The Alliance for the Study and Teaching of Adolescent Literature at Rhode Island College




- Russell Freedman -

Brief Biography

Russell Freedman was born on October 11, 1929, in San Francisco, California and raised with one sister, Carol, who is three years younger. Books were a very significant part of his childhood. His father was a sales manager for a large publishing company and his mother a clerk in a bookstore. Because of his father's occupation, the Freedmans often entertained reputable authors of the time including John Steinbeck, John Masefield, and Margaret Mitchell.

Freedman says that in school he was never an outstanding student; however, he did fairly well in subjects that he was interested in or curious about. His favorite subjects were history and geography. He recalls his two favorite books being Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson and Wild Animals I Have Known by Ernest Thompson Seton. His first writing recognition came in junior high school when he won a city-wide essay contest. After high school, Russell first attended San Jose State University and then University of California at Berkeley where he graduated majoring in English Literature.

Russell was drafted into the armed forces after his college graduation and served in the Korean War being stationed both in Korea and Japan.

Upon his return from military service, Russell worked as a reporter and editor for the Associated Press in San Francisco. However, since he wanted to live in New York, he took a job in the mid-1950's with an advertising agency in Manhattan. Here he wrote publicity promotions for television shows including Father Knows Best and The Real McCoys. During this time, Freedman read an article about a sixteen year old blind boy who invented a Braille typewriter. This gave spark to further research and led to his first published novel, Teenagers Who Made History, in 1961. Russell immediately quit his job after the book's publication and now says his writing is his job.

Russell Freedman does extensive research when writing his nonfiction books. This research involves visitations to libraries, museums, historical societies and monuments all over the country. He is not satisfied until he thoroughly understands his topic and feels that no book is ready for publication until at least the fourth draft. Freedman notes that he doesn't write a book, he rewrites it. His ALA Notable Book Indian Chiefs took seven drafts and approximately two years to complete.

When asked why he spent so much time researching his topics, Russell commented that he is retelling history and inside the word history is story. His books tell stories of peoples' lives and his job is to "breathe life and meaning into his subject."

In a world of rapidly changing technology, Russell Freedman still sticks to "old fashioned" regimens. His first draft of a book is always in longhand, in pencil, on a legal pad. The first typed draft in on his "lucky" Underwood manual typewriter, and all subsequent drafts are pencil edited.

Russell Freedman is now a well-noted writer of nonfiction for young people still living in New York City. His topics focus on historical eras or people from them, animal lives and behaviors, and other topics that have intrigued him. His books have earned him literary acclaim from many organizations, the most prestigious being his 1988 Newberry Medal Winner Book, Lincoln: A Photobiography. This prize had not been awarded to a nonfiction book since 1956.

When asked to give advice to young writers, Freedman gave these three tips:
1. Write about what really interests you most.
2. Write something everyday, even if it is just in a journal or diary.
3. Read - Read - Read. You learn how to write by doing it and seeing how other people do it."

