change.  I do read widely and am always looking for ideas that illuminate the lives of ordinary people in history or are simply fascinating stories that make me ask: Why didn’t I know that? 
Writing is a way to be a lifelong learner and I love that about it.

2) According to your website, you also work full time as a
philanthropist at a college. How do you carve out time for research and
for writing? What does your research/writing life look like?
I work in philanthropy as a fundraiser, serving as vice president for advancement at Pacific Northwest College of Art.  (Philanthropists tend to be those folks lucky to have money to give away!)  My job is definitely more than full time, so I primarily work on weekends in my writing, though I do sometimes read or do research at night after work.  Sometimes I will take a Friday off from work to allow myself three days to write intensively.  And, if I am really on a deadline I have been known to check myself into a hotel for the weekend and work pretty much day and night!

3) Your most recent book, KNIT YOUR BIT, focuses on a knitting project
launched in the United States to support troops during World War I.
Are you a knitter? What kinds of things did you do to research KNIT
I love knitting, but am the first to admit that even Mikey in Knit Your Bit has one up on me – I stick to scarves!  I have wanted to write about knitting in WWI for many years, ever since I first saw a photograph of firemen knitting for the war effort. I love the graphic style of those American Red Cross posters as well.  So I researched books on knitting, photographs and historical articles.

4) How do you do to ensure that your books are historically accurate?
For my nonfiction books, such as Titanic: Voices from the Disaster, which recently was named a Sibert Honor and YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Honor book, I had three Titanic experts read the book (and they all found different errors!).  I often ask academics or librarians from museums or archives to read my nonfiction books for a small honorarium to help ensure accuracy.

5) What has been the hardest book you have written so far? What was
especially hard about that book?
Well, to date, Titanic has the honor of being the hardest book I’ve written.  What makes it hard is that there has been so much written about it, it is sometimes hard to track down the most accurate information without repeating an error or misconception.

6) You’ve written about such a range of historical periods and events.
If you could have been physically present at one of these events, which
one would it have been? Why?
Probably not the sinking of the Titanic – I have a feeling I would have been in third class. I have to admit, if I had had the chance to meet Charles Dickens and live in Victorian England (despite the dirt), I think that would be my first choice.

7) If you could have lunch with anyone of the historical figures you
have written about, who would it be? Why?
Great question!  That one is also easy: Charles Darwin, without a doubt.  It would be wonderful to meet Lincoln, or Annie Sullivan, or John Adams, or Beatrix Potter or Dr. John Snow but I think the chance to spend an hour in the presence of Darwin’s genius wins out.

8) If you could meet with any living person, with the purpose of
conducting research for a new book, who would you want to meet? What
would you want to ask them?
Hmm.  Well, at the moment I’m enjoying the audio and TV versions of George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones.  Honestly, I think I would like to meet him to ask him how he plots so well!

9) What kinds of things do you like to read? Who are some of your
favorite authors?
Aside from Martin, my favorites are British authors such as Bronte and Austin. I like literary mysteries, which I listen to on my way to work – but only if they have a British narrator.  I deal with quite a lot of stress in my job, so my what I love most in my reading/listening these days is just to listen to a good story.

10) I know THE GREAT TROUBLE, about the London cholera epidemic will be
coming out in October. What are you working on now?
I have just completed a picture book on Beatrix Potter, and am now working on a nonfiction book set in World War Two.

11) Is there anything else you wish someone would ask you?
Well, my newest hobby is Pinterest, and while I don’t blog, I have been enjoying posting images on boards related to my books. You can check it out at:

A big thanks to Deborah for including me as part of her blog tour. For other stops on the KNIT YOUR BIT Blog Tour, check

1 comment:

Linda B said...

This looks great & I'm interested in the Beatrix Potter story, too, Deborah. Thanks for the interview so we can learn more. Your writing choices sound very interesting, Deborah. I love the idea of the research. Thank you both!