The Hole Story of the Doughnut (illustrated by Vincent Kirsch) began when I heard a Boston Harbor tour guide say, “Somewhere around here they buried the guy who invented the doughnut.” We know who that is? I wondered. I jotted the fact in the writing notebook I carry in my purse.
Months later, I found the inventor’s name and began my research in the genealogy section of my county library. My first search pulled up a census record from 1910, showing that Gregory Hanson was an inmate,Oh no! I thought. I hope he’s not a murderer.
Reading the heading of the page showed Captain Hanson was an inmate in the Snug Harbor Sailors Home. In those days, anyone cared for in a public institution was an inmate, whether orphan, criminal, chronically ill, or, in this case, a retired seaman living in a group home.
This was my first nonfiction book. I would not advise researching like I did—writing down all kinds of information because I didn’t know what would be needed for the book. I had no focus other than learning as much as I could. After I’d gathered more than 200 pages of notes, documents, pictures, and more, I reluctantly turned from the thrill of the hunt to the drill of the page.
I wrote several versions of the book. The first was from the point of view of a child who was interviewing Captain Hanson at the Home for a school project. The final version tells the Captain’s story in a narrative fashion, but also mentions the legends that sprang up about the doughnut invention.
It pained me—even grieved me—to leave out so many human interest stories I’d discovered about this bold sea captain with a tragic personal life. It was like I had started with a remarkable VW sized piece of wood in order to carve a toothpick.
Now when I research, I begin with questions I want to answer, beginning with “Why should we care?” As the dig progresses, I try to focus on what it is I want children to take away from the story. That helps me to choose the facts I save. Asking myself, Does this contribute to my takeaway? Does this make us care? saves time and work. It’s like handpicking beach shells by color rather than using a backhoe.
Captain Hanson’s story is a rousing one of the sea, with the doughnut invention being an impulsive solution to a problem—a mere footnote to his life. I was captivated by his exploits as a Maine schooner captain who earned a medal from the Queen of Spain for bravery and sailed around the Horn to supply the gold rush of California. But for kids, its more about the doughnut. In a picture book, you have to make hard choices as you use your limited cache of words.
Captain Hanson Gregory’s courage and perseverance are inspiring, but it is his breakfast solution that gives him his place in history. Hopefully, The Hole Story of the Doughnut will make doughnut lovers aware of its remarkable inventor.