Books Published

Two-Thousand Years of Space Travel, Holiday House, 1958.
Teenagers Who Made History, Holiday House, 1961.
Jules Verne, Holiday House, 1965.
Scouting With Baden-Powell, Holiday House, 1967.
Jules Verne, Portrait of a Prophet, Holiday House, 1968 .
How Animals Learn, Holiday House, 1969.
Animal Instincts, Holiday House, 1970.
Animal Architects, Holiday House, 1971.
The Brains of Animal and Man, Holiday House, 1972.
The First Days of Life, Holiday House, 1974.
Growing Up Wild: How Young Animals Survive, Holiday House, 1975.
Animal Games, Holiday House, 1976.
Animal Fathers, Holiday House, 1976.
Hanging On: How Animals Carry Their Young, Holiday House, 1977.
How Birds Fly, Holiday House, 1977.
How Animals Defend Their Young, Dutton Childrens Books, 1978.
Getting Born, Holiday House, 1978.
They Live With the Dinosaurs, Holiday House, 1980.
Immigrant Kids, Dutton Childrens Books, 1980.
Tooth and Claw: A Look at Animal Weapons, Holiday House, 1980.
Animal Superstars, Holiday House, 1981.
Farm Babies, Holiday House, 1981.
When Winter Comes, Holiday House, 1981.
Killer Fish, Holiday House, 1982.
Killer Snakes, Holiday House, 1982.
Can Bears Predict Earthquakes?: Unsolved Mysteries of Animal Behavior, Prentice Hall, 1982.
Dinosaurs and Their Young, Holiday House, 1983.
Children on the Wild West, Ticknor and Fields, 1983.
Rattlesnakes, Holiday House, 1984.
Animal Superstars: Biggest, Strongest, Fastest, Smartest, Prentice Hall, 1984.
Holiday House: The First Fifty Years, Holiday House, 1985.
Cowboys of the Wild West, Houghton Mifflin, 1985.
Sharks, Holiday House, 1985.
Indian Chiefs, Holiday House, 1987.
Lincoln: A Photography, Clarion Books, 1987.
Buffalo Hunt, Holiday House, 1988.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Clarion Books, 1990.
The Wright Brothers: How They Invented the Airplane, Holiday House, 1991.
An Indian Winter, Holiday House, 1992.
Eleanor Roosevelt: A Life of Discovery, Houghton Mifflin, 1993.
Kids At Work: Lewis Hine and the Crusade Against Child Labor, Clarion Books, 1994.

The Life & Death of Crazy Horse, Holiday House, 1996. Out of Darkness, The Story of Louis Braille, Clarion Books, 1997.


Eleanor Roosevelt: A Life of Discovery
*Newberry Honor Book, 1994
*Jane Addams Children's Book Award Honor Book 1994
*Boston Globe-Horn Book Award 1994
*Golden Kite Award 1993
*First Flora Stieglitz Straus Award 1994
*William Allen White Children's Book Award Nominee 1995-96
*Rebecca Caudill Young Reader's Book Award Nominee 1996

The Wright Brothers: How They Invented the Airplane
*Newberry Honor Book 1992
*Boston Globe-Horn Book Award 1991
*Fairfax County Public Library Booklist Jefferson Cup 1992
*William Allen White Children's Book Award Nominee 1993-94
*Golden Kite Award 1991

Franklin Delano Roosevelt
*Fairfax County Public Library Booklist Jefferson Cup 1991
*William Allen White Children's Book Award Nominee 1992-93
*Best of the Best: Children's Literature Award 1993-94
*Golden Kite Award 1994
*Orbis Pictus Award 1991

Lincoln: A Photography
*Newberry Medal Winner1988
*Fairfax County Public Library Booklist Jefferson Cup 1988
*William Allen White Children's Book Award Nominee 1989-90
*ALA Notable Book and Best Book for Young Adults

Indian Chiefs
*William Allen White Children's Book Award Nominee 1989-90
*ALA Notable Book and Best Book for Young Adults

Kids At Work: Lewis Hine and the Crusade Against Child Labor
*Jane Addams Children's Book Award Winner - 1995
*Parents Choice Award 1994
*Orbis Pictus Honors Book 1995
*William Allen White Children's Book Award Nominee 1996-97
*Utah Children's Information Book Award Nominee 1996-97
*Golden Kite Award 1994

An Indian Winter
*Western Heritage Award 1995

Children of the Wild West
*Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Nonfiction Honor Book 1984

Buffalo Hunt
*Carter G. Woodson Book Award 1989

The Life and Death of Crazy Horse
*Spur Award - Best Western Juvenile Fiction 1996

Immigrant Kids
*ALA Notable Book

Getting Born
*New York Academy of Science Annual Children's Book Award Honorable Mention

Voices of the Critics

Indian Winter
"The beauty of this book and its timeliness enhance the telling of the story of Native Americans, the People of the First Man. The words come from excerpts of the writings of explorer Prince Maximilian and are combined with the meticulous drawings of artist Karl Bodmer. The dress, culture, Americans are made vividly accessible to readers of all ages." - Journal of Reading

