AS 30TH RECIPIENT OF USM MEDALLION
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.
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.
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.
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
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).
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."
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.