Arkansas Literary Festival: Laurie Friedman

A childhood in Pine Bluff inspires her books for the wonder years

Is there anything worse than having your little sister loudly announce at your 13th birthday party that you have a huge crush on the new boy next door . . . in front of him?

Maybe. What if your parents then cancel your reservations for summer sleep-away camp, so your whole family can go on a cross-country RV tour for “family bonding” instead?

It’s a moment in a middle-schooler’s life so horrible that the only answer is to hide in your room and write in your journal. And that’s the peppy, engaging beginning of Can You Say Catastrophe? by Laurie Friedman.

Thirteen-year-old April is the journal-writing heroine of Friedman’s popular series The Mostly Miserable Life of April Sinclair, which is aimed at 10-13 year-old readers. Anyone who remembers being 13 will understand why girls love these books. The pre-teen voice leaps off the page, immediate, fresh, and funny.

When asked where she got her gift for capturing the voice and mindset of a 13 year old, Laurie Friedman said, “Maybe I’m still sort of a pre-teen inside, myself! I think all writers have certain ages when they remember so strongly what it felt like to be that age.”

Friedman was living in Pine Bluff, Arkansas when she was the same age as April Sinclair.  “I remember those days so fondly from Pine Bluff, and the voice of the books comes from my journals when I was that age.”

I hated to read until I read your books!

Friedman is the definition of hometown girl made good, with over fifty children’s books to her name. School Library Journal has compared her appealing characters to other favorites like Junie B. Jones and Judy Moody. But all this success and praise hasn’t changed what really motivates Friedman to write. “One girl once said to me, ‘I hated to read until I read your books.’ If my book can be that magical book for even one reader, I feel like I’ve done what I wanted to do,” Friedman said.

She also writes the Mallory McDonald series, which is designed for 3rd through 5th graders. Friedman loves to hear the responses from young students when she goes out to speak in schools. “One reader once said, ‘I read your book in under 30 minutes, in the dark with a flashlight! And that made me really happy.”

Friedman has been publishing children’s books for twenty years, and she ascribes the secret of her success in part to a solid writing process. “As a writer, I’m a big believer in keeping a journal and keeping notecards. If I see something, I jot it down. I also have a big writer’s basket beside my desk, and if I see an article, a recipe, anything, I throw it in the basket. Then, when I get ready to write, I dump out my basket and cherry-pick the ideas. It’s very hard if it’s just you and the blank page, so I’m a believer that the writing happens in stages.”

Laurie Friedman will bring more tips about writing for children and her own writing journey to the Arkansas Literary Festival. Catch her at “Day of Science and Reading” at the Museum of Discovery on April 25, where she will appear with Nashville-based illustrator, Higgins Bond (A Place for Turtles and Lorraine: The Girl Who Sang the Storm Away). Both presenters are originally from the Natural State. Limited seating is available. Please contact Beth Nelsen (bnelsen@museumofdiscovery.org) for more information.

 

Laurie Friedman is the author of over fifty critically acclaimed picture books, chapter books, and novels for young readers including the bestselling Mallory McDonald chapter book series, The Mostly Miserable Life of April Sinclair teen journal-format series, and many rhyming picture books including the Ruby Valentine series. She is a frequent speaker at conferences and schools across the country and is a Pine Bluff native. Laurie’s books have been translated into numerous languages including Chinese, Japanese, French, Spanish, Italian and Indonesian.  She has received many awards for her work including an IRA/CBC Children’s Choice Award, a Bank Street College Best Children’s Book of the Year Award, and numerous state awards.

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