I have long admired Deborah Hopkinson for her clear-eyed and compelling books that bring history to life (if you haven’t read The Great Trouble, do so. Now!) I’m absolutely thrilled to host her today as part of her blog tour for her latest release, Courage and Defiance. Read on!
My new book, Courage & Defiance, is my fourth nonfiction title for middle grade readers. I never started out to write nonfiction though. In fact, it began as an afterthought.
Some years ago, I was working with Scholastic editor Lisa Sandell on a historical fiction title about the Triangle Waist Company fire for the Dear America series. After I’d completed the manuscript, I looked around at the pile of books and articles I’d accumulated and asked Lisa if she would consider a nonfiction book on the same time period. The result was Shutting out the Sky, Life in the Tenements of New York, 1880-1924, published in 2003.
I’m incredibly fortunate to still be working with Lisa on longer nonfiction (and we’ll be presenting together at a Highlights Foundation workshop on writing nonfiction for middle graders this fall). Courage & Defiance: Stories of Spies, Saboteurs, and Survivors in World War II Denmark is the first of three planned nonfiction titles on World War II. The next will be on submarines in the Pacific and the last on D-Day (which I hope will satisfy the seventh grade boys at school author visits who keep urging me to write about Normandy).
For me, every story – whether fictional or nonfiction – presents unique and often unexpected challenges. Looking back, I have to laugh that my working title for Titanic: Voices from the Disaster was “Nine Hours.” Surely, I remember thinking, a book about a disaster that began at 11:40p.m. at night and ended with survivors being picked up by 9 a.m. the next morning would be easier to write than a book about the social history of cotton spanning many years (Up Before Daybreak: Cotton and People in America). I couldn’t have been more mistaken.
Courage & Defiance covers World War II in Denmark, beginning with its invasion by Germany on April 9, 1940. I knew little about the Danish resistance and rescue of the Danish Jews before beginning my research, except, of course, that both my children and I had read and loved Lois Lowry’s Newbery Award winning Number the Stars. As with that fictional story, the courageous actions of ordinary people fueled real events in Denmark. I was fortunate to find several powerful memoirs of young people who risked their lives to fight the Nazis.
One of the most moving experiences I had in writing the book was meeting one of the saboteurs, the late Niels Skov, whose story is highlighted in my book. Niels began his “private war against the Germans” by riding his bicycle through the streets of Copenhagen at night with just a match and a homemade screwdriver, looking for a German vehicle to set on fire. Niels Skov had kept that screwdriver, which I had the privilege of photographing for my book. I show the photo to students at school visits as well.
Holding that old, handmade tool felt like a connection to another time – and a reminder why I continue to write nonfiction for young readers.
Deborah Hopkinson is the author of more than 40 books for young people. In addition to nonfiction, her forthcoming titles include picture books such as Beatrix Potter and the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig and a middle grade novel set in 19th century New York City entitled A Bandit’s Tale: The Muddled Misadventures of a Pickpocket. She lives near Portland Oregon. Visit her on the web at www.deborahhopkinson.com .