High school isn’t easy, especially with a learning disability. As Fred navigates four years of high school—confronting bullies, struggling with homework and tests, losing his shoes, and trying to answer the question, Who are you, Fred?—readers will gain an understanding about the complexities of learning disabilities. Author Eileen Maloney Ryan talks to Book Glow about her novel, Who Are You, Fred?
What led you to write Who Are You, Fred?
After 30 years of teaching high school students, I had a story to tell. Each fall, I watched students with learning disabilities and ADHD enter high school. Often, they walked in with a short supply of self-confidence and academic skills. Over the course of four years, their confidence grew as they developed academic and personal skills. As their personalities blossomed, I had a front row seat observing young teens grow into emerging adults.
On the flip side, I saw the results of students who didn’t have appropriate opportunities. I served as an adjunct faculty member teaching education courses at a community college. Many students in my classes had received special education services when they were in high school. When meeting individually with these students, I learned many of them could not tell me why they had been placed in special ed. They could not tell me what was in their IEP; they had not attended their IEP meetings.
When I originally wrote Who Are You, Fred? I hoped that students with learning disabilities/ADHD would read or listen to it and feel they were going to be okay. After listening to readers discuss the book, the conversations quickly focused on those in their lives who had been identified with LD or ADHD. I realized that my book served as a spark to open conversations and ask questions in the hopes of furthering the opportunities of those with LD/ADHD.
How long did it take to write?
The first draft took a year to write. I was fortunate to have multiple readers who provided critical and constructive feedback. I considered each reader’s perspective and what they brought to the revision process.
What book most influenced your life?
There is something about reading a book as a young child. A book can crawl into the soul of a child and set up camp. In fourth grade, this happened to me when I read The Incredible Journey by
Sheila Burnford. It was the first time I read a book and cried. Ms. Burnford’s writing touched me in a way I had not previously experienced. The Incredible Journey is why I fell in love with reading.
Is there any one thing that especially frustrates you about the writing process?
ORGANIZATION! As I was writing the revisions, I did not want to lose the original text. It took a while to develop a system that allowed me to see the original copy and the revisions. I wanted to hold on to both copies to review with fresh eyes.
Any advice for novice writers?
Figure out a way to organize your text so that you do not lose any of your writing! Determining your method of organization will save you time and frustration.
Write about what you know. Your experiences are unique to you. If you have hummingbirds outside your window, write about the hummingbirds you see. Even though many people have watched
hummingbirds hover over a flower, no one has had the same experience as you.