Russell Freedman has written three dozen nonfiction books and garnered nearly two dozen awards. The most recent went to his latest book Eleanor Roosevelt: A Life of Discovery (Clarion, 1993, Ages 10 up, $17.95) which was named a 1994 Newbery Honor Book. His interest in Eleanor grew out of his work on a book about her husband entitled Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Clarion, 1990, Ages, 10 up, $16.95).
Freedman's background includes reporting and editing for The Associated Press and working as a publicist for several television shows. Convinced that children's dislike of history is a result of the way it is taught, he decided to try his hand at writing biographies. His objective is to make the people in his biographies seem real; to breathe life into past events.
While his goal is to be a story teller, he is rigorous in his research. To give life to his stories he works hard to create wonderfully detailed scenes to convey the texture and flavor of an event. In concert, he develops the characters by painting vivid word pictures and further enhances the characters by having them talk. Freedman quotes from diaries, memoirs and letters, and does it in a fashion that creates a sense of reality and immediacy.
Another feature of Freedman's books is the wonderful photographs. The photos and text are always carefully coordinated. During the development of one of his books, Feedman may identify as many as 1,000 possible photographs. Usually the number is winnowed to 140 or so for the book. His photo captions do not repeat the text, but introduce new information. In his words, "Photos make the past come alive; scenes show that the subjects are time bound; expressions are timeless."
Other recent books that demonstrate Freedman's art are Lincoln: A Photobiography, a Newbery Medal book (Clarion, 1987, Ages 10 up, $15.95 and $7.70 paper) and The Wright Brothers: How They Invented the Airplane (Holiday, 1991, Ages 10 up, $18.95) another Newbery Honor Book.
Babe Didrikson Zaharias: The Making of a Champion
Born into a large Norwegian immigrant family in Texas, Mildred "Babe" Didrikson went on to become a fabulous athlete, selected as the best female athlete of the first half of this century. She was determined and disciplined. If Babe decided to participate in a sport, she persevered until she was the best. She won Olympic gold in track and field, played organized basketball, and helped form the Ladies' Professional Golf Association. Once she was diagnosed and treated for colon cancer, Babe became an ardent spokesperson for fundraising efforts. Her life constantly tested boundaries: the limits of athletic performance, constraints on female athletes, and the social taboo against discussing cancer in public. She was brash and confident, characteristics that were unexpected in women of her time. Russell Freedman obviously developed great respect and admiration for the subject of this biography and invites us to join him in enjoying this fascinating woman. Copious photographs support the text; an annotated bibliography and index are included. 1999, Clarion, Ages 10 up, $18.00. Reviewer: Dr. Judy Rowen
Cowboys Of The Wild West
Russell Freedman's Cowboys Of The Wild West are not the romantic heroes children meet in movies. They are more often African, Mexican or Native Americans, who seldom wore a gun (never carried two), sang to their cattle (to calm them) and were killed more frequently in job-related tasks (trampled in a stampede, drowned crossing a river, or stuck by lightning while herding) than by outlaws or Indians. Mr. Freedman's classic, illustrated with archival photographs, reveals the men for the hardworking, low-paid, highly-skilled transients most were. 1985, Clarion, Ages 10 up, $14.95 and $7.95. Reviewer: Beverly Kobrin
Eleanor Roosevelt, A Life of Discovery
Truly a lofty standard by which all First Ladies are judged, this distant cousin and wife of Franklin D. Roosevelt, was raised in luxury, the serious and plain child of society parents. This is a lengthy account of Eleanor Roosevelt, written for better readers. Her life is an inspiration to youngsters urging them to rise above that which is expected of them to the greatest heights. Champion of the tired and poor, Mrs. Roosevelt, like Lady Liberty, lit lamps against ignorance and prejudice that still burn today. 1993, Clarion, Ages 8 up, $17.95. Reviewer: Deborah Zink Roffino
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Newbery Award Winner Russell Freedman has gifted us with another memorable biography. Roosevelt, the man, emerges forcefully throughout the book. His confidence and vigor allow readers to see why he was able to lead us through a severe Depression and a devastating world war so successfully. Although he was crippled by polio in 1921, he led such an active life that the public never knew how handicapped he really was. Children will meet a likeable, down-to-earth, yet complex man who understood the meaning of 'leadership.' The photos are gems and provide a candid glimpse of the man and his family. 1990, Clarion, Ages 10 up, $16.95 and $8.95. Reviewer: Jan Lieberman
Renowned photo-essayist Freedman has written two books, Kids at Work and Immigrant Kids, that speak to children through engaging text and pictures. Immigrant Kids captures images of newly arrived children at work, play and learning. Children can extend their appreciation of these books by collecting photographs of their peers to document their own lives at school. These photo-journals can be combined with items representing contemporary lifestyles (e.g. a compact disc, videocassette, computer chip) to create a time capsule that could be stored for future generations attending the same school. 1995, Puffin Books, Ages 8 to 12, $5.99. Reviewer: Susie Wilde
