Posted by: nancyisanders | September 18, 2009

Author Interview: Ina R. Friedman

Friedman pastedGraphic
Meet Author Ina R. Friedman!
Web site: Ina R. Friedman

I am a writer and storyteller, and I have appeared throughout the United States sharing stories from my books and receiving in return stories from my audiences. Gathering material for my books on the Holocaust and World War II (Young Adult) has taken me to five continents and enabled me to meet and interact with people of all ages and from many cultures whom I otherwise would not have met. I am married to an engineer. I have four grown children, two stepdaughters, and six grandchildren–my best critics. I have a B.A. from Penn State University in Psychology and a Master’s degree from Lesley in Storytelling.

Featured Book:
How My Parents Learned to Eat
By Ina R. Friedman
Illustrated by Alan Say

Everyone knows how to eat, of course! All you have to do is pick up your knife and fork and start right in. But what if everyone else is using chopsticks? Or what if you’ve eaten with chopsticks all your life, and now you have to eat with a knife and fork and two spoons! Even a grown-up might have to learn to eat all over again, and maybe there’d be some surprises! With quiet good humor and glorious illustrations, Ina R. Friedman and Allen Say have told a delicious story about the problems and triumphs of table manners.

School Library Journal. Starred:
“The book is wonderfully thought-provoking in its portrayal of the subtle similarities and differences among cultures.”

New York Times (Clyde Haberman):
“… for small children it offers an engaging introduction to the idea that there are many ways to do even something so basic as eating. Differences between cultures are reinforced by Allen Say’s color illustrations.”

Book Corner, Fusion
“This enduring story of the ’80’s is perfectly tuned to a mixed heritage, bicultural child’s perception of her parent’s story undoubtedly told to her by her parents. She is at home with both cultures . She knows reverence for her elders, the respect for knowing the rules, the need for harmony in her daily life…. ”

Q: Describe a highlight for you personally while you were writing this book.
My “aha” moment came when I had lunch at the home of a Japanese friend who is married to an American. Her three year old used chopsticks to eat her rice, without dropping a grain. Then she picked up a spoon and neatly ate her jello. Wouldn’t be fun to write a book about grown-ups having to learn to use each other’s eating utensils, I wondered.

Q: Describe the journey you took to write and publish this book.
: I had a contract at that time for “Escape or Die” but I had to reduce the size of the manuscript. So I didn’t have time to work full time on “Parents.” When I went home, I jotted down my thoughts and some dialogue on my computer on “Parents.” Every so often I added or changed something. I had no idea of how I would end the story, until I got to the end. When “Parents” was finished, I asked a friend to read the book to her five- and six-year-old children. They liked the book, but there were some things they didn’t understand. So I clarified them. Then they listened to the story again. More corrections needed. When they thought the story was just right, I sent the manuscript to a publisher. It came back. “It’s a nice story, for a magazine, but not a book,” that editor wrote. Undeterred, I sent the book to Houghton Mifflin. A few weeks later, the editor called and said they’d like to print it, with a few minor changes. I agreed with her suggestions and made them. Wow! Since then, it’s sold 500,000 copies. It’s the easiest book I’ve ever written and the fastest acceptance.

My biggest thrill was winning the Christopher Award “for promoting cultural understanding.” I have always tried to reach out to other people, and I have taught my children the richness of being open to all cultures. I had hoped that through my writings I could further cultural understanding. Another thrilling moment was when my youngest son called from New York and said, “Mom, your book is all over the window of a bookstore on Fifth Avenue!”

Q: What is your educational background and how does this help you as a children’s writer?
: Getting a Master’s Degree in Storytelling from Lesley College taught me to include sights and sounds and feelings in my writing and storytelling. It also taught me the value of diagramming a story and of reading it aloud. If a line sounds awkward, it has to be rewritten or perhaps eliminated.

Q. Share one tip you would like to give about writing a picture book based on a personal experience.
If you’re writing about another culture, it’s important to research the background, the time and the place, and the customs of the people in your story.

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