Richard F. Abrahamson, Ph.D. and Linda M. Pavonetti, Ed.D.: You've written about your own ancestors' immigrant experience in The Night Journey and in Marven of the Great North Woods. How did writing Dreams in the Golden Country: The Diary of Zipporah Feldman, a Jewish Immigrant Girl differ from writing these other two books?
Kathryn Lasky: Mostly it was the setting, the place — the East coast, New York City, the Lower East Side as opposed to the Midwest, the prairie. The center of Jewish culture has always been New York. When I was a kid growing up in Indiana I always had this sense that I was on the far horizons, not even margins, of my own culture. I am not saying that this is bad, but one had to do a lot of explaining about being Jewish in the Midwest.
RFA and LMP: Your first book in the Dear America series, A Journey to the New World: The Diary of Remember Patience Whipple, focused on the immigrants of America's earliest days. Zippy's diary returns to a similar theme but in a different time and setting. How does Zippy compare to the girls who came to America on the Mayflower?
KL: Well, let's put it this way. I'd rather be Zippy than Remember Patience Whipple. Life was a lot more exciting. Remember had to worry about starvation and possible Indian attacks and dying of the general sickness. Zippy was relieved of all those worries, and she had a lot more personal freedom. Zippy was arriving in the midst of a richly thriving, burgeoning immigrant culture in the middle of a great American city. No wonder one day she wants to be Madame Curie, the next Wilbur Wright, and the next a star of the Yiddish theater. This was America where you really could dream. Oh, and I forgot one important thing: Zippy didn't speak English. Remember did. Zippy had to figure out a new culture. Remember just had to hang on to what she came with. The challenges were different for these girls but still equally complex, I think.
RFA and LMP: You have said, "I love doing research. It's really fun. It's like a treasure hunt." In doing the research for Zippy's diary, what treasures did you uncover?
KL: The one treasure that shines through like a blazing jewel was the Yiddish theater. I had known a little bit about the Yiddish theater but not that much. I couldn't stop reading about it — its roots in the Rumanian wine bars around the middle of the nineteenth century; its great stars like Ida Kaminsky and Jacob Adler; their plays; their adaptations of Shakespeare; the life on the road; the romances and rivalries and jealousies amongst the actors. I got side tracked for a good month just reading stuff about the Yiddish theater.
RFA and LMP: Zippy's diary gives readers an interesting look at how our families influence who and what we become. Your own ancestors were also Jewish immigrants to America. What influences did those immigrant ancestors have on who you are today?
KL: Those grandparents who left were very daring and adventurous; they were fairly religious but I think realized that they were going to have to change somewhat and adapt. They really valued education and learning English. In many extremely orthodox families girls were not educated beyond high school, but I am proud to say that every single one of my maternal grandparents' children — five daughters — graduated from college. On my father's side there was not enough money for them all to go to college, but they all were extremely well educated. They all read widely. So I would say the influences, by and large, were a real reverence for learning, whether it be in school and universities or through life experiences.
RFA and LMP: What is one thing you hope young readers will take away with them after reading Dreams in the Golden Country: The Diary of Zipporah Feldman, a Jewish Immigrant Girl?
KL: I just hope that readers will think about what it might be like to be an immigrant. What would it be like to go someplace where you can't speak the language, where everything is so different? How are you going to change? How is your family going to change? How much do you have to give up and how much can you keep?
Interview conducted by Richard F. Abrahamson, Ph.D., Professor of Literature for Children and Young Adults, University of Houston, Houston, Texas, and Linda M. Pavonetti, Ed.D., Assistant Professor, Oakland University, Department of Reading and Language Arts, Rochester, Michigan.