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Surviving in World of Children's Books
By Richard Frisbie
One of a pair of teachers who became award-winning, full-time
authors offered insight at the March 11 SMA meeting in the Cliff
Dwellers Club into how writers get started and survive in the
world of children's books.
Judith Fradin and her husband, Dennis Fradin,
working both collaboratively and individually, have produced
about three dozen meticulously researched nonfiction titles
over a period of almost two decades. A member of the audience,
which included more non-members than usual, asked, "What
age group?" "Whatever they'll pay for," said
In the beginning, Dennis Fradin was teaching second grade
in the kind of inner city school that had few books. To keep
control of his boisterous class, he made up stories. It turned
out that he was good at it. The kids sat still and listened.
At the time, he was also free-lancing for various magazines
One assignment he picked up was to write a children's book about
Illinois. This led to a contract to write books about all 52
states over a period of five years.
About the time he (predictably) began to fall behind schedule,
Judith Fradin's job evaporated at a school where she taught
English in a special program for "problem kids who had
already been kicked out of other programs for problem kids."
As their graduation rates improved, the schools they had originally
come from claimed credit. Board of education bureaucrats declared
victory and shut down Judith's program.
So Judith pitched in to help with the 52-book project. Soon
Judith and Dennis drafted their own children to work as researchers.
"We paid them twice what they could earn at McDonald's,"
Judith said, "but they hated it."
Later, the kids were thankful. When they got to college, they
said none of the other students knew how to do research, but
for the Fradin kids research "was a piece of cake."
Dennis and Judith are noted for the depth of their research.
When writing about historical figures, they have often tracked
down descendants and unearthed new details about the lives of
Judith passed around copies of some of the Fradin books. (Dennis
was out of town.) They included biographies of historical figures,
some African-American history and for National Geographic
Children's Books accounts of disasters such as hurricanes
They're "happy disaster books," Judith said, informative
without showing the dead bodies. Judith currently gets double
the usual royalty for tracking down photos.
Children's publishers fret about grade levels and language
complexity. The Fradins write what they want, then argue it
out with their editor.
A book about Sacagawea told that when the Lewis and Clark
expedition ran low on food she helped them survive by finding
caches of food hidden by animals. This, mixed with their remaining
stock of beans, gave the explorers diarrhea.
An editor wanted to change "diarrhea" to "the
runs." The Fradins successfully argued that although young
readers might have trouble spelling "diarrhea," they
certainly knew what the word meant.
The program was a repeat performance for Judith.
She bravely turned up to speak on Feb. 13, 2007, the date of
one of last year's worst blizzards. The audience that night
consisted only of the SMA president, the program chairman, the
then-editor of Literary License, three polar bears and a walrus.
Victoria Lautman, founder, host and executive producer
of "Writers on the Record with Victoria Lautman" will
host the Society of Midland Authors annual awards dinner on
May 13 at the InterContinental Chicago, 505 N. Michigan Ave.
Lynn Voedisch was elected at the Society's March board
meeting to fill a vacancy on the SMA board. (Lynn has a YouTube
"book trailer" for her book, Excited Light,
on her Web site, www.lynnvoedisch.com.
Charles J. Masters,
author of a new biography of former Gov. Henry Horner, has offered
to serve as SMA corresponding secretary.
In January, the Fox Valley Arts Hall of Fame inducted Aurora-born
poet Ingrid Wendt. Plaques honoring inductees are hung
in the lobby of Aurora's Paramount Arts Centre the
theater where Wendt went to Saturday cartoons as a child. Wendt,
who also has been nominated for a 2007 Pushcart Prize, recently
published poems in Prairie Schooner and the online journal Drunken
Boat, and her poems are being included in the anthologies Gondola
Signore Gondola: Venice in 20th Century American Poetry,
Letters to the World: Poems from the Wom-Po Listserv and
the Alhambra Poetry Calendar 2008.
Linda Nemec Foster was honored as a finalist for the
2007 ArtServe Michigan Governor's Art Award last November. She
was the only writer selected (the others were visual artists).
More recently, she received the 2008 International Creative
Arts Award from the Polish American Historical Association.
