Girls on the go Gerald G. Hotchkiss
Gerald G. Hotchkiss’ first book for children, Emily and the Lost City of Urgup: An Adventure In Arabia, had its beginnings with a familiar request. “My granddaughter Claire came into our bed early one morning while we were visiting,” Hotchkiss e x pl a i ned f r om hi s home in Tesuque, “and asked me to tell her a story. I did, and the next morning, she asked me to continue that story. I named t he girl Emily because Claire wanted that name, her best friend’s name. On the third day our daughter, Claire’s mother, came in, too, and thought it would make a good children’s book and suggested I could continue the story via email when we returned to Tesuque. Halfway through, I asked Claire to help me with the first three chapters I had told her. My memory wasn’t as clear as hers.”
The stor y t akes place in t he e arly 1920s. A twelve-year-old girl is invited to leave her New England home and accompany her father’s friend Prof. Witherspoon on an archaeology expedit ion to t he Middle East. There she discovers a hidden pyramid, foils thieves and her own kidnappers, and generally upstages the adults at every turn. Emily and the Lost City of Urgup was followed by Emily In Khara Koto: A Young Girl’s Adventures in Mongolia; Claire at the Crocker Farm: A Young Girl’s Adventure; and Zoe and the Pirate Ship Revenge: A Young Girl’s Adventure on a Pirate Ship. (Hotchkiss, who had a long career in magazine publishing, including stints at Life, Look,
Newsweek, and Psychology Today, has also written two books for adults, Music Makers: A Guide To Singing in a Chorus or Choir With a Short History of Choral Music and a collection of essays, Life Begins At Seventy.)
Hotchkiss’ heroines — intelligent, resourceful, and independent — are all excellent role models. In t hat, he said, t hey mirror his granddaughters. Not only have his granddaughters provided ideas and i nspiration for t he books, t hey also
Hotchkiss’ heroines — intelligent, resourceful, and independent — are all excellent role models.
participated in the editing. Claire, his eldest granddaughter, questioned the premise of Emily and the Lost City of Urgup. “She told me, ‘ Gramps, I would never go out on along trip like that with an older man. What if he were a child molester?’ So I added a French lady, the chaperone, Madam Bibi.” His wife of 56 years, Patricia, a former promotions writer for
Life, also helped with the manuscripts. “We’ve been great editors for each other’ s work over the years,” Hotchkiss said. “We could ask questions, make suggestions, and never feel threatened .” The more he wrote for young adults, the better he got. “I’d written all my life but was amazed by how much better the second book was after the first. At a certain point, you know what you’re doing.”
The historical settings and, in the case of the Emily books, archaeological details found in the books required extensive research to establish their authentic feel. Though Hotchkiss has traveled widely — he served in Korea as an intelligence officer for a Marine battalion in the 1950s — he had not been to either Egypt or Mongolia. “Thank God for Google,” he said. Adult readers and, no doubt, some young ones as well, know that Emily and the Lost City
of Urgup is set in the 1920s within reading the first few pages, from clues planted by the way Emily dresses. Her shoes, the length of her skirt, and her mother’s request that she wear her Liberty Lawn dress for her first meeting with Dr. Witherspoon all help define the period.
Hotchkiss, who admits to having limited drawing skills, did the cover and inside art for all his children’s books except the first. His drawings, done in ink and colored pencils, are primitive in the same way that drawings made by children are, with an inviting innocence and twisted perspective. As an illustrator, he did the whimsical drawings for One Hundred Million Wombats by children’s author Richard Lemon, a friend from his days at Yale. He claims a certain generational advantage in both his writing and drawing. “It’s about making your own visualization. I grew up a radio kid, before television. We listened to it but we saw it, too. These people, the places we heard about on the radio were all seen in your head.”
A fifth book, Where Is Jed?, written for his youngest grandchild and only boy, is looking for a publisher.
— Bill Kohlhaasse