Immigrant Kids
"A refreshingly un-woeful introduction to the experience of being a young urban immigrant around the turn of the century ... concise ... graphic, and designed in every respect to catch and hold the reader's interest." - Kirkus Reviews

Indian Chiefs
" ... a factual, human account of cultures in conflict." - School Library Journal, Starred
" ... a gripping historical portrayal of Native American resistance to whites taking their western lands ... an exceptional piece of nonfiction." - Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Starred
" ... will cause young people to pause and ponder the Indians' plight." - Booklist, Starred
"The volume will be welcomed equally by readers interested in development in the West and those eager to learn more about great leaders of the Indian People." - The Horn Book, Starred
"Remarkable ... The humanity, courage, compassion and steel resolve of these dignified, resourceful leaders make a strong impact." - The Kirkus Reviews, Starred

Getting Born
"This is a winning book of photographs and brief text, fine for reading and showing to the preschooler, a mixture of empathy in caring and the diversity of life." - Scientific America
" . . . unique and very well done." - American Association for the Advancement of Science
"The text concentrates on the techniques of carrying, while the photographs are clear and consistent with the narrative." - The Booklist

Book Summaries:

An Indian Winter
In this nonfiction account, Freedman depicts life among the Mandan and Hidatsa Indian tribes of present day North and South Dakota and Montana. Freedman uses Alexander Philipp Maximilian's detailed journal of his 1833-34 journey into these Indian territories as a basis for the story. All pictures in the book are from Swiss artist, Karl Bodmer, who traveled with Maximilian at the time. The book gives very detailed accounts of tribal customs, rituals, lifestyles and living conditions for the those tribes mentioned as well as neighboring tribes, both ally and enemy. The text in this book paints graphic images. For example, the extent of the cold is described "Mr. Bodmer's colors and brushes froze so that he could not use them without hot water...The cook had his ears frostbitten in going to fetch water."
Freedman presents Maximilian's accounts in a non-biased manner with the main focus of the book being the winter spent in the Mandan village. It portrays both triumphs and tribulations the tribesman feel as well as their relationships with the "white men" they come in contact with. You can immediately identify will all the characters in this book and have a deep sense of loss in Freedman's Afterword in knowing that the tribes in the book have assimilated into one people.

Getting Born
Although this is one of Freedman's earlier works, his style of presenting nonfiction in a way easily understood by young readers is clearly evident. The book portrays a variety of animals and how they are born. Freedman has carefully chosen pictures of the birthing process at various stages among fish, reptiles, birds and mammals. He begins the book with a detailed explanation of how fertilization occurs along with sketches. He then describes the birthing process of several animals and concludes each with the relationship that exists between the newborn and the parent. Pronunciations are given for scientific terms which may be unfamiliar to young readers. This book is a good combination of text and pictorial representation of a sensitive subject for children.

Animal Fathers
What a unique approach Freedman has taken with animal nurturing in this book. His research has given way to presenting 15 animals of whom the father cares for the young at various stages of development. A wide variety of animals are depicted from fish to amphibian to mammal. Freedman presents very exact scientific data in language adaptable for even the youngest readers. His preface sets the tone for the book by countering the myth that all animal babies are cared for by their mothers. Although actual photographs are not used in this book, the black and white sketches of Joseph Cellini are very true-to-life and do not take away from the book's purpose. This is definitely a must-have book for early elementary classroom libraries.

Buffalo Hunt
Russell Freedman's historical biography about the Indians of the Great Plains and the importance of the buffalo begins with an Indian storyteller speaking of many tales about the Buffalo. One in particular was: "In older times, it was said, buffalo used to eat Indians. They ate so many Indians that a legendary figure called Old Man had to put a stop to it. He organized a race between the buffalo and the Indians to decide who should eat whom. The Indians won."
This book chronicles how the Indians relied on the buffalo and hunted them as their main supply of almost everything need to stay alive. It details hunting methods, roles of the men, women and children in the tribe, the magic they believed the buffalo had, and a large store of buffalo tales and legends they held. Finally, Freedman explores the disappearance of the buffalo because of the greedy white settlers.
Freedman selected many wonderful, original paintings and drawings by George Catlin, Karl Bodmer and others to help illustrate this vivid book.