This is a sympathetic attempt by a non-Indian to rewrite a less European-slanted version of American history. Freedman gives us history through the words and actions of six Native leaders. His photojournalism is cleansed of sentimentality, while conveying the sadness of the insensitive treatment Native Americans received. 1992 (orig. 1987), Holiday House, Ages 9 up, $16.95. Reviewer: Susie Wilde
An Indian Winter
Illustrated by Karl Bodmer
Breathing life into history and making people seem real is Freedman's consummate skill. His account of German prince Maximilian's winter stay in 1833-34 with the Hidatsa and Mandan peoples of modern day North Dakota is taken from Maximilian's journal and Freedman's own meticulous research. The vividness of this account is enhanced through reproductions of the sketches and painting of the artist, Karl Bodmer, who accompanied the prince on his journey. A widely reviewed and lauded book. 1995 (orig. 1992), Holiday, Ages 10 up, $21.95 and $12.95. Reviewer: Marilyn Courtot
Kids at Work: Lewis Hind and the Crusade Against Child Labor
Photographs by Lewis Hine
Using the compelling black and white photographs of Lewis Hine, Russell Freedman has chronicled the child labor movement in the United States. Hine became an investigative photographer for the National Child Labor Committee in 1908, traveling across the country, photographing and collecting the horrifying tales associated with the use and abuse of child labor. His work was influential in changing child labor laws, and this photoessay gives children a unique glimpse into the past. 1994, Clarion, Ages 10 up, $16.95. Reviewer: Mary Sue Preissner
The Life and Death of Crazy Horse
Drawings by Amos Bad Heart Bull
In this compelling biography based on extensive research and the artwork of a tribal historian and cousin of Crazy Horse, we really get acquainted with this famous Native American. Crazy Horse was different, he did not pride himself on war and killing, but he was a brave and formidable foe, one of the few to win a major battle against the American Cavalry. He never stopped fighting for his people's right to their hunting grounds and never signed a treaty. His person life, including his great love for Black Buffalo Woman, marriage to Black Shawl and other family and friends are wonderfully brought to life. The end of his life, a violent death due to jealousy and treachery is movingly described. Freedman's use of quotes and drawings of the events make for a lively and fascinating biography. The book includes a long note about the drawings, a chronology, bibliography and index which make it an excellent choice for school and library collections. 1996, Holiday, Ages 12 up, $21.95. Reviewer: Marilyn Courtot
Lincoln: A Photobiography
Photographs and text trace the life of the Civil War President. Lincoln stood out in a crowd because of his wit, humor and height. The book is richly illustrated with dozens of carefully chosen photographs and prints. It starts with Lincoln's boyhood, moves to his career as a country lawyer, and then his courtship and marriage to Mary Todd. The focus of the book is the Lincoln presidency 1861-65 and a recounting of the complex issues that led a deeply divided nation to Civil War. The story concludes with Lincoln's assassination at Fords Theater on April 14, 1865. 1988 Newbery Medal, 1987 Notable Children's Book. 1989 (orig. 1987), Clarion Books, Ages 10 up, $17.00 and $7.95. Reviewer: Marilyn Courtot
Martha Graham: A Dancer's Life
Graham was complex, daring, temperamental, inventive and passionate about dance. She fused the art of dance with the emotions and imbued it with a social conscience. The photos are stunning portrayals of Graham in her own handmade woolen shroud, in swirling skirts, in poses that test the suppleness of the human body. She worked with such famous artists as Isamu Noguchi who designed many of her sets and Aaron Copeland who wrote the Appalachian Suite especially for her company. To read her story is to live through the twentieth century as a dancer. Graham died in 1991 at age 96. Freedman is a genius at writing photo-biographies. He makes the subject dance off the page. 1998, Clarion, Ages 11 up, $18.00. Reviewer: Jan Lieberman
Out of Darkness: The Story of Louis Braille
Illustrated by Kate Kiesler
This is a fascinating and inspirational, but not saccharine, biography of a young man who changed the world for the blind. Newbery-winner Freedman has a deft touch with history, writing it as though it were just any other great story to be told. He uses evocative details to explain the blind child's experience of Paris, such as "the rumble of wheels and clicking of hooves as carriages rolled past on the cobblestone pavement" or "flags flapping in the breeze along the Champs-Elysees...the gay laughter and swish of silk as fashionable ladies strolled by...the rhythmic crunch of a soldier's boots." Kids will be particularly impressed by the students' quiet but unshakable rebellion at the Royal Institute for Blind Youth. 1997, Clarion Books, Ages 8 to 13, $15.95. Reviewer: Donna Freedman
The Wright Brothers
From self-taught bicycle mechanics to inventors of the first airplane is quite an amazing leap, but not when you consider the diligence, the determination, and the single-mindedness of Orville and Wilbur Wright. These bachelor brothers researched the work of others and never weakened in their resolve that man would fly. The inventive process has rarely been more vividly portrayed than in this biography. This is not only a fascinating biography of the brothers but also of their invention, which is enhanced with original photographs taken by Orville and Wilbur. 1994 (orig. 1991), Holiday House, Ages 11 up, $19.95 and $12.95. Reviewer: Jan Lieberman
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