Like so many authors these days, Judith Fradin works hard to build her books into a brand. For example, she often refers her work as “Fradin Books” and, when online, directs readers to her email address to get “Fradinformation.”
Readers can always count on a Fradin Book to be “accurate and engaging,” she said, adding, “If you find the right project, and can do the research, [non-fiction] is an almost endless mine of great ideas.”
Ms. Fradin, who lives on Evanston’s southwest side, has published more than 150 children’s and young adult non-fiction books, most with her late husband, Dennis Fradin, who died in 2012. Among their works are “The Price of Freedom: How One Town Stood Up to Slavery” (2013); “The Power of One: Daisy Bates and the Little Rock Nine” (2004); and “Ida B. Wells: Mother of the Civil Rights Movement” (2000).
One of their final books written together, “Stolen From Slavery: The True Story of Solomon Northrup, Free Black Man” (2012), adapts the story told in the 1853 memoir “Twelve Years a Slave,” which was also adapted into a film last year, for young readers.
“Dennis first learned of the story, and started writing about it, in 1998,” Ms. Fradin explained. “Then, about six years ago, I began putting pressure on him to actually do the book. When he was sick, it was one of the things that kept him going in his head. The book came out at about just the time he died,” Ms. Fradin said.
She and Mr. Fradin cultivated an interest in African American-related subjects back when they were both teaching in Chicago inner-city schools in the 1960s. Both were bothered by what was then a paucity of literature for young people about black history.
“The books we used were pitiful,” Ms. Fradin said. “Dennis would go every weekend, or every other weekend, to the Northwestern library and research famous African Americans,” Ms. Fradin said. “There he found two shelves of slave-escape stories. He saw a gold mine there.”
After that, the Fradins “sort of amassed this field of knowledge,” she added. “What we did better than most others is we ‘fanned out’ from the main stories. For example, we might concentrate more on what life was like on a ship as slaves were being transported to the States.”
The couple branched out into other fields of interest as well; one of Ms. Fradin’s favorite subjects to write about is natural disasters. In 2011, she and Mr. Fradin put out “Tornado! The Story Behind These Twisting, Turning, Spinning, and Spiraling Storms” through the National Geographic Kids line.
“I love meteorology,” said Ms. Fradin, who also co-wrote books about volcanoes, hurricanes and earthquakes. “I’ve been a Tom Skilling groupie forever.”
She is just about to begin researching her next book. She was reluctant, she said, to disclose its subject however, given the peculiarities of her segment of the publishing industry. “Non-fiction is a very cannibalistic process,” Ms. Fradin said.
Each of the couple’s books had the “Fradin/Fradin” moniker affixed to its spine, and she said that her books will continue to carry that label, even as she continues their work on her own.
“I learned at my husband’s feet,” Ms. Fradin said. Her curiosity and spontaneity was perfectly counter-balanced by his focus and attention to details. “It was like he had horse-blinders on.”
She tries to impart her enthusiasm for non-fiction literature whenever she teaches. Ms. Fradin has been an instructor at National-Louis University and occasionally visits public schools to talk about research and writing. She admitted that fostering an enthusiasm for research and library visits can be a challenge in the age of the Internet.
“I say to them, ‘Wikipedia is a whole other animal, like a diving board – you go bounce, bounce, bounce, on there, and then dive into the larger pool of research,” said Ms. Fradin.