Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Introducing Judith Fradin

This month I interviewed Judy Fradin, author of dozens children’s and young adult non-fiction books. I met her recently at the 45th Children’s Literature Festival in Warrensburg, MO, forty authors and thousands of school children and adults meet every year. In the student center of CMSU all the authors books are displayed for sale and I found myself pausing to page through her beautifully designed books. Judy has written on a wide range of subjects from Who Was Sacagawea? (recently issued in Spanish) to the upcoming The Price of Freedom (illustrated by Eric Velasquez). She is a passionate cheerleader for non-fiction and enjoys visiting schools and talking with young readers. You can reach her at yudiff@aol.com . Her responses to my questions flowed together so seamlessly that I decided to present them without interruption.

My career as a writer was born of desperation.   In the mid-1990s my husband Dennis landed a contract to write the Sea to Shining Sea series of state books.  He had to deliver one book per month.   Halfway through this project he fell ill from exhaustion and begged me to help him.  I became his FrankenFradin, quickly writing the New Mexico and Louisiana books as he recuperated.  Thus was born our collaboration. 

We ultimately co-authored dozens of non-fiction books for children and young adults, many of them award-winners, on topics ranging from American history to biographies, from finance to natural disasters. 

Four Fradin books have been published within the past two years.  TORNADO! was released by National Geographic in 2011.  It opened with the story of a teenaged survivor of the Greensburg, Kansas F5 storm that annihilated hundreds of homes and businesses.  TORNADO! is one of the six books in our Witness to Disaster series.

 STOLEN INTO SLAVERY (also Geographic, 2012) recounts the drugging, kidnapping and sale into bondage of a free black New York family man named Solomon Northup.  Northup’s story of survival is currently being made into a movie directed by and starring Brad Pitt.  ( National Geographic has made a study guide that can be acquired from Bill O’Donnell (bodonnel@ngs.org).

THE PRICE OF FREEDOM (Walker, 2013) is a historical Fradin/Fradin picture book illustrated by Belpre Award winner Eric Velasquez.   This dramatic true story tells how the residents of two small Ohio towns rescued a re-captured slave, sparking the start of the Civil War.

Last but not least, ZORA! (Clarion, 2012) is our biography of Zora Neale Hurston, an early African American writer.  I wanted to title our book “The Nine Lives of Zora Neale” because this remarkable woman went from family outcast to nanny to manicurist to waitress to anthropologist to teller-of-tales with several other “lives” interspersed.

I especially enjoyed marrying text to image in our National Geographic Witness to Disaster series.  As I child I would spend hours poring through old National Geographic magazines.  I was always fascinated by the natural world—animals, weather, and natural geology.  I loved my college geology course and had been collecting rocks for decades.  For me, the series was a perfect fit. 

Non-fiction was a great genre for us.  Dennis was more focused and detail-oriented; I am more scattered and speculative.  Our contrasting approaches, I think, enhanced our books.  Our work has led us on unforgettable, intriguing hunts for information.   I know that truth is far more fascinating than fiction, and hope that we’ve enriched the field of children’s and YA non-fiction.

Below are book covers from The Price of  Freedom and Stolen into Slavery and a spread from Tornado.

1 comment:

Jim Murphy said...

Judith -- What an impressive list of books, every one with great topics. Your collaboration seems to have been pretty seemless and effortless; was it? My wife, Alison Blank, and I did a book together and our marriage survived and might even be stronger for it. Best of luck with your books!