Friday, October 26, 2018

Q&A with Deborah Hopkinson

Deborah Hopkinson is the author of D-Day: The World War II Invasion That Changed History, a new book for kids. Her many other books include Titanic: Voices from the Disaster and Courage & Defiance. She lives near Portland, Oregon.

Q: Why did you decide to write a book about D-Day?

A: Although I’ve written two previous books about World War II, students kept asking for more! I’ve found young readers fascinated by World War II. And, in fact, so was I at that age.

Also, it seemed to me that I wanted to understand the invasion of Normandy better. It was, after all, not only one of the defining events of the war, but of the 20th century. Little did I know what I was getting myself into; just as the operation itself was massive, so was the research.

Q: How did you select the individuals you focus on in the book?

A: I find that one of the challenges in writing narrative nonfiction for young readers is to not have so many voices or individual stories that the work becomes overwhelming or confusing.

It’s also helpful to have first-person accounts or memoirs written fairly close in time to the events. These tend to be more vivid and detailed, as opposed to often-told stories many years later.

With that in mind, I searched for oral histories at the National World War II Museum and published memoirs. I also looked for individuals who represented a variety of experiences and roles at D-Day.

Q: How did you research the book, and did you learn anything that particularly surprised you?

A: I read many books and oral histories, including books about the assaults by Canadian and British soldiers, although in the end I primarily focused on the American efforts.

Since I had only general knowledge before I began, much of the information was new. And that helped shape my approach: The things I had trouble understanding might be, I thought, the same points that would puzzle young readers.

So I organized the book as an introduction, and tried my best to make the events of the day as clear as possible. For instance, we included several “Reader’s Invasion Briefings” and tried not to assume prior knowledge.

As far as what surprised me: I don’t think I fully appreciated that for many of the units fighting on D-Day were experiencing their first taste of combat. It’s a testament to the planning and training—and the courage of those young men— that things worked as well as they did.

Another surprise for me was the role that weather played in the planning, and just how fraught those last hours before launch were.

Q: What do you think are some of the most common perceptions and misperceptions about D-Day?

A: One common misperception comes to mind right away. At author visits, I’ve begun asking students (and teachers) what the “D” in D-Day stands for, and the answers are fascinating. Most students think that D is an abbreviation for “death” day, “doomsday,” or “demolition” day. 

However, usually there is one person in the room (and often a young reader) who knows that the “D” in D-Day is simply a military abbreviation for the “day” of the planned military operation, just as “H” is H hour in planning.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Right now I’m working on a nonfiction book entitled Refugees and Survivors: Escaping the Nazis on the Kindertransport. My book follows several of the approximately 10,000 Jewish children who left their parents and went to Great Britain in 1938-39. I’ve been in touch with a few of the survivors who are still living. It’s been fascinating to learn more about 1930s Germany. The book is scheduled for Spring 2020.

Then, after that, I am heading to an entirely new (but old) time period. I’ll be writing about the Black Death.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I have two new books coming out in February 2019. CarterReads the Newspaper, illustrated by Don Tate, is a picture book about the life of Carter G. Woodson, founder of Black History Month. How I Became a Spy is a middle grade mystery set in World War II London in 1944. It includes cipher challenges, which I hope readers will enjoy.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Deborah Hopkinson.

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