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Children's Literature Collection


A capacity crowd gathered on the campus of The University of Southern Mississippi for several days last March to honor Russell Freedman, the 31st recipient of the University's Silver Medallion. Freedman was joined by Kevin Henkes, Pat Cummings, Evelyn Coleman, Susan Hirschman, and Mary Hamilton.

Freedman is no stranger to awards, having received the Newbery Medal in 1988 for Lincoln: A Photobiography and a Newbery Honor in 1992 for The Wright Brothers: How They Invented the Airplane. He has been honored with a number of other awards, including the International Board on Books for Young People Award for Writing, the Golden Kite Award, the Western Heritage Award, the Jefferson Cup, Orbis Pictus, the New York Academy of Sciences Award, Reading Magic Award, the Carter G. Woodson Book Award, and the Parents' Choice Picture Book Award. His impressive body of work has been honored with the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award in 1998, the Regina Medal in 1996, the Empire State Award for Excellence in Literature for Young People in 1993, the Knickerbocker Award for Juvenile Literature also in 1993, and the Washington Post Nonfiction Award in 1992.

Russell Freeman was born in San Francisco on October 11, 1929, to parents who had met in a bookstore. Since he grew up surrounded by books and literary discussions, he was destined to have a career in literature. As a child, his favorite book was The Story of Mankind, by Hendrik Van Loon, winner of the first Newbery Medal in 1922. It was the first book to capture Freedman's imagination, and he's been a history buff ever since. He believes in the power of history - that a knowledge of the past can illuminate the present.

Freedman attended San Jose State College (now University) from 1947to1949 and received his bachelor's from the University of California in 1951. He served in the U.S. Army Counter Intelligence Corps from 1951 to 1953, served in the Second Infantry Division in Korea, and was a reporter and editor for Associated Press from 1953 to 1956. He continued his writing career as a publicist for several network television shows from 1956 to 1960.

His first book, Teenagers Who Made History, was published in 1961 and came about by chance. After reading a story in the New York Times about the Braille typewriter and its adolescent inventor, Freedman became interested in learning about other teenagers who had made outstanding contributions to society. This book began his very successful career as a freelance writer of more than forty titles for children and young adults. His books are nonfiction, with subjects ranging from biography to animal behavior. In his own words, "A nonfiction writer is essentially a storyteller. Whatever my subject, I always feel that I have a story to tell that is worth telling, and so I want to tell it as clearly and simply and effectively as I can, in a way that will stretch the reader's imagination and make that reader care."

During the 1970s, Freedman's books were almost exclusively concerned with animal behavior. Animal Instincts, Animal Architects, Growing Up Wild, The First Days of Life, and How Birds Fly are but a few of the titles written for younger readers. Freedman's work took a radical change in the early 1980s, as the result of his attendance at a turn-of-the-century photography exhibit. The exhibit taught him that photographs could be as powerful as text and could be used for more than a mere embellishment for his words. He used his research abilities to locate the most authentic photographs that would best reveal his subject. The first book to utilize this new technique was Immigrant Kids published in 1980. It was soon followed by Children of the Wild West (1983), Cowboys of the Wild West (1985), and Indian Chiefs (1987).

The epitome of his books that seamlessly integrate photographs with text is the Newbery Award-winning Lincoln: A Photobiography. Susan Bloom, in Twentieth Century Young Adult Writers, describes Freedman's abilities: "This ... volume documents Freedman's meticulous research skills, his artful selective process as he sifts among inexhaustible material, and his brilliance in providing stunning images to deepen and broaden his portrayal. Few who read this remarkable portrait will forget the juxtaposition of five photographs which show the ravages of the presidency on the embattled and struggling Lincoln during his four years in office."

Freedman's later works have studied other historical figures, such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt, Crazy Horse, Louis Braille, Thomas Alva Edison, and the Wright Brothers. His study of dancer Martha Graham, published in 1998, is included on every list of best books for the year. Athlete Babe Didrickson Zaharias is the subject of his latest biography, recently released by Clarion.


The de Grummond Children's Literature Collection
Box 5148
Hattiesburg, MS 39406
(601) 266-4349
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