I have been writing and illustrating stories all my life. When I was 13, my first story was published in The Morning Press, the local newspaper in my home town, where I wrote about my experiences volunteering during the summer in a day-care center for the children of the migrant farmworkers who came up from the southern states to pick crops in the rural Pennsylvania county where I grew up. My second published story, when I was 16, was submitted by my high-school English teacher to a national school literary magazine, Typog. I knew nothing about the magazine or the fact that my teacher had submitted it until it was published, because, he said later, he hadn't wanted me to be disappointed by telling me before, in case it wasn't accepted. During college I continued to write and had a few poems published in small literary magazines.
When I was 25, I married and moved to New Zealand where I lived first on Great Barrier Island, a rugged rural island fifty miles off the coast of the North Island at the entrance to the Hauraki Gulf, and then in New Zealand's largest city of Auckland. While trying to get work as a book illustrator, I made appointments with all the book publishers in Auckland and hauled my large art portfolio on public tranportation all over the city to meet with each one. My appointment at Collins Publishers (now HarperCollins) went so well that a few months later, I decided to send them something I'd written. It was the first story I'd written set in my new country, inspired in part by a childrens' television show I'd seen about New Zealand's natural history, and in part by stories told to me by a new friend about her expereinces working for many years as a visiting nurse in one of New Zealand's remotest rural areas. I typed the story manuscript, as I had all my college and high-school stories, on the cheap plastic portable typewriter given to me when I was 15 and sent it off. A few weeks later, I got a letter from the publishing director at Collins Publishers telling me they were interested. I worked with an editor through several drafts, and in 1984, A Rumour of Otters was published by Collins Publishers, Auckland. By then, I had moved back home to the United States. I sent the published book to an American publisher, Houghton Mifflin Company, who bought the foreign rights and published the book in this country. In 1986, A Rumour of Otters won an ALA (American Library Association) Notable Book Award. I continued to write books for young-adult readers for the next eighteen years. The following list shows the Houghton Mifflin Company editions of my seven novels. Keep scrolling to see the foreign-edition book jackets for many of these books, and click on "Filming Flight of the Albatross" to see the story of how my second novel, Fight of the Albatross, also set in New Zealand, was made into an international, award-winning film.
Fourteen-year-old Alexa, living on an isolated sheep station in the hills of New Zealand, feels increasingly frustrated by the limitations placed on her by tradition and her parents’ expectations. She has very little freedom and very few options, and when her brother, who clearly can’t ride as well as she, is chosen to go on the annual sheep muster, while Alexa is forced to stay behind with her mother and baby sister, something snaps.
Alexa takes her horse and dog and sets out for a distant lake in the mountains. There she hopes to prove that, as she’s been told by an old Maori tribesman, there are otters living around the lake, a contradiction of all her natural history texts, which insist that no otters inhabit New Zealand. But just as important is her need to prove herself to be at least the equal of her brother, fully capable of surviving on her own and worthy of being included in the “man’s work” of the muster.
Her quest proves dangerous and difficult, and in overcoming the perils of the journey and reaching her goal, Alexa learns some important things about her relationship with her family, her environment, and above all herself.
Jacket blurb, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1986.
Sarah wonders if the decision to spend summer vacation with her scientist mother in New Zealand is a terrible mistake. “Summer” is actually a damp, cold winter in New Zealand, and her mother is so busy working that she never sees her. Lonely and convinced that she is overweight, Sarah feels that her mother has never been interested in really knowing her.
Then Sarah rescues an injured albatross and takes it to a remote cabin belonging to Hattie, a mystical old woman. In nursing the rare bird, Sarah and a Maori boy named Mako confront, conflict, and finally come together in understanding. Hattie seems to know both teenagers’ innermost hopes and fears and the role Mako is destined to play in healing the rift between the two diverse cultures in New Zealand.
Jacket blurb, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1989
Sixteen-year-old Paul is not sure where home is. At first he’s excited about returning to New Zealand after four years in the States, but now that he’s here, he can’t seem to fit in. When he meets Simon, the two feel an instant kinship in their sense of alienation and differentness—Simon is half Maori, raised by white parents, and knows nothing of his Maori father and heritage. Seeking answers, the two pack up Paul’s van and go on a journey—one that is both physical and spiritual—to the Maori village of Te Tutei, the hometown of Simon’s father. There they meet the mysterious Fiona, who is also seeking a place and a family to call home. The three discover that their lives—past, present, and future—are bound up more tightly with each other’s than they ever could have imagined. Both boys desire the wild Fiona, but only one will be able to help her come to terms with her inner turmoil and conflict.
This compelling, romantic tale of three teenagers searching to understand their past and their place in the present is Deborah Savage’s third novel set in New Zealand.
Jacket blurb, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1992.
To Race a Dream
It’s 1906, and fifteen-year-old Theodora Harris has just moved with her family to the small town of Savage, Minnesota, to be closer to Minneapolis, where her older sister, Claudia, performs with the prestigious symphony orchestra. The students at her new school are dull, except for quiet Carl Johansson, and her parents are preoccupied with their own careers and Claudia’s success. Nothing seems to lift the oppressive loneliness and boredom facing her at the outset of the summer except for Theo’s exhilarating dream of driving the powerful horses from the famous harness-racing farm nearby. But she’s a girl and forbidden to work in the stables.
