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Monday, July 12, 2010

Robin Friedman - The Importance of Wings - Sydney Taylor Winner

I have just returned from the Association of Jewish Libraries Convention in Seattle. One of the highlights of the convention is honoring the winners of the Sydney Taylor Book Award. Robin Friedman is the winner of the Gold Medal for Older Readers. Her book, The Importance of Wings (Charlesbridge Publishing) is an engaging story of two sisters, Roxanne and Gayle. Their family has immigrated to Staten Island from Israel. Set in the 1980’s, the story offers a nostalgic slice of life for middle grade readers, and sheds light on the unique Israeli-American experience.

Robin is currently the special projects editor at the New Jersey Jewish News, and is the author of five books for young readers, including The Importance of Wings. Her young adult novel, Nothing was a 2009 Sydney Taylor Notable Book for Teens.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Importance of Wings and was excited to learn more about the story from Robin.

How autobiographical is The Importance of Wings?
Very autobiographical! I really did grow up on Staten Island in the 1980s. I have a younger sister; I hated gym, watched too much TV, and couldn’t get my hair to form wings. What was the fiction part? The Cursed House next door, Liat, and my mother spending time in Israel caring for a sister. Some of the scenes, however, such as playing with Legos in the basement, going to town to buy spice cakes, and trick-or-treating at Halloween dressed as cats are directly lifted from my childhood.

I have to say, it’s both enjoyable and terrifying to write that intimately. I have new respect for authors who write memoirs!

Have you heard from other Israelis that the experiences of Roxanne, Gayle, and Liat mirror their own?
Yes, especially the feeling-like-an-outsider part, which I’m sure resonates with many immigrants. Being poor, having parents who speak with thick accents, and not being familiar with American traditions are other common experiences.

Being from another country has made me very, very grateful for America, another common immigrant experience. Every Fourth of July, for example, I read the Declaration of Independence aloud, in its entirety, to my friends at our annual gathering. I majored in American history in college, and especially love anything having to do with the Revolutionary era.

Tell me a little bit about the haunted house in the story. Do you have any experiences with haunted houses?
The idea for the Cursed House actually came from listening to friends at a dinner party describe a house next door to them where strange events always seemed to be happening, including a night visit by armed FBI agents (which I used in my first chapter).

I carry a little notebook in my purse where I jot down ideas that I come across, and I remember writing “Cursed House” in my notebook that evening.

What's the best part about being an author of children's books?
The best part about being an author of children's books is the opportunity to share stories with kids who love books. This audience has impeccable taste, and I firmly believe that creating a good book for a child is much more demanding than creating one for an adult. Adults tend to settle for what is okay; kids hold out for something that captures them. Pleasing them is not only a worthy goal, but a humbling challenge.

Robin, thanks for inspiring readers (through your books and for reading the Declaration of Independence!) and congratulations on the success of The Importance of Wings.

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Anonymous The Writer's [Inner] Journey said...

Great interview! I was wondering who the winner was going to be. Congrats!

July 13, 2010 at 4:44 PM  
Anonymous Jacqueline Jules said...

I just checked out The Importance of Wings at my local library. I am looking forward to reading it soon. Thanks for this great background material on the book. I had the pleasure of meeting Robin at the AJL convention in Seattle, too. This interview really captures her charming and graceful personality.
Jacqueline Jules

July 13, 2010 at 7:14 PM  
Blogger Barbara Bietz said...

Thanks for your comments! So glad you all enjoyed the interview with Robin.

July 13, 2010 at 9:17 PM  
Anonymous Stacy Gittleman said...

I was housemates with Robin in college and we worked on the college paper together at Rutgers. She was always a sharp writer and i am so happy for her success. I bought The Importance of Wings for my daugher last Chanukkah and she loved it.

And, I also grew up in Staten Island in the 80's!

July 14, 2010 at 2:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thanks for taking the time to comment. I'm so happy you could share The Importance of Wings with your daughter!

July 14, 2010 at 2:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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July 15, 2010 at 6:31 AM  
Anonymous Deep Cleaning La Mesa said...

Thanks great post.

August 5, 2022 at 4:40 PM  

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