Review: A Bandit's Tale by Deborah Hopkinson

Today, I’m thrilled to be participating in another blog tour for Deborah Hopkinson! This time, the award-winning master of historical fiction for children takes readers back to nineteenth-century New York City in her new middle-grade novel: A BANDIT’S TALE: THE MUDDLED MISADVENTURES OF A PICKPOCKET (Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers | on sale April 5, 2016 | Ages 8–12 | $16.99). Here’s the publisher’s description of this story of survival, crime, adventure, and horses:

Here are a few words from other reviewers:

“A strong choice 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

And here are a few more from me:
I am a diehard animal lover, so when I found out that the founder of the ASPCA, Henry Bergh, appears as a character in this novel and that part of the plot is about helping the street horses in NYC, I knew I had to read it! What I found was so much more. It turns out there were several other things I loved about this novel, too:

  1. It’s an interesting setting, late 1800s New York City, that I hadn’t really thought about much before. The novel immerses readers in this world and brings it to life on a very human level. I love when historical fiction does that!
  2. There’s a secret! I won’t give away any spoilers, but there’s an incident at the beginning of the book that isn’t fully explained or understood by the reader until much later, but it sure keeps you wondering.
  3. I love the voice. The book is written in first-person from Rocco’s somewhat irreverent point of view, sometimes addressing the reader directly. Rocco thinks and sounds like a completely believable 11- to 12-year-old. He is naive and immature but good-hearted and trying to cope as best he can with a challenging and complex world. I especially appreciated how with age and experience he is able to look back on previous events and see them differently.
  4. Okay, as much as enjoyed the setting, plot, and character of the novel, what truly blew me away was the backmatter. (I love fiction, but I guess I’m a nonfiction girl at heart!) There’s a map; an explanation of what a picaresque novel is; notes about the setting, times, and people; a glossary of terms used by the thieves; a guide for further reading; and source notes. Many real people are referenced in the novel, and Hopkinson takes great care to explain exactly what is true and what she made up for the sake of the story. I think readers and writers alike will find it interesting to see how the fiction and facts can intertwine and overlap.
  5. Adding to all of this were the photos! Being able to see authentic vintage photos from the actual time and place of the novel really added to the intellectual understanding as well as the emotional impact of the fictional scenes.

5B7C832B-F02E-4045-A0AD-C26D55DC4289All in all, this book earns A Bandit’s Tale two thumbs up from this reader! I would highly recommend handing it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, animal lovers, adventure lovers, ruffians and rogues, and, yes, even readers who tend to prefer nonfiction history and/or biography.
Thank you to Deborah Hopkinson and Michele Kophs at Provato Events for the pleasure of reading this advance reader’s copy!
For other stops on the Bandit Blog Tour please check and watch for the hashtag, #BanditBlogTour.

Deborah Hopkinson guest post about Beatrix Potter!

blog tour banner
blog tour bannerDeborah Hopkinson is the author of nearly 50 fantastic books for young readers. I have blogged previously about several of these books, including her most recent nonfiction work, Courage & Defiance, which was named a NCTE Orbis Pictus recommended book and Sydney Taylor award notable book. Her newest middle grade novel, A Bandit’s Tale, The Muddled Misadventures of a Pickpocket, a Junior Library Guild selection, will be released this April. And today we’re celebrating the recent release of Beatrix Potter and the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig (Schwartz & Wade), which I know will have a special place in my heart because a) I love guinea pigs, and b) when I was a little girl I had a beloved set of bunnies named Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail. Just check out this intriguing review:

As this book’s foreboding title suggests, a guinea pig does not survive its encounter with the future creator of Peter Rabbit—nor do Sally the snake, an unnamed bat, and numerous snails. In her childhood, Beatrix Potter made a habit of capturing London’s wild creatures. “But the sad truth is that although Beatrix loved animals, she did not always have the best of luck with them,” sighs Hopkinson (Courage & Defiance), who shares evidence from Potter’s childhood diary and, according to an afterword, takes a few authorial liberties with actual events. Troubles arise when Beatrix borrows a pet guinea pig, drolly named Queen Elizabeth, to sketch. After Queen Elizabeth devours a fatal “repast of paper, paste, and string,” Beatrix humbly returns to its owner with “a stiff and bloated Queen Elizabeth” and a “delightful little watercolor” of the subject. Hopkinson’s jesting tone combines false grandeur with a note of regret, and Voake’s (Ginger) breezy watercolors suggest Beatrix’s combination of curiosity and nonchalance. Sensitive souls will feel for Beatrix’s victims, even as this diverting narrative sheds light on her childhood fascinations. Ages 4–8. Author’s agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (Feb.).”  — Publishers Weekly

And now, here is today’s guest post, written by Deborah Hopkinson herself:

Deborah HopkinsonThis year marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Beatrix Potter (1866-1943), the creator of some of the best-loved children’s classics in the world. I first began toying with the idea of writing about Beatrix five years ago, but it took more than a year and a half of trial and error. Finally, with the guidance of my editor Anne Schwartz at Schwartz & Wade, I found my way to the story that became Beatrix Potter and the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig. Inspired by a true incident that Beatrix recorded in her journal, she recounts borrowing a guinea pig named Queen Elizabeth from her neighbor, only to have it expire in the night from eating paste and glue and other forbidden treats.
Beatrix Potter was a fascinating woman, as well as a legendary artist, author, and conservationist. Her journal, written in code, was decoded and transcribed in 1958 by Leslie Linder and published in 1966. In it, Beatrix describes a series of pet disasters, some of which appear in my book.
I was also intrigued by Beatrix’s creative process. Her first book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, published in 1902, was originally a “picture letter” written to cheer up a sick boy named Noel Moore, the son of her former governess. She begins, “My dear Noel, I don’t know what to write to you so I will tell you a story about four little rabbits whose names were Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, and Peter.
Beatrix Potter coverI love playing with the structure of picture books. Some of my previous books have been written in journal format, or divided into innings or courses (like chapters). For this book, we wanted to as much as possible imitate one of Beatrix Potter’s own picture letters. Even before the title page, the story begins with an introduction: “My dear Reader.” At the end, the story is signed by me. The postscript? That’s an author’s note which includes photos of Beatrix and images of her journal and the picture letter to Noel. As an author who visits schools all over the country, I’m looking forward to incorporating picture letter into my author visits and can’t wait to see what students will create. I’m also eager to share with them the story of an artist and writer who began practicing her craft at a young age.
Charlotte Voake, whose delightful watercolors make this book so special, is British, and I’m excited that our book will also be published in Great Britain in July, to coincide with Beatrix Potter’s birthday on July 28. The Royal Mint is issuing 50p coins in honor of Beatrix (there is also a coin to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death).
For more Beatrix Potter special events, follow the hashtag #Beatrix150 on Twitter. And, as Beatrix learned the hard way, do be careful whenever you borrow something from a neighbor.

Many thanks to Deborah Hopkinson for guest blogging here today!  For other stops on the Beatrix Blog Tour please visit

Nonfiction Monday: Courage & Defiance blog tour and interview

Facts First! Nonfiction Monday

Facts First! Nonfiction MondayAs you can probably tell by my books Be a Changemaker and Emmanuel’s Dream, I love writing about heroes and changemakers. It should be no surprise, then, that I love reading about them, too. My favorite kinds of stories are those about ordinary people who acted with extraordinary strength, conviction, and courage, and the book I just finished reading is full of people doing just that. In Courage & Defiance: Stories of Spies, Saboteurs and Survivors in World War II Denmark by Deborah Hopkinson (Scholastic Press, August 2015), the author has clearly done a great deal of careful research to bring us narrative nonfiction about the WWII resistance movement in Denmark from the perspective of some of those who took part in it. It’s a gripping tale of adventure and suspense, and one that has rarely been told.

