The Whole Megillah (TWM): What motivated you to write Rachel’s Roses?
Ferida Wolff (FW): I was telling a friend about how my older sister and I liked to do things together. My friend, who was an only child, said she wondered how it would feel to be an older sister. That got me thinking about it. I knew things from my perspective but would it be different if I was the older sister? I chose to place the story in an earlier time so that I would have some perspective and it wouldn’t be just about me.
TWM: Are there lessons in this narrative that are relevant to immigrant families today?
FW: Our country is largely made up of immigrants. There is a process of going from the old country ways to accepting the adopted country’s ways. I hope that Rachel’s interactions with her family and community encourage immigrant children to adopt the new but continue to respect what they brought with them. Rachel’s relationship with her grandmother, in particular, is loving and respectful and helps her combine the values of what was and what is moving forward.
TWM: What was your greatest challenge in writing it?
FW: I wanted to get the physical and emotional ambience right. Some of my family had lived in the Lower East Side in New York and it was a walk back in time to create the right setting. My grandmother also lived with us and I wanted to offer that intense connection that I remembered.
TWM: What was your greatest satisfaction?
FW: I loved writing about Rachel! She brought back such memories for me, both from my perspective as the younger sister and what I imagined my sister must have gone through with me.
TWM: Name one thing that surprised you about this project.
FW: I was surprised by the sayings that seemed to just come out of Bubbie’s mouth. They almost had a life of their own and encouraged the story forward.
TWM: What books did you read growing up? Who inspired you?
FW: I loved reading. We didn’t have many books in our house but I spent a lot of time at the public libraries. I had my own juvenile library card and I made intensive use of it. One series I liked reading was the All-of-a-Kind Family series by Sydney Taylor. It had a family feeling that I responded to.
TWM: What’s next for Ferida Wolff?
FW: I’m working on a sequel to Rachel’s Roses, with the main character being Rachel’s best friend, Sophie. All of the characters will interact but it will give that time and place a different feeling through Sophie’s eyes. I am also working on a number of picture books that help young children recognize and experience their emotions.
For more about Ferida Wolff, please visit her website.