Foster was given the award on Jan. 5 in Washington, D.C. at
a gala reception at the Embassy of Poland. She also gave a poetry
reading at the event. The reception was part of the annual conference
of the American Historical Association.
Jonathan Eig's Opening Day: The Story of Jackie
Robinson's First Season was a New York Times best-seller
and was named one of the best books of 2007 by the Washington
Post, the Chicago Tribune and Sports Illustrated.
Political consultant Larry Horist, having read SMA President
Jim Merriner's manuscript of his book on former Illinois
Gov. George Ryan and having discussed it with Coca-Cola lobbyist
Kevin Morris said, "Kevin and I are going down there [Springfield]
to pass a law that every f------ Illinois legislator has to
read this book before they can cast a vote." Merriner is
hoping his publisher uses the quote as a jacket blurb.
Dan Dinello will publish a chapter titled "The
Wretched of New Caprica" in a new book, Battlestar Galactica
and Philosophy (June 28, Open Court).
was quoted in a March 18 Associated Press story about Barack
Obama's former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Marty, a retired
professor of religious history who taught Wright at the University
of Chicago, said Wright does not focus his ire on white America
alone. "He is very hard on his own people," Marty
said. "He criticizes them for their lack of fidelity in
marriage, for black-on-black crime. He is not saying one part
of America is right and one is wrong." Marty also was quoted
on the same topic in a New York Times column by Nicholas Kristoff
Dick Simpson talked in January with the Chicago Flame,
the student newspaper of the University of Illinois at Chicago,
about his own political history. Simpson was 44th Ward alderman
in Chicago from 1971-79. "I led the opposition block of
the City Council against Mayor Richard J. Daley and Michael
Bilandic," Simpson recalled.
Mary Elizabeth Anderson has written four books to be
published in 2008 and 2009.
Charlene Baumbich and Kathleen Ernst will attend
the 10th annual Southern Kentucky Book Fest April 19 in Bowling
Luisa Scala Buehler will be at the Edwardsville Public
Library April 5 in Edwardsville, Ill.
On April 11, Andrea Cheng will be at the Virginia Hamilton
Conference on Multicultural Literature for Youth at Kent State
University in Kent, Ohio.
SMA past presidents Rich Lindberg and Carol Carlson
have teamed up on a new book project and are applying the
finishing touches to Yesterday & Today Cities: Chicago,
the second in a series of historical travel guides to American
cities brought out by Publications International, Ltd., of Lincolnwood.
The guide will feature a collection of vintage and contemporary
photos with historical profiles of each of the major geographic
components of Chicago: Downtown, South, West, North, the Northwest
and Southwest Sides of the city and the suburbs. With an unbelievably
tight five-month deadline the authors were required to meet,
the book is on time and scheduled for a 25,000-copy national
print run. For Lindberg, who recently appeared on an episode
of the History Channel series "Cities of the Underworld"
profiling the secret tunnels of the old South Side Levee District
and the labyrinth of freight tunnels lying 40 feet beneath the
Loop, it's a departure from writing about sports, crime and
At 11 a.m. on April 5, Lorna Collier and co-author
Tilli Schulze will give a presentation about Tilli's Story:
My Thoughts Are Free at the Hyatt Lodge at McDonald's Campus
Hotel, in Oak Brook, Ill., at the 11th Annual Illinois Education
Association Retired Conference.
Copper Sun by Sharon Draper was No. 10 on the
Feb. 3 New York Times paperback best-seller list
Michael Allen Dymmoch will be at the Wauconda Area
Library, 801 N. Main St., Wauconda, Ill., on April 13.
On March 14, in Port Angeles, Wash., Shane Gericke
was on KONP Radio (AM 1450) at 3:04 p.m. Chicago time), talking
with host Karen Hanen on the show "Art Beat KONP."
Karen Evans, a children's library assistant at the St. Matthews/Eline
branch library in Louisville, Ky., prepared a full spread of
Abraham Lincoln-era recipes in January, including fried cornbread,
gingerbread men and a Mary Todd White Cake with icing. Her source
for the recipes was Lincoln's Table: Victorian Recipes from
Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois to the White House, by Donna
Margaret McMullan will be one of the featured speakers
at the Oxford Conference for the Book and the Young Authors
Fair on the weekend of April 3-5 in Oxford, Miss. All Oxford
and Lafayette County ninth-graders will receive copies of McMullan's
novel In My Mother's House to read and discuss in class before
hearing McMullan speak at the conference. Participating Oxford
area fifth- and ninth-grade students receive personal copies
of novels by the selected authors and also have a chance to
hear the authors speak about their work during the conference.
