Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Interview with Deborah Hopkinson

This week I'm delighted to have the opportunity to interview award-winning children's author Deborah Hopkinson, whose latest historical fiction, The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel, was published this fall by Knopf Books for Young Readers. Last week I wrote a review of this book, which I highly recommend for middle-grade readers who enjoy historical fiction. The book's fast pace and sense of high adventure should appeal to children who don't usually like to read.

ML: Why do you write middle-grade fiction? 

DH: I first dreamed of becoming a writer when I was in the fourth grade, so I feel a natural affinity with this age group, though I like writing for a wide range of readers.

ML: Why did you write The Great Trouble as middle-grade fiction? 

DH: While I have written nonfiction, I wanted to bring young readers right into the turmoil of the 1854 cholera outbreak in London, and also to explore the history of this moment in public health from the perspective of a young reader. That’s why Eel, the narrator of the book, helps Dr. John Snow (based on the actual historical figure) solve the mystery. 

ML:What makes a great middle-grade story?

DH: Well, I think middle-grade novels must stand alone as fiction no matter the age of the audience—that means aspiring toward that magical combination of characters, plot and setting all working together to create a wonderful story. For myself, both in The Great Trouble and in my other middle grade novel, Into the Firestorm, I do try to keep reluctant readers in mind and include lots of action and short chapters.

ML: Tell us about the research you do for your books. What historic event or period in history most appeals to you. 

DH: I was so fortunate to be able to travel to London to research The Great Trouble. That gave me the chance to actually walk the streets and see the replica of the Broad Street pump. I traced the path from the Golden Square neighborhood, where the epidemic took place, to Dr. John Snow’s home. Of course, I also consulted a number of resources, including Steven Johnson’s excellent nonfiction book for adults, The Ghost Map. I was also able to visit the Wellcome Library in London, which had some helpful articles and artifacts compiled by previous researchers.

I do love researching the nineteenth century, especially the second half of the 1800s. It was such a tumultuous time, with so many changes in society, medicine, civil rights and social justice, both in Great Britain and in the United States as well.

ML: Is writing your full-time job? What do you like doing in your spare time? 

DH: I have always been a writer with a full-time job! Presently I serve as vice president for advancement at Pacific Northwest College of Art and write primarily on the weekends. In my spare time I like to go to the gym— and of course, read!

ML: Do you have any advice for parents whose children don’t like to read? 

DH: Yes, absolutely! I think reading with your kids—even when they are older—is very important. With younger children, that may include reading aloud to them, but also reading a book together, taking turns with pages or chapters and stopping often to discuss the meaning or story. And even with teens, reading the same books together helps to underscore that reading is important to us as well.

Deborah Hopkinson is the award-winning author of picture books, short fiction, and nonfiction.  Her award-winning works include Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, winner of the 1994 International Reading association Award; Apples to Oregon, which won the Golden Kite Award, and Keep On!, winner of the Oregon Book Award.  Her 2012 include Annie and Helen and A Boy Called Dickens, and Titanic Survivors: Voices from the Disaster, which was named a Robert F. Sibert Honor book and finalist for the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award.  Deborah serves as Vice President for Advancement at Pacific Northwest College of Art.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Review of "The Great Trouble" by Deborah Hopkinson

My blog this week is my review of a book published in September by Knopf Books for Young Readers: The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel by award-winning children's author Deborah Hopkinson. 

Page-Turning Adventure with a Medical Twist

Thirteen-year-old Eel is a mudlark in Victorian London. Mudlarks were orphans who rummaged in the filthy mud of the Thames River for objects they could sell for a few coins to keep themselves alive from day to day. Deborah Hopkinson knows how to write a page-turning adventure story with characters you can believe in and a young hero who touches your heart. And she knows how to weave historical fact into her tale to enrich it and make the world she is portraying come alive. She shows the misery of the working poor in a filthy, unforgiving Victorian London, and Eel’s struggle to stay alive, but she doesn’t overburden young readers with so many heartrending details that they might stop reading. Eel tells his fast-paced story in a matter-of-fact voice that describes the awful living conditions of the poor without making the book too somber to read and without dampening the excitement of his adventurous and often dangerous life. And every chapter has a cliffhanger ending. You find yourself quickly warming to the empathetic mudlark hero and cheering him on when he faces a new difficulty.

Eel has run away from his cruel stepfather. He is resourceful and earns small amounts of money by doing whatever he can including working at a brewery, filtering river mud, and taking care of Dr. John Snow’s laboratory animals. He needs the money, not just to keep himself alive but also because of a heartrending secret that that he must keep at all costs.  

