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Robin Friedman : author and journalist


Children’s author tells Civil War through a girl’s eyes

By Rebecca Schmoyer | The Star-Ledger | April 28, 2005

Robin Friedman has just completed her second children’s book, THE SILENT WITNESS, which was published last month by Houghton Mifflin. The illustrated book about a little girl who lives through the Civil War is appearing in stores at the end of April. Friedman’s first book, HOW I SURVIVED MY SUMMER VACATION, was published by Cricket Books in 2000. It is now in its third printing and has been translated into German.

Friedman, who was born in Israel and grew up in Marlboro, has been writing children’s fiction for 10 years. She graduated from Rutgers University, where she studied history and journalism, then went on to study law at Temple University in Philadelphia.

During the mid-1990s, Friedman got a job at Walker and Co., a publishing firm in New York. “It was sort like boot camp. I just learned everything about publishing from the inside out and outside in,” she said.

As an editor reading hundreds of children’s books, she became interested in writing her own stories for kids. “I think today’s children’s novels are like gems,” she said. “The stories are fantastic; the characters and the plots are amazing.”

At the opening of the story, the McLean family lives in Manassas, Va., the site of the first battle of the war between North and South in 1861.

“The fighting was practically on their front lawn,” said Friedman.

Fearing for his family’s safety, Wilmer McLean decides to move his family, including his 4-year-old daughter Lula, south to the town of Appomattox Court House, Va. There, McLean thinks they would be safe. But in a bizarre twist, four years later, as the war comes to a close, it moves into the McLeans’ living room.

The story ends in the family’s parlor, where Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrenders to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, while Lula’s rag doll sits silently on the sofa.

While she was watching the first episode of the PBS minseries THE CIVIL WAR, Friedman was fascinated by the McLean family’s saga. Though their story is well-known, during her research she found that the tale of Lula and her doll was not. So she decided to make the little girl the center of the story.

“Terrible things happen during war. I wanted to portray it as seen from a child’s level,” she said.

The book was rejected by 22 publishers before Houghton Mifflin expressed interest in it, she said.

“You always get rejected. But if you like what you’ve written and you have polished it and made it as fabulous as it can be, then you just keep sending it out,” she said. “Even Dr. Seuss was rejected 27 times before he was published.”