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Interview: Robin Friedman

February 2nd, 2010 (07:53 am)
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Current Mood: thirsty
Current Song: Castle score music

Please join me in congratulating today's second interview guest at Bildungsroman, Robin Friedman. I first interviewed Robin three years ago, after reading her first YA novel, The Girlfriend Project. She followed up that romantic comedy with a dramatic teen book entitled Nothing that was really something. Her latest venture into juvenile fiction, The Importance of Wings, has been named the Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Older Readers Category. I highly recommend the title, and I am so happy that it's getting the recognition and attention it deserves.

From February 1st through 5th, this year's recipients of the Sydney Taylor Book Award are visiting reader blogs to discuss their award-winning titles as well as previous and future works. For the complete schedule, please scroll down to the bottom of this post. For Robin's musings and responses, please keep reading.

Paul Zindel, author of The Pigman and other novels beloved by many, inadvertently inspired you to write The Importance of Wings. Tell us about that conversation, and the subsequent creation of your main character, Roxanne.

He was living nearby, and a member of my critique group got to know him, then invited him to a luncheon at another member's home, where we could all meet him too. I remember Mexican chocolate cake and a salad with fresh strawberries. I also remember how honored, delighted, and curious we all were, taking turns firing questions at him, trying to restrain ourselves from being too forward. He was absolutely gracious, and so generous with his advice, humor, and patience.

When he commented that all of his books were autobiographical, one of the (braver) members of my group asked him if his family got angry when he wrote about them, and he said, "Yes. They do get angry with me. But then they ask me who's playing them in the movie."

I thought about my own family, and my own stories. With my background, weren't there some worthy stories I could tell? I started out very purely, telling the story of my childhood in a very autobiographical way. But the writers in my critique group responded negatively to my efforts, sometimes with disbelief at my characterizations, sometimes with boredom at my plotlines!

I realized that to be true to my story, ironically, I had to let go of "what really happened," and write the book not as a tribute to my own life, but as a story, pure and simple, with all of the requirements of pacing, dialogue, plot, and character development. I couldn't use "my life" as a crutch, only as an inspiration.

You are a self-proclaimed Jersey Girl, but you were born in Israel. Have you visited Israel since leaving it at the age of five?

I've been back to Israel several times, including as a college student for a junior year abroad, at the University of Haifa. In that year, I literally fell in love with the landscape and the history, and learned so much about my heritage, as well as the gaps in my family's story.

In what ways has your heritage and your faith shaped your vision and your writing?

They've given me the perspective of an outsider, which isn't such a bad thing when you're a writer, since you're trying to be perceptive about things other people might miss. It can be very tough on you as a child and teen, but as an adult, an outlook like that can make daily life fascinating.

Why do you feel it is important for people to connect to their roots?

It's important to focus on your present (and future); however, it's equally important to know who you are and where you come from. If you don't know, how will you understand your particular needs, challenges, and dreams?

The only way to be yourself is to know yourself. And the only way to live with integrity, empathy, and kindness is to be authentic to your own code of standards.

Anything else you wish to say or include?

I'm eternally grateful to the Sydney Taylor Award Committee, and I'm looking forward to seeing Seattle!

Related Posts at Bildungsroman
Interview: Robin Friedman (2007)
Book Review: The Girlfriend Project by Robin Friedman
Book Review: Nothing by Robin Friedman

Follow the 2010 Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 1, 2010
April Halprin Wayland, author of New Year at the Pier: A Rosh Hashanah Story, Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Younger Readers Category, at Practically Paradise
Stephane Jorisch, illustrator of New Year at the Pier: A Rosh Hashanah Story, Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Younger Readers Category, at Frume Sarah's World
Margarita Engle, author of Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba, Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Teen Readers Category, at bookstogether

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 2, 2010
Robin Friedman, author of The Importance of Wings, Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Older Readers Category, at Little Willow's Bildungsroman
Jacqueline Davies, author of Lost, Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Teen Readers Category, at Biblio File
Jonah Winter, author of You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?, Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Younger Readers Category, at Get in the Game: Read! and cross-posted at Examiner.com

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 3, 2010
Elka Weber, author of The Yankee at the Seder, Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Younger Readers Category, at BewilderBlog
Adam Gustavson, illustrator of The Yankee at the Seder, Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Younger Readers Category, at Great Kids Books
Judy Vida, daughter of the late Selma Kritzer Silverberg, author of Naomi’s Song, Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Teen Readers Category, at The Book Nosher

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 4, 2010
Jacqueline Jules, author of Benjamin and the Silver Goblet, Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Younger Readers Category, at ASHarmony
Natascia Ugliano, illustrator of Benjamin and the Silver Goblet, Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Younger Readers Category, at The Book of Life
Deborah Bodin Cohen, author of Nachshon, Who Was Afraid to Swim, Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Younger Readers Category, at Ima On and Off the Bima
Jago, illustrator of Nachshon, Who Was Afraid to Swim, Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Younger Readers Category, at Jewish Books for Children

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 5, 2010
Annika Thor, author of A Faraway Island, Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Older Readers Category, at Teen Reads
Ellen Frankel, author of The JPS Illustrated Bible for Children, Sydney Taylor Notable Book for All Ages, at Deo Writer

External Links
People of the Books, the Association of Jewish Libraries blog
The Official Sydney Taylor Website