On March 8, Blue Line Studio hosted a free artist reception
with refreshments titled "ChicArt Chicago" in celebration
of International Women's Month. The monthlong show is co-hosted
by David Hernandez and features performances to coincide
with the exhibition.
On March 29, there will he a 3 p.m. reception and 3:30 event
at gescheidle (a Chicago art gallery), 1039 W. Lake St., second
floor, for performances of scenes from Paul McComas' book,
Planet of the Dates. There will be live music, short
films all against the backdrop of an exhibit of peace-themed
art pieces by James J. Peterson. Wine and cheese and a book
signing will follow (all copies discounted to $20). Paul will
promote the event with a live interview and performance on the
Razor & Die Music Show, WLUW-FM 88.7, on March 27, at 11:30
Author Jon Hassler, whose 1987 book Grand Opening
won the Society of Midland Authors' Adult Fiction Award, died
this month at 74. He was a former Bemidji State University professor
who chronicled small-town life.
Stuart Dybek talked with students at Willowbrook (Ill.)
High School on March 7.
The annual Writers of the Beach: Pure Sea Glass writer's conference
in Delaware this month hosted Jacquelyn Mitchard. Also
this month, it was reported EMO Films has acquired the rights
to Jacquelyn's best-seller, Cage of Stars. Jacquelyn
also was in Toledo this month to speak at a Women Against MS
New book group being formed
SMA board members Cheryl Reed and Rosina Neginsky are getting
together a writers group, and other SMA members are invited
If you are interested, you can contact Cheryl Reed at email@example.com
or Rosina Neginsky.
April program: Celebrating Poetry Month
The Society's April program is titled, "Celebrating
Poetry Month: A reading by Chicago poets Simone Muench and Billy
Billy Lombardo directs the Community Service Program and teaches
fiction at the Latin School of Chicago. His collection of short
fiction, The Logic of a Rose, Chicago Stories, won the G.S.
Sharat Chandra Prize for Short Fiction. Billy's first poetry
book, Meanwhile, Roxy Mourns (EM Press), will be out this spring.
Simone Muench is poetry editor of ACM, an assistant professor
at Lewis University and author of two books of poetry, The Air
Lost in Breathing (Marianne Moore Prize, Helicon Nine, 2000),
and Lampblack & Ash (Marianne Moore Prize, Helicon Nine, 2000).
She has a collaborative chapbook, Sonoluminescence, with Bill
Allegrezza (Dusie Press, 2007). Her poems have appeared, or
will appear, in Iowa Review, Denver Quarterly, and the anthology
The City Visible: Chicago Poetry for the New Century. She directs
the writing program at Lewis University, serves on the advisory
board for Switchback Books and is an editor for Sharkforum.
New nature book
Joel Greenberg has edited Of Prairie, Woods, and Water: Two
Centuries of Chicago Nature Writing (April 15, University of
Chicago Press), an anthology of local nature writing from 1721
Greenberg is well-known in conservation circles (he's a diehard
birder and the author of A Natural History of the Chicago Region),
and the book includes such excerpts as a pioneer's hilarious
notes on life in the Kankakee marsh, Theodore Drieser's poignant
plea for conservation of the Tippecanoe River and infamous murderer
Nathan Leopold's description of a pet robin he kept in
Bonnie Dobkin is a former high school English teacher and
now is an editorial director for language arts books. She is
author of Dream Spinner (2006, Flux), which was selected for
the Book Sense Autumn 2006 Children's Pick List. The School
Library Journal said, "The tapestry world is vividly imagined,
and the beautiful-fantasies-turned-ugly theme is gripping."
Her next book, Neptune's Children (Walker Books for Young Readers),
is due out on April 29. It is about a day at an amusement park
that turns deadly when a worldwide biological attack kills every
adult, leaving behind the kids to fend for themselves. She lives
in the Chicago area with her husband and three sons.
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