I’ve been posting about Young Adult writing for four weeks now, and I’ve focused on intercultural themes. Well, here’s another book in a series of books that have intercultural relationships at their core–two of them are just for a slightly younger reader; one is an adult book. However, I’d like to feature them here anyway on this Tuesday because of their related theme.
I met the author, FREDDIE REMZA, a few years ago at the SCBWI conference in New York, and she impressed the heck out of me with her interest and full-throttle drive in this business of writing for young readers. And I think we connected because we both love to travel. She was also a great companion in the Big Apple, and we’ve kept in touch. So today I’d like for you to get to know Freddie and find out about her books.
I love traveling. I love being taken out of my comfort zone and placed in a spot on the globe where I’ve never been, consuming things I never imagined could be eaten, and talking to people who dress differently than me and live in houses I’ve seen in the National Geographic. I don’t want a replica, a simulation, the Disney version. I want the real thing. I’ve always been like that.
When I was an elementary teacher, I noticed that kids from other countries knew more about us than our children knew about them. That bothered me and so I set off on my own private mission to change that. The world map had a prime location in the front center of the classroom. I continuously pulled it down to perhaps explain the location of the recently erupted volcano or to compare the desert communities of the world. One of my favorite quotes is by Rudyard Kipling. He wrote, “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” So after retirement, I came up with this excellent idea of joining the two…traveling and writing stories that will not only entertain, but also let kids know where a plane ride can take you. My goal was to create a storyline where these settings could naturally unfold. They would contain real, live-sounding people with everyday problems and situations to resolve.
THE JOURNEY TO MEI is about an American family who decides to adopt a child from China. Their 10-year-old birth child is not too keen on that; that is, not at first. So off I went to China to learn about the country, visit an actual orphanage, talk to the people about the one child policy, and use what I learned in my writing. As it turned out, there was a need for this type of story. This middle reader not only became a teacher read-aloud, but was also used by adopting families. They found it to be a sensitive vehicle that opened up conversation between family members and the adopted child.
But my young readers were not satisfied. They wanted to know what happened after the story ended. Oh, the emails I received! They loved the family and didn’t want them to disappear, and quite frankly, I also became a little attached. So back to the laptop I went and the sequel, RIDE THE WAVE, was born. This book has the family moving to Cape Town, South Africa. Our 10-year-old birth child is now 15 and simply does not want to leave her friends, her activities, her comfortable life…not even for a year. And so, the theme of a teen adjusting to change seemed pretty evident, as well as issues of bullying and harassment. Halfway through the story I joined my pretend family as they made that long flight over the Atlantic. What’s an author to do? I learned first-hand about this country—the apartheid, effects of global warming, Cape of Good Hope—and used them as needed; much like a well-crafted jigsaw puzzle.
On the other hand, THE ORCHID BRACELET forced me to come up with a different set of people. There I was in Vietnam running around snapping photos, filling two notebooks with observations that were insignificant to the average tourist. You see, I wasn’t a tourist; I was a traveler. There is a difference. I made note of everything from the duct tape covering the slit on a vinyl couch inside a Vietnamese home, to the gravel on the pathway that a barefooted child walked upon as she carried her younger brother on her back. But it wasn’t until an unexpected conversation I had with a young Vietnamese teen that I realized I needed to go in a different direction with my story. That’s what experiencing the setting first hand will do. And when that last page has been read, if the reader feels a little stirring inside that makes him sit and think about things…well, then my job was done correctly.