Prolific West Linn author Deborah Hopkinson earns several state, national awards
About 25 years ago, West Linn resident Deborah Hopkinson was reading a picture book to her daughter when an idea came to her.
She'd always loved to read, and had wanted to be a writer since the fourth grade. But life, as it so often does, arrived at a fork between dreams and reality when Hopkinson was enjoying a career in higher education fundraising, while also raising a young family. Writing was on the backburner.
But when she was reading that picture book, Hopkinson realized that she didn't have to write a 500-page tome to achieve her dream of becoming an author. She decided to try her hand at picture books.
Now in her third decade as an author, with more than 50 books to her name, Hopkinson has garnered national acclaim for works that range from picture books to young adult literature. In April, Hopkinson earned three prestigious awards for some of her most recent work: the Oregon Book Awards' Leslie Bradshaw Award for Young Adult Literature, given to her book "Courage and Defiance," the national Jane Addams Peace Association Award for children's books awarded for "Steamboat School" and the Green Earth Environmental Stewardship Award for "Follow the Moon Home."
On May 9, Hopkinson released yet another book titled "Independence Cake" — a picture book that highlights Amelia Simmons, who wrote the first American cookbook in 1796. While the book is rooted in a factual event and person, Hopkinson had to fictionalize parts of the book in the absence of historical records.
"I would say that many of my books are about unknowns, or people who are sort of footnotes to history," Hopkinson said. "Very little is known about (Simmons) and what I'm also trying to do, when I work with students in schools, is to help them understand the difference between nonfiction — and sources of information in nonfiction — and historical fiction where you're basically making things up. So in this case, you can see the details of her life are lost."
Hopkinson's love for the annals of history can be traced to her hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts.
"It's a historic town — the beginnings of the industrial revolution and one of the sires of the first urban national park, the textile mills," she said. "And while I didn't know that at the time, that made a big impact, especially with my interest in ordinary people in history."
Unearthing those ordinary stories can be difficult, even when it comes to relatively recent history like World War II. "Courage and Defiance," which was released in September 2016, is the first of three books Hopkinson plans to write about the conflict — the next will focus on D-Day.
"Even with my D-Day book, I'm looking for people whose stories might not be known," Hopkinson said. "I was just in Ohio for two weeks and, on my weekend break, I was able to go to Ohio University to the Cornelius Ryan (Collection of World War II Papers) — he was the person who wrote 'The Longest Day,' the famous D-Day book.
"So I was able to look at his interviews done in 1958 with French civilians. Nineteen-fifty eight, you can't get those people anymore. … We're getting to the point where those vibrant first person accounts with lots of details, those are best (collected) closer to the event."
Hopkinson has only been writing full-time for the past three years, and while picture books might read in a breezy and accessible manner, the writing process is as arduous as any other.
"Picture books are a lot harder than they look," Hopkinson said. "I tell students that I get rejected a lot. I got rejected twice in the last month, so I have lots of ideas that don't turn into books. You can't just have one idea, you have to have lots of ideas and you have to be willing to revise and accept rejection."
Moving forward, Hopkinson will continue to work on her D-Day series for young adults and also plans to release a picture book about Jane Austen in 2018, among other projects.
"I feel like I had the best of both worlds," she said. "I had a really rewarding career and now am able to write and travel more."