Thursday, October 11, 2007

Happy Birthday to Russell Freedman

Russell Freedman was born on this day in 1929. A prolific writer of biographies and nonfiction (though he prefers to be called a factual author), he has published more than 54 books, many of which have been highly acclaimed and honored. Recognitions include:
Mr. Freedman has also been the recipient of eight Golden Kite Awards. My favorite recently published books include two I read in preparation for my trip to China.
While thinking about using children's literature across the curriculum, I ask my students each year to read an article he wrote for Booklist in 1998 entitled On Telling the Truth. It is a wonderful piece on the challenges faced and responsibilities encumbered by writers of nonfiction. Here is an excerpt.
The biographer is like a fisherman trawling with a net--a collection of holes tied together with string. The net fills. The biographer hauls it in, sorts the catch, throws much of it back, then cleans and fillets what he keeps. Think of what he didn't catch. Think of everything that got away.
When reading Russel Freedman's work, it doesn't appear that much has gotten away. He manages to weave the most interesting details of his research into stories that are fascinating and readable. Who says nonfiction can't be enjoyable?

More recently I have decided to include the text of his Arbuthnot Honor Lecture, entitled The Past Isn’t Past: How History Speaks and What It Says to the Next Generation, as required reading. (You can read the full text in the Summer/Fall 2006 edition of the Children and Libraries journal.) In it he says:
What finally matters most to me about the reading and writing of history is the way it deepