Sometimes the next great idea for a book is just outside one’s window. That was the case for Newbery Medalist Susan Cooper, whose Ghost Hawk—her first children’s novel since 2006—will be published by Margaret McElderry Books in August with a 100,000-copy first printing. The view that captured her imagination was from the window of her home on a saltmarsh island in Massachusetts. “When I sit here and look at the ocean, it seems that the landscape has not changed very much over hundreds of years, save for a few scratchings here and there,” she says.
Those thoughts led Cooper to picture what life was like for the Native Americans who, she says, “were here for much, much longer than those who came on the Mayflower and all the boats thereafter.” In her book, Cooper weaves together the stories of a Native American boy and a 10-year-old settler in colonial New England as they forge a dangerous friendship in light of the deep tensions between their respective peoples. “It’s a different look at the beginning of New England, when whites first came into the world of the Native Americans,” she says.
“All my books are very much rooted in place in one way or another,” she says. “When I’d first come to America [from her native Britain] I was terribly homesick,” Cooper recalls. “A writer friend told me, ‘you write better about a place when you’re away from it.’ So, here I am again. I removed myself by 300 years from my saltmarsh.” She hopes to convey to readers some sense of why the place she calls home is so special. “There is a great deal of sky,” she notes, “with beautiful sunrises and sunsets and the stars blazing at night because it’s so far from the city.”
Ghost Hawk is a bit of a departure from her fantasy titles, including The Dark Is Rising Sequence but, Cooper says, “There is always an element of fantasy in what I do.” She has enjoyed this latest effort, noting “the only drawback to doing these kinds of books [in the historical fiction vein] is that you spend a couple of years doing research. I have to tell my publishers, ‘Don’t let me do anymore; I haven’t got time!’ ” she says with a laugh.
Attending BEA for the first time, Cooper looks forward to a “wonderful” experience. “Being surrounded by people who love books—it’s what we’re all about,” she says. “It’s rather like a hermit coming out and suddenly you’re in a world you belong to.”
Cooper signs ARCs of Ghost Hawk today, noon–12:30 p.m., at Table 4 in the Autographing Area.