Immigrant Kids
In this book, Freedman explores the children who were immigrants in the late 1800's and early 1900's. He uses many black and white photos by a number of different photographers to help tell his historical story.
The book begins with descriptions of the voyage to America and the conditions endured by most immigrants. Throughout the book he has stories of immigrants who had come here as children and what they remembered life being like.
After the voyage here, he briefly discusses some of the things going on at Ellis Island with the immigrants. He talks about the battery of tests that were given from physical and mental examinations to those questions asked by the registration clerk.
From here the book is divided into a variety of sections following the children through their lives. A number of accounts were given to describe the neighborhoods and homes that the immigrants lived in. He tells how "almost every major city had its German and Irish neighborhoods, its Polish, Italian, Jewish and Greek districts." He explains that even though families were crowded into 2 and 3 room apartments they still marveled at having an inside faucet with running water, whether it be in the hallway or their own kitchen. Next, Freedman explores the immigrants at school, at work and at play.
Each section is thoroughly researched and beautifully written to provide an easily read and understood book that can be used with ages 7 and up.

Unifying Elements Among the Works of Russell Freedman

Although Freedman's topic choices range from historical information to science issues, all of his books are nonfiction and have been thoroughly researched. He insures that even the smallest of details are included and writes smoothly and completely on every subject he tackles. He validates his writing by providing bibliographies of his research, acknowledgments to contributors, and often indexes in his books. Freedman carefully choose pictures, paintings, sketches and photographs to help his stories flow smoothly and visually bring his words to life.

Suggested Teaching Activities

An Indian Winter would be an excellent choice as a catalyst book for introducing Plains Indians. A prediction activity would be to read Chapter One then have students write five questions that they think will be answered in the book.
This books lends itself to some mapping skill activities such as drawing the Mandan or Hidatsa village based on description in the book or mapping on a United States map the journey by Maximilian and Bodmer.
Having students write a first person account of a day in the life of a Mandan or Hidatsa Indian would be an excellent literature involvement strategy.

Buffalo Hunt would present a wonderful opportunity for students to research more about the buffalo and other Indian tribes and what was of great importance and necessity to them. They could make comparisons between different Indian tribes and their ways of life.
Another activity could be to research what other animals can be used in their entirety in today's society the way the buffalo was for the Indians.

Immigrant Kids could be used to stir up curiosity among students into doing family trees and discovering what country their relatives (families) came from. Results could be recorded on a graph in the classroom.
Students might also take this a step further in discovering what types of jobs relatives may have had and at what age they began working. Was it a tradition passed from generation to generation?

Animal Fathers would give lead to several science lessons. The book's table of contents lists scientific names as well as common names of the animals and students could research other animals' scientific names.
A compare/contrast chart could be done using the animal fathers in the book with animal mothers of similar scientific families.
Despite its scientific base, I think this book would be a perfect lead-in for a Father's Day activity possibly having students generate lists of how their fathers help nurture, or care, for them.

Getting Born provides a basis for discussion in science classrooms on reproduction. Upper elementary/middle school students could use it for graphing ways different animals are born and research more animals besides those in the book.
Life cycles could also be studied and drawn, especially with the detailed description given in the book about frog maturation.

Works Cited

Russell Freedman Books:
* An Indian Winter
* Getting Born
* Animal Fathers
* Immigrant Kids
* Indian Chiefs
Scholastic Author Tape: Interview With Russell Freedman
Houghton Mifflin-Clarion Video Tape: A Visit With Russell Freedman

Page compiled in part by: Betsy Trisch and Michelle Wright

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This web page was last updated on: 21 June 2007

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