Deborah has been interviewed on this blog before, and I’m super excited to welcome her back once again as part of the Courage and Defiance blog tour. I hope you enjoy the interview!
LAT: I know I thoroughly enjoyed this book, Deborah. What kind of young reader do you think Courage & Defiance will appeal to? What other books might be read-alikes? 
DH: I visit schools all over the country and love to ask students what they’re reading. While fantasy and science fiction are always popular, I’m usually surprised by the number of students – girls and boys – who tell me they like to read about history and like nonfiction. There are definitely kids who read everything they can get their hands on topics such as the Titanic and World War II, but I think readers who enjoyed Number the Stars by Lois Lowry or The Diary of Anne Frank will also enjoy Courage & Defiance.
LAT: This is a story that many of us probably haven’t heard before. Why do you think that might be?
DH: I think perhaps that here in the U.S., we’re most naturally interested in stories that take place after America entered World War II on December 7, 1941. (As it happens, my next nonfiction book about submarines in the Pacific war begins with the attack on Pearl Harbor and will be out in 2016 for the 75th anniversary.) While I did find a number of adult nonfiction books about the experience of Danes during the German occupation, which began on April 9, 1940, almost all were scholarly titles or of interest primarily to historians (including a 600-page book about the SOE in Denmark). I feel fortunate that I was able to find as much as I did in English, but I am sure there is much more available in Danish. We were able to access the photo archives of the Museum of Danish Resistance.

Deborah Hopkinson

LAT: During the research phase of Courage & Defiance, what discoveries did you come across that made you feel like you’d struck gold? Was there anything in the research that came as a surprise?
DH: At author visits, I tell students that my favorite part of writing is the research. And since I knew little when I began several years ago, I felt like I was discovering something new and incredible at every corner. Probably the most significant discovery I made was finding a memoir in English entitled A Letter to My Descendents by Niels Skov. Niels, whom I later had the privilege to meet, came to the U.S. after the war, where he received a Ph.D. and became a college professor. His personal account was so incredibly lively and vibrant – which matched his personality, even at age ninety-four. To my surprise, he had been deported to a German labor camp at the same time as another activist whose story I tell, but they did not meet. It made me realize just how many incredible stories there are in history, and how easily they are lost.
LAT: This one may be tricky, but if you can fathom a guess… What do you think it was about the Danes that made them able to resist the Germans and support their Jewish countrymen so effectively? 
DH: Well, I am not sure I am qualified to say, but what comes across in all the first-person accounts I found was that ordinary people shared an unwavering sense of human decency, a love of country, and a commitment to doing the right thing – even at great cost. It seems to me that as the war went on, the confidence and belief that people had in democratic values helped to give them the courage to take risks.
LAT: In the book, you asked Niels what his advice to young people today would be. Now that you’ve done all this research and written such a fantastic book, what is YOUR advice to young people today?
DH: While young people in America now may not be faced with life-and-death decisions as Danish citizens were in the 1940s, we all grapple with difficult personal choices. So perhaps I’d simply give the same advice I’ve often told my own two children: make good choices and do good work in the world. And, of course, I have to add: keep reading!
LAT: That’s great advice, Deborah. Thanks so much for visiting today! 
For other stops on the Courage and Defiance blog tour please check

Interview with author Deborah Hopkinson

Today I’m thrilled to welcome back author Deborah Hopkinson. I interviewed Deborah here previously in a more general sense, but this time I’d like to talk specifics about her latest book, KNIT YOUR BIT, coming from Putnam Juvenile on February 21, 2013.

KNIT YOUR BIT is a fictionalized account of the real “Knit-In” event at Central Park in 1918. Despite being fiction, it was heavily researched to get the historical details right, and readers can learn a lot about the time, World War I, and the people who lived then.

Please help me welcome back Deborah!


