My Writing and Reading Life: Deborah Hopkinson, Author of A Bandit’s Tale: The Muddled Misadventures of a Pickpocket
The Children’s Book Review | April 18, 2016
Latest published book …
A Bandit’s Tale, The Muddled Misadventures of a Pickpocket, a picaresque historical fiction novel set in 19th century New York City. A Bandit’s Tale features real historical figures, including human rights activist Jacob Riis, author of How the Other Half Lives, and Henry Bergh, founder of the ASPCA, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary in April 2016.
You wrote it because …
I have long been fascinated by this tumultuous period in our nation’s history, when millions of immigrants flooded New York City’s Lower East Side. It was also a time when social reformers, including Charles Dickens as well as Jacob Riis, Henry Bergh, and labor union activists, began to draw attention to the horrific living and working conditions of the poor, as well as children and animals. Thanks to the invention of flash photography, Riis became a pioneering photojournalist, and later worked with Theodore Roosevelt to improve housing conditions in the city. The fictional characters in A Bandit’s Tale are thrown into this turbulent time of change.
Best moment …
If I may be allowed to expand one moment to several, I’d say that a highlight of working on A Bandit’s Tale was my 2014 visit to New York City to conduct on-site research. I read Henry Bergh’s correspondence at the Museum of the City of New York; visited the site at 45 Crosby Street which, many years ago, served as a “child den” where young street musicians like Rocco, the main character, were held; did archival research at the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children; and saw the horseshoe design still decorating a Barrow Street building once owned by the real Michael Hallanan, the Greenwich Village blacksmith fictionalized in my story.
Your special place to write …
When I left my career in higher education fundraising to write full time two years ago, we turned our dining room into an office. I write on a large wooden table, with plenty of room to prop up my research books. Beside me are my four-legged office mates, a cocker spaniel named Rue and a flat-coated retriever called Brooklyn. While I have learned to write on airplanes as I travel the country to visit elementary and middle schools, there’s really no place like home.
Necessary writing/creativity tool …
That’s easy: books! Since I write both historical fiction and nonfiction, I rely heavily on academic works by scholars as well as first-person accounts. I usually have one or two large bins of books for each project.
Favorite bookshop …
Here in Portland, Oregon we are fortunate to have a number of amazing bookstores, large and small, from Powells, to A Children’s Place, to Green Bean Books and more. My daughter, a teacher in Shelburne, VT, lives in easy walking distance of another wonderful bookshop, Flying Pig Books.
Currently reading …
I’m currently reading the wonderfully atmospheric World War II espionage novels of Alan Furst, since this is a period I am exploring in upcoming fiction and nonfiction projects. Highly recommended!
All-time favorite children’s book you didn’t write…
That’s not so easy to choose, as there are many books I love. I’d have to go with fellow Oregonian Eloise Jarvis McGraw’s The Moorchild, which won a Newbery Honor in 1997. I had the honor of having Ms. McGraw sign my copy, and the Oregon Book Award for children’s literature, which I have won once and been a finalist for several times, is named in her honor.
An author you idol …
Ah, well, nothing original here, but I adore Jane Austen, and never tire of reading her exquisite novels.
Favorite illustrator …
Having just published a historical fiction picture book entitled BEATRIX POTTER and the UNFORTUNATE TALE of a BORROWED GUINEA PIG, I simply must say Beatrix Potter. While in London researching my middle grade novel, THE GREAT TROUBLE, I had the chance to see some of Potter’s artwork in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Like Austen, Potter began working on her craft as a girl, and that is something I love sharing with young readers when I visit schools.
A literary character to vacation with …
I have no problem choosing this one: I’d like to travel around the English countryside with Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, especially if she were exactly like the late actress Joan Hickson.
Connect with Deborah Hopkinson …
Deborah Hopkinson is the award-winning author of more than 45 books for young readers. Deborah has won the SCBWI Golden Kite Award for picture book text twice, for Apples to Oregon and A Band of Angels. Other titles include Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, winner of the IRA Award; and Sky Boys, a Boston Globe–Horn Book Honor book.
Deborah’s nonfiction includes Titanic, Voices from the Disaster, which received a YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction honor and a Robert F. Sibert Honor, and Shutting out the Sky, Life in the Tenements of New York 1880-1924, received an NCTE Orbis Pictus honor. Deborah’s historical fiction title, The Great Trouble, A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel, won an Oregon Spirit Award. Her most recent books include Courage and Defiance, Stories of Spies, Saboteurs, and Survivors in World War II Denmark and Beatrix Potter and the Unfortunate Tale of the Borrowed Guinea Pig.
A native of Massachusetts, Deborah received a B.A. in English from the University of Massachusetts and an M.A. in Asian Studies from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She and her husband, winemaker Andy Thomas, live near Portland, Oregon and have two grown children.
Written by Deborah Hopkinson
Publisher’s Synopsis: From an award-winning author of historical fiction comes a story of survival, crime, adventure, and horses in the streets of 19th century New York City.
Eleven-year-old Rocco is an Italian immigrant who finds himself alone in New York City after he’s sold to a padrone by his poverty-stricken parents. While working as a street musician, he meets the boys of the infamous Bandits’ Roost, who teach him the art of pickpocketing. Rocco embraces his new life of crime—he’s good at it, and it’s more lucrative than banging a triangle on the street corner. But when he meets Meddlin’ Mary, a strong-hearted Irish girl who’s determined to help the horses of New York City, things begin to change. Rocco begins to reexamine his life—and take his future into his own hands.
Ages 8-12 | Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers | Apr. 5 2016 | ISBN-13: 978-0385754996
“A strong chose for those who enjoy adventures about scrappy and resourceful kids.”
—School Library Journal, Starred Review
“A dynamic historical novel ideal for both classroom studies and pleasure reading.”
—Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
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