Dr. Snow is one of the real-life characters seamlessly woven into the story. During the 1854 cholera outbreak in London, John Snow discovered that water was the carrier of the cholera bacteria. His study of the cause and effect of the cholera epidemic laid the foundation for the science of epidemiology.

Eel’s intelligence impresses Dr. Snow, who asks the boy to help him investigate the cause of the cholera epidemic. And from that point on, Eel’s life changes dramatically.  

The Great Trouble is a great read for older middle-graders (ages ten and up). My one small criticism is that Eel is sometimes given vocabulary that sounds too sophisticated for a thirteen-year-old with little schooling. But the story's depth and momentum swept aside that concern and drew me into its intriguing and credible microcosm of fiction and fact: fast-paced adventure, mystery, edge-of-seat drama, and fascinating medical history. And I'm sure it will magnetize younger readers too.
Next week Deborah Hopkinson will be my interview guest. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Creating Images & Resizing Photos

Here are some useful tools for writers who want to resize photos, create their own images, and make banners for their blog sites, websites, Facebook, and so on. But before you use any images you have downloaded from the Internet, read Karen Cioffi's article on the perils of using photos that are not ones you took yourself. Even though you credit the owners of these images, you may still be liable for a financial penalty if the owners required payment of a fee for using their photos. 

The Perils of Using Internet Images without Permission

photo credit: <a href="">Fouquier ॐ</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>
Anachronism, Fouquier
Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic
To find a Creative Commons photo (free for public use under certain conditions) on a specific subject, use the Flickr search box. Click on the photo to go to the photo's page. On the right side of the photo page, the Additional Information line shows the license type or you can right click on the photo itself. To check out the license terms on the license page for Creative Commons photos, click on "Some Rights Reserved" in the Additional Information space, or on the photo itself. (If you see the line "All Rights Reserved," the photo is not available in the Creative Commons and you will have to apply for the owner's permission to use it.)
To download: right click on the photo for information on size. Click on your preferred size and then click download.

You should, of course, provide the proper attribution for your downloaded photo. Each photo has a caption, with title and author information. You should also provide a brief license description, found on the Additional Information (license) page. To find the link to the Flickr photo, which you can show with your downloaded photo, click on the "More Ways to Share" icon underneath the photo (the icon with an arrow curling out of a rectangle).

You can find out more about how to attribute a photo at this website: 

Help with Downloading Flickr Photos, Individually and in Batches

Excerpt from the site referred to above: 
Flickr FAQ:
How do I download a photo? With Flickr you can only download one at a time. 
1. Right click on the photo (on it's own page). Click on the required size. Then, just above the photo, click the link to download the large size of this photo
2. Or Click 'Actions' above the photo and select 'All Sizes'. Choose the size you want to download and either right click or click download.

Free accounts don't have access to the original size, only up to the Flickr generated 'large' T

Here are 3rd party batch downloaders. Try a Google type search, or there are a few in The App Garden.
Bulkr - I used this successfully for quite some time, but some of the features, such as downloading the tags, are now only part of the paid version, but the free version does batch downloading
FlickandShare - is very easy to use and works well, and quickly, for whole sets but doesn't keep any titles or tags added or altered on Flickr. This is my preferred app now. You can generate a link to download a complete set. And if you want to share that set with anyone you can send them the link

End of excerpt

Fickr Photo Downloaders
(video instructions on downloading photos from Flickr)

"3 Awesome Tools to Download Flickr Photos and Sets"
Features a collection of Creative Commons Flickr photos with credit lines and URLs, but to find the title of the photo and the owner's name, you'll need to link back to Flickr using the URL provided..

Resizing photos at Resize My Picture
Easy way to resize a photograph. You can even resize to Facebook banner dimensions, but be aware that the photo may be distorted.

Create Your Own Images
Karen Cioffi shows you how to create your own images

"6 Tools and Resources to Help You Create Shareable, Likeable, and Pinnable Images"

Creating Facebook Banners
Mylene Boyrie’s article, “Facebook Banner Size and 10 Tips to Make It Stand Out,” on Creative Blog, offers tips on making a Facebook banner

Yaara Lancet’s article, “Six Best Places to Design Your own Facebook Banner,” at Make Use Of, lists useful banner creation sites:

Writers and Authors blogspot owner Jo Linsdell lists twelves sites where you can create your own banner for free:

I'd love to have your comments on these suggestions and recommendations of free tools to help writers find and use images to use on their blog sites, websites, and so on. Please leave a comment or e-mail me at maggielyons66 at gmail dot com.