“Readers Make Writers!” by Deborah Hopkinson

When I speak with young students at author visits, I usually lead them in a sort of chant: “Readers Make Writers!”

And, for me at least, that’s true.  I’m surrounded by books, and (probably to my family’s dismay), the prevalence of e-books hasn’t lessened my urge to bring real books into our home.

A quick calculation: we have two large bookshelves in our living room filled top to bottom, including a shelf labeled “Autographed Books” so that after my departure my kids won’t be inclined to toss my signed copy of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, which I’ve had since he was a visiting professor at the University of Massachusetts, where I did my undergraduate work.

I’ve filled a shelf in the family room, one in my husband’s office, and another in the guest bedroom.  Our bedroom has one huge bookshelf, books two-deep lining a bay window (on subjects ranging from Dr. John Snow and the cholera epidemic of 1854 for my forthcoming middle grade novel, The Great Trouble, to biographies of Dickens and Helen Keller for my 2012 picture books, A Boy Called Dickens and Annie and Helen).  I’ve taken over a cedar chest my daughter couldn’t carry off to grad school, and my son has schlepped a number of boxes of books to the attic.

There are advanced reading copies for the YA and middle grade book reviews I do each month for Bookpage.  There are titles that might hold the germs of future books. And then there’s the occasional title I pick up at an airport when I just can’t do any work for my day job in philanthropy or my writing.  (When reading for pleasure alone I prefer mysteries set in Victorian London, such as Fingersmith or The Yard.) And, of course, there are a reader’s comfort books: Austen, Bronte, Dickens.

These, of course, are just the books you can see.  Hidden are the books I’m listening to, and anything I’ve downloaded to my Kindle.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the deep, pure pleasure reading gives me.  My new picture book, Annie and Helen, illustrated by Raul Colon, is an account for young readers of that amazing spring of 1887, when Annie Sullivan first went to teach Helen Keller.  Annie, who was only 21, had no rule book. Instead, she  invented her teaching methods as she went along,  She discovered that that what worked best was spelling whole sentences into Helen’s hands, the way we speak naturally to a baby. When she arrived in March, Helen had no understanding of language.  By July, Helen was able to write a simple letter.  Extraordinary.

Learning more about Helen Keller reminds me of how wonderful it is to be able to read, to hold a book in my hands and get lost, transported, transfixed by story.  Of course, my collection of books has gotten a little out of hand, and it’s time to cull some.  But I know that the week after I do so, I’ll have a sudden need to look something up, to read a familiar passage once again, to find a reference.

Maybe, after all, I’ll just have to find more space.


Deborah Hopkinson is the award-winning author of picture books, nonfiction and middle grade fiction for young people. Her 2012 titles are A Boy Called Dickens, Titanic: Voices from the Disaster, and Annie and Helen.  She serves as vice president for advancement for Pacific Northwest college of Art.  Deborah reads and writes books near Portland, Oregon. Visit her at www.deborahhopkinson.com