LT: Hi, Deborah. It’s great to have you back. I love KNIT YOUR BIT and how it melds a fictional story with a nonfiction event. How did you first become interested in writing about this topic? Where did the seed of the story come from?
DH: The seed of this story actually dates back some years, to my first professional job.  After graduate school I stumbled into a career in fundraising, which I have pursued ever since, in addition to being a writer.  My first position was Staff Writer for the American Red Cross in Honolulu.
DH: As part of a history celebration, I wrote some articles for the organization’s newsletter and stumbled upon one of firemen knitting in World War I.  I loved that image.  As a writer interested in history, I collect books on a wide variety of topics.  At some point, thinking about the upcoming anniversary of WWI, I remembered that photo and began reading about the history of knitting.  Eventually, in Anne L. Macdonald’s NO IDLE HANDS, THE SOCIAL HISTORY OF AMERICAN KNITTING, I found a reference to the 1918 Central Park Knitting Bee, and that’s where the story began.
LT: What kind of reader do you think this book will appeal to?
DH: I think that my editor, Shauna Rossano, and the illustrator, Steven Guanaccia, have done wonders to make this story appealing to young readers. I hope people who love crafts and knitting will be interested.  I know that I often sign copies of my picture book, SWEET CLARA AND THE FREEDOM QUILT, which are being given as gifts to adults.  I hope folks will give KNIT YOUR BIT to friends (women and men, as well as boys and girls) who knit.
LT: What was your research process like for this book?
DH: Like many of my picture books, KNIT YOUR BIT is historical fiction inspired by real people or events, and includes an author’s note about knitting for soldiers during World War I.
DH: The New York Times published an article on the knitting bee back in 1918, and some of the details of the prizes awarded are pulled directly from that piece.  I also researched and got permission for the historic photos on the endpapers, which include one of sheep grazing during World War I on the White House lawn.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to track down permissions for the Makiki fire station photograph, but I have added to my Pinterest Board for KNIT YOUR BIT:

Knit Your Bit cover
KNIT YOUR BIT by Deborah Hopkinson

LT: What was your favorite part of the book to research and/or write?   What was the hardest part of the research and/or writing for you? How did you deal with that?
DH: I actually love doing research of any kind.  The hardest part is not having enough time, or not being able to travel to do research on-site.  For KNIT YOUR BIT, the fact that I couldn’t actually find any first-person accounts of children who participated in the knitting bee meant that I felt the story, although based on real events, needed to be historical fiction to be appealing to readers. I always tell kids that when authors put words in character’s mouths the story becomes fiction.
LT: How have your research and writing processes evolved over the course of your career?
DH: I think my processes have improved over the years.  I’m writing a nonfiction book now on World War II, and I’m being careful to cite each source meticulously as I go along.
DH: This is something I learned the hard way, especially with longer nonfiction.  The vetting and research process for my 2012 book, TITANIC, VOICES FROM THE DISASTER (a YALSA Nonfiction Award finalist) was incredibly detailed and time-consuming, because of the wealth of information and the sheer complexity of the story.  So even though it might be tedious, I have learned to take my time and carefully track information and sources. It definitely saves time later!
LT: I think every book teaches us something new, about the world, about ourselves, or about the craft of writing. What have you learned as a result of writing this book?
DH: I tend to write for older readers, especially since both my kids are now in their twenties.  I like to do author visits and talk with first and second graders and imagine how the book will sound if I’m sharing it with them.  That was especially helpful in paring down this story to be as kid-friendly as possible.
LT: Besides promoting your new book, what are you working on now?
DH: Right now, I’m finishing the proofreading for my fall middle grade novel, THE GREAT TROUBLE, A MYSTERY OF LONDON, THE BLUE DEATH, AND A BOY CALLED EEL.  I’m very excited about it because 2013 is the bicentennial of the birth of Dr. John Snow, whose work in the 1854 cholera epidemic changed medical history.  With the recent outbreaks of cholera in Haiti, this topic is especially relevant today.
LT: Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about?
DH: I have several knitter friends who helped with this book, including Robin Smith, who knits hats for premature babies with her second graders.
DH: I, on the other hand, am an extremely poor knitter and I’m not very good at hats – or socks.   I knit scarves for relaxation only, and only dare give my handiwork to people who don’t knit at all. I am lucky enough to live near Portland, Oregon, where there are many wonderful yarn stores and enthusiastic knitters.
DH: I’m also delighted that the tradition of knitting for soldiers continues today. I hope that KNIT YOUR BIT inspires readers to learn a new skill or share one with others.
LT: Thanks so much for sharing with us, Deborah. And best of luck with KNIT YOUR BIT!

Interview with Deborah Hopkinson

I became a fan of Deborah Hopkinson in 2007, when I started Anastasia Suen’s Easy Readers and Chapter Books course. For the first assignment, we had to read five chapter books then choose one to analyze. I chose PIONEER SUMMER because it was my favorite. Years later, when I became co-regional advisor for SCBWI Western Washington, I knew I had to bring Deborah up to talk to us. I’m thrilled that she’ll be coming to our conference this April, and that I’ll finally get to meet her in person! I’m going to try not to go all fan-girl on her, but you never know.
I thought I’d take this opportunity to ask her a few questions that have been on my mind and share them with you, so we can all get to know her a little better…

L: From other sources I found online, it sounds like you started writing for children when your own children were young, just like I did. Is that right? Did you always know you wanted to be a writer? Tell us how you got started.
D: I wanted to be a writer from the time I was in the fourth grade, but it wasn’t until my daughter, Rebekah, was born that I realized I wanted to write for children.  As a young mother with a full time job, picture books seemed short enough to be doable with my busy schedule. It took me about two years to sell my first magazine story, and another couple of years to sell my first picture book.

L: Whenever I’m not writing, I feel like I should be, but whenever I am writing, I feeling like I’m taking valuable time away from other things. What tricks have you learned for finding a balance between your own creative pursuits and the demands of keeping up with the industry, working full time, taking care of your home and family, etc.?
D: Well, I don’t listen to or worry about people who have firm guidelines about how one must write every day.  But I once read a great article where the author recommended two kinds of writing goals: output and process.  I use a combination of those strategies to balance my life.  Output goals might be expressed as: “I am going to submit a manuscript this month.”  And then you do whatever it takes to meet that deadline.  Process goals are: “I am going to write for three hours every weekend.”  It also just works to put your energies in the direction you want to go as much as you can.

L: Many of your books are historical and obviously heavily researched, yet they end up in the fiction section. How and when do you decide when to go straight nonfiction versus when to fictionalize?
D: Whether a book is historical fiction or nonfiction often is determined by how the story is progressing, I think.  Many times the demands of a dramatic arc make it a bit difficult to tell a compelling story for young readers in a nonfiction format.

L: What do you think about the current state of the picture book industry?
D: Well, I am not sure I know enough to be an expert on that!  I feel fortunate to still be able to occasionally sell picture books.  I also try to have some curriculum tie-in so that my books are appropriate to schools and libraries.

L: I noticed the warm dedication in STAGECOACH SAL to your amazing superagent, Steven Malk at Writers House (who was at our conference last year—thanks, Steven!). Tell us how you snagged him, and if you can, give us a peek inside your author-agent relationship!
D: I called Steven up some years ago at the recommendation of a fellow writer, and feel very fortunate to be able to work with him.  Steven is wonderful.  I have had many doors opened thanks to his hard work, and I also make an effort to work hard on my own to understand what my editors need and want.

L: My husband once asked me what I would consider success in this industry. I told him I will know I’ve made it when I receive one letter from one child saying that something I wrote made a positive difference in his or her life. (Of course, I’d love truckloads of letters like that, but if I can get at least one, I’ll die happy.) You’ve got a long and varied book list, with an impressive list of awards to go with it. So, how do you define success? Do you feel like you’ve achieved your dream? If not, what’s left on your to-do list?
D: Well, I try to be very grateful for the luck and success that I have had.  Right now I am vice president for Advancement at the Pacific Northwest College of Art.  I have seven people reporting to me, and it is certainly one of those “big jobs.”  I do feel fortunate to have had, in a way, two careers.  However, that doesn’t mean I still don’t dream of becoming a full time writer!  But with a kid in college and one in graduate school, that may not ever happen.

L: What tips would you like to share with aspiring children’s book writers, especially those of us writing nonfiction or fiction based on facts for grades preK-5?
D: Well, I think it is very important to understand as much as possible about how publishing works as early in one’s career as possible. Also it helps to understand the crucial role of teachers and librarians in children’s literature.  And I would give writers the same advice I give students during author visits: Read!

L: What’s coming up next for you?

My newest book is The Humblebee Hunter, illustrated by Jen Corace. It’s based on the family life of Charles Darwin and his children at Down House. It was recently reviewed in the New York Times, which was exciting.  My other forthcoming books include Annie and Helen, to be illustrated by Raul Colon, and A Boy Called Dickens, illustrated by John Hendrix, who also did the artwork for Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek.

L: Those sound wonderful! I can’t wait to see them. Thanks so much for chatting with me, Deborah. See you in April!