When Claudia is stricken with polio, Theo gains the freedom to slip away to the farm disguised as a boy, and there her confidence blossoms, alongside her friendship with Carl and an unexpected new ally. It’s a summer of discovery and growth as Theo challenges the boundaries of her place in both her family and society and finds the courage to pursue her real dream.
A compelling coming-of-age story featuring a spirited young heroine, To Race a Dream also offers a dramatic portrait of rural American life at the turn of the century. Deborah Savage’s latest novel is an inspiring treat for readers, dreamers, and horse lovers alike.
Jacket blurb, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1994
Ben and Lara don’t seem to have anything in common. Born and raised on a farm in rural Pennsylvania, Ben spends his free time—when he’s not in school or doing part-time mechanic work—with his horse, Galaxy. Lara is a new student at the exclusive private school that borders Ben’s family’s hardscrabble farm. She’s been kicked out of every school that her parents have sent her to. Huntingdon is her last chance, and it doesn’t look like she’s going to make it.
It takes courage to be different. Here is the deeply moving story of two extraordinary teenagers who somehow manage to cross the many boundaries in their worlds and find each other—and themselves.
Jacket blurb, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1997
Reviews by young readers for Under A Different Sky taken from Amazon Books
“Lara McGrath may not be many people’s favorite characters, but she’s mine, because she portrays a lost soul who needs help figuring out what to do with life…”
“I picked up this book on a spontaneous library visit, and I read it in one day. I was completely awed by the character of Lara McGrath… I saw myself in her and everything she did. Ben was noble to fall in love with someone like her, who is so hard to love. But ‘Under a Different Sky’ gave me hope that people like Lara and I aren’t in fact hateful creatures. We are people that can be loved.”
M. Taylor Armstrong-Brown. It’s a good name for a journalist. When Taylor moves to the remote town of Hunter’s Gap from Philadelphia, she copes by being an impartial observer. She plans on biding her time until she can escape to prep school and college and be on her way.
But, unexpectedly, Taylor finds herself rescuing an orphaned hawk and getting to know a boy she’d never imagined being friends with. When she meets the woman who runs the nearby raptor rehabilitation center, Taylor’s journalistic reserve begins to break down. As the hawk heals and grows stronger, Taylor is drawn closer to the boy she’d always considered a “red-neck”—and to the passionate “hawk lady,” whose many secrets awaken deeper emotions in Taylor than she understands. Words begin flowing from her pen, but they are not the objective notes of a news reporter. They are the stirrings of a heart taking wing.
Summer Hawk, Deborah savage’s sixth novel, is the powerful story of one girl’s discovery of her family, her voice, and the nature of love.
Jacket blurb, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1999
Reviews by young readers for Summer Hawk from Amazon Books
“I first read this book in my early teens, and enjoyed it so much that I read it completely through in one sitting…The book is a favorite ‘mood’ book for me. When its raining outside and I’ve finished writing one of my own stories, I love to pick it up and re-read the descriptions of the hawk lady (whose name actually inspired me to research the mythology of the goddess Rhiannon) and Taylor’s father…”
“I had the unexpected pleasure to have Ms. Savage as my professor for a college class. In that regard, my own personal opinion of the book is also judged by how I have come to know the writer…I think the goal of any writer is to ensure that there is something worth writing about. It doesn’t matter what age you are when you read this book, it is just about understanding yourself a little bit more. I love this book and I think that if you give it half a chance and an open mind you will too.”
Charlotte Williamson Thorpe—Wim—comes from a long line of sea captains based out of Provincetown, Massachusetts. She’s the last of the Thorpe line, but she has no desire to leave Cape Cod. Since her best friend died the summer before, all Wim wants is to be left alone, to finish her senior year in peace and spend time with her dogs and the horses at Dune Stables.
But soon people start entering Wim’s life as if coming in on the tide. First she sees the man with the tattooed face. He seems to be trying to tell her something. Next Aunt Kia arrives, and then there’s David Te Makara, a mysterious and compelling visitor from New Zealand. He has his fifteen-year-old niece with him, and Wim can’t help but react to Tangi’s strong opinions.
Soon Wim’s quiet and safe routine is turned upside down, spilling out secrets too painful to face and too important to ignore. One of the mysteries is an antique journal, written in code by a boy who knew her most famous ancestor, Captain Charles Williamson Thorpe.
It will take every ounce of Wim’s courage to sift through the secrets and open her heart to love again.
Jacket blurb, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 2002
Reviews by young readers for Kotuku from Amazon Books
“When I read books I only go up to the first three pages but when I was reading ‘Kotuku’ it was different because I kept reading. This book was so interesting and it taught me new things about other cultures and that it was different view [about] other things…”
“I have read some of Ms. Savage’s previous work…I finished this book today…I could not put it down…There are little words of wisdom in here everywhere, and it addresses a lot of real life issues…I’m rather in awe of this book…”
Foreign Editions-Book Jackets
These are book jackets from the foreign editions of my novels. Just as every reader pictures a fictional character in their mind's eye--and young readers have very strong opinions about what certain characters look like--so do professional illustrators create book jacket designs based on their vision of the fictional characters and settings. It is fascinating how different these visions can be!