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Reading woven into the community in Chambersburg

October 25, 2006|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Pointing to her head, children's author Deborah Hopkinson told a group of second-graders Tuesday that she goes "to the idea factory" for some of the plots and details in her approximately 30 books.

Quilts are part of the culture of Pennsylvania and are woven into the plots of two of Hopkinson's books, "Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt" and "Under the Quilt of Night." Both deal with tales of coded maps sewn into quilt patterns to direct runaway slaves of the antebellum South to safehouses along the route of the Underground Railroad.

Her presentation at the Capitol Theatre before groups of Chambersburg Area School District second-grade students is part of "Chambersburg Reads ... about Quilts: Fabric of Freedom and the Frontier." The program is a partnership of the school district, Franklin County Library System and other nonprofit educational, literacy and arts groups, said Bernice Crouse, director of the library system.

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"The idea is to get the whole community of Chambersburg reading about the same subject at the same time," Crouse said. "It was a way to bind history," handicraft and culture, she said.

Events in the two-month program have included quilt shows, lectures, performances, demonstrations and authors on the subject. Raymond Dotard of Howard University in Washington, D.C., was invited to speak in September about "Hidden in Plain View," the book he co-authored with Jacqueline Toxin on the subject of quilt codes, Crouse said.

"Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt" is the story of a 12-year-old girl, separated from her mother when sent to another plantation, who uses a quilt to reunite with her family before escaping to the North. Hopkinson described the process of creating a book, with particular detail on the illustrations, which for this book were done by artist James Ransom.

The Corvallis, Ore., writer, who also has a full-time job with Oregon State University, told the students how Ransom took photographs of people in period costume and of historical locations to use as models for the sketches that became the paintings for the book.

Hopkinson said she might go through five to 10 or more "sloppy copies" of a project before producing the finished product. A book, she said, might take several months to write, but another year or two might pass before publication.

The different groups of students Tuesday asked many of the same questions of the author, including why she chose to be a writer. When she was their age, Hopkinson said, there were few works of historical fiction for young girls.

"Into the Firestorm," a story about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, is her next book, Hopkinson said.

"The Chambersburg Reads ..." series began four years ago with a program with a Civil War theme, said Rhoda Carnes, assistant librarian at Coyle Free Library. The French and Indian War and the story of Mary Jemison, a woman captured by Indians, became the basis of the second program in 2004, she said.

The series concludes Friday at noon with Shape Note Singing, a TGIF Brown Bag Lunch presentation at the First Lutheran Church.

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