For award-winning children’s author Claudia Friddell, the next best thing to time travel is discovering and sharing exciting real-life stories from long ago. A former elementary school teacher, Claudia loves talking to students and teachers about the magic of bringing history to life through books. Here, Claudia answers four questions about her books for kids.
Why do you write about the past for kids?
I’ve thought a lot about this question—mainly because I didn’t always have an interest in history! Not until I was a first-grade teacher did I realize how much children enjoy narrative nonfiction picture books about people and events from long ago. I love sharing true stories that connect today’s young readers with people from the past—many who faced challenges, overcame obstacles, and achieved great things. Now, as an author, when I find a story about people whose unique experiences from other times and places interest and inspire today’s children—that’s when I want to share their stories in a book.
How do you choose your subjects and stories?
There’s something special that happens for me when I find a fascinating little-known story from the past. I often describe my research adventures as digging for treasure. This is how my treasure hunt begins— first, my interest is piqued when I learn something uniquely interesting about a person or an event in our country’s history. If this nugget of an idea inspires me to think, “Wow, that’s interesting—I didn’t know that!” then I know I’m onto something. If that thought is followed by, ‘” bet kids would like to know that, too!” then I’m ready to dig into my research to see if I can create a story.
I am always on the lookout for stories that show ordinary people who did extraordinary things that have impacted our lives. I also love little-known stories about some of our most famous American icons.
What are some little-known stories you’ve written about recently?
After seeing a sculpture of Joseph Pulitzer while visiting Liberty Island in New York, I wanted to learn more about Pulitzer’s connection to the Statue of Liberty. Before that day, I had no idea that without his newspaper crowdfunding campaign, Lady Liberty would not be standing in New York’s harbor. I wrote Saving Lady Liberty so I could share that story with young readers.
I was inspired by the courageous telephone operators who helped win World War I after reading Lisa Cobbs’ book The Hello Girls. It wasn’t until Grace Banker’s granddaughter shared her grandmother’s war diary with me that I knew I wanted to tell the story of the Hello Girls—America’s first women soldiers—through the eyes and words of Grace Banker. The resulting book is Grace Banker and Her Hello Girls Answer the Call.
While researching another topic, I stumbled upon some of Clara Barton’s journals describing her experiences at the Battle of Antietam. Her beautiful, haunting words about this devastating day brought Clara Barton to life for me. I wanted young readers to hear Clara tell her own story, so I wove her words from her diaries and speeches throughout To the Front! I wanted to show how one person can make a remarkable impact through courage, resourcefulness, and compassion. Clara Barton’s heroics in caring for thousands of fallen soldiers on this day, and for years to follow, remind us she is a timeless role model for people of all ages.
Give us a sneak peek into your next book Road Trip! Camping with the Four Vagabonds: Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, and John Burroughs – what’s it all about?
I discovered the makings of Road Trip! when I was digging around for information about another topic relating to Thomas Edison. Once I learned how much fun Thomas Edison and Henry Ford had as they pioneered recreational camping trips with their friends Harvey Firestone and John Burroughs, I dropped my other project and switched gears.
Thanks to Jeremy Holmes’ whimsical illustrations, the reader has a front-row seat for the little-known backroad summer camping adventures of four of the 20th century’s most famous American icons. Most folks don’t know that Edison and Ford were close friends who loved escaping the modernized world they helped create to explore the wonders of nature. My hope is that kids and adults alike will enjoy this story of friendship, adventure, innovation, and the simple pleasures of exploring the wonders of nature, just as much as I enjoyed writing it!