Thursday, February 27, 2014

Special! An Interview With Author Judith Fradin

Judy Fradin, author, with her late husband Dennis Fradin,  is the author of such distinguished books as “5,000 Miles to Freedom: Ellen and William Craft’s Flight From Slavery,” and the “Witness to Disaster” series, generously agreed to an interview with us.  Some recent Fradin books are TORNADO (National Geographic Children's Books), ZORA! (Clarion), STOLEN INTO SLAVERY (also Geographic), and THE PRICE OF FREEDOM (Walker).     

Have you always wanted to be a writer?  When did you start writing?
Before I became Dennis’s co-author, I was a high school and college English and history teacher.   I loved teaching, and I currently teach college courses in Children's Literature and in Minority Voices in American Literature at National Louis University in Chicago. I especially enjoy visiting schools and speaking with students and teachers.  I have spoken in public and private schools all over the United States, and I’m always happy in front of a classroom of kids. 

What is it about nonfiction that draws you?
I LOVE non-fiction, for nothing is more intriguing than reality.  It is also a bottomless well of great stories. I’m sure you’ve heard that truth is stranger than fiction.  For fun, however, I love reading mysteries, and would like one day to write one myself–for young adults.   I’ve also written the first 40+ pages of a fiction book for teenagers.  

Do you have any input on the design of your finished books—choosing photographs, choosing what should be illustrated, etc?
Thanks for the question about photographs and illustrations.  That is my bailiwick.  I also adore caption writing, for I think a great caption complements the existing text.

Finding the right images for our books is much of what I do.  Generally, we provide our photo editors with a large choice of images from which they choose the ones they feel work best with our text.   They also decide, along with the designer, about picture placement, image size, and how lettering might fit atop certain images.  When Walker chose Eric Velasquez to illustrate THE PRICE OF FREEDOM, I provided him with the photographic material to help him make his imaginative paintings non-fiction as well.

Have you ever gone on trips to do research for your books, or do you do it all at the library?
Dennis and I frequently traveled to gather information and photos.  For our WITNESS TO DISASTER:  DROUGHTS (National Geographic Children’s Books) we drove around Texas and Oklahoma for a week interviewing survivors of the 1930s Dust Bowl, then spent two days at the Oklahoma State Historical Society gathering images. 

We have met dozens of fascinating people in the course of our research.  When Dennis wrote THE PLANET HUNTERS we spent two days with Clyde Tombaugh, the discoverer of Pluto, and his wife Patsy in Las Cruces, New Mexico.  At that time, he was the only living discoverer of a planet.  We also flew to Puerto Rico to visit the radio telescope installation at Arecibo prior to completing that book--only to arrive a week after the first extra-solar planet was discovered there! 
I have also spent countless hours in the Prints and Photos room at the Library of Congress gathering images for our historical books.

How do you and your husband work together?  Is it hard?
People often ask us how we worked together.  We each researched our topics individually.  Since we live and work in the same house, we spent lots of time discussing every aspect of that research.   This was particularly interesting because we were generally working on several books at any given time.   Dennis usually wrote the first draft of a book while I hunted down the most fascinating photos–sometimes from scientists, sometimes at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., sometimes obtaining them from people involved in our projects.  Occasionally I took them myself!   I then tackled the text and Dennis helped me select the photos that we submitted to our editors. 
My short, silly answer is that he worked upstairs and my office is downstairs.

What are your hobbies when you aren’t writing?
When not working, I spend as much time as possible with our children and grandchildren.  I am the grandmother of 5 girls and 2 boys ranging in age from 15 to 3 years, and I always keep them in mind when writing Fradin books.

Many of my happy moments are spent in the small garden where I grow flowers, lettuce, tomatoes, spinach and chard for my family.  I especially enjoy watching our Fradin grandchildren pluck cherry tomatoes off the vines and pop them into their mouths.  I garden year-round; I will be starting my lettuce and spinach seedlings in the house by the end of December so they’ll be ready to plant in the early spring. 

My favorite flower is the dahlia, and I’ve been cultivating dahlias for 40 years.  Our daughter and son-in-law even named their younger daughter Dahlia! 

I hope I’ve answered some of your questions.  Thank you for shining the spotlight on this cheerleader for non-fiction.


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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, Media Connect, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2014.

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