Special! An Interview with Author Judith Fradin

Judith Fradin, author, with her husband Dennis Fradin,  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. 

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 miss teaching today.  I especially enjoy visiting schools and speaking with students and teachers.  Dennis and I have spoken in public and private schools all over the country, and I’m always happy in front of a classroom of kids.  Two years ago we were guest authors at Washington and Franklin Schools in Park Ridge!

What is it about nonfiction that draws you?

I LOVE non-fiction, for nothing is more intriguing than reality.   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.  

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 travel to gather information and photos.  For our new 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 pictures. 

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. 

How do you and your husband work together?  Is it hard?

People often ask us how we work together.  We each research our topics individually.  Since we live and work in the same house, we spend lots of time discussing every aspect of that research.   This is particularly interesting because we’re generally working on several books at any given time.   Dennis usually writes the first draft of a book while I hunt 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 take them myself!   I then tackle the text and Dennis helps me select the photos that we submit to our editors.

What are your hobbies when you aren’t writing?

When we’re not working, Dennis and I spend as much time as possible with our children and grandchildren.  We are the grandparents of 3 girls and 2 boys ranging in age from 10 years to 18 months, and we’re expecting our fourth granddaughter in April. 

Many of my happy moments are spent in the small garden where I grow flowers, lettuce, tomatoes, spinach and chard for our family.  I especially enjoy watching our grandchildren pop cherry tomatoes from my garden 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 baby daughter Dahlia! 

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

Thank YOU to Judith Fradin!  We very much appreciate her taking the time to answer our questions, and we hope that our readers find her answers as interesting as we do.  For more information, see her website http://www.scbwi-illinois.org/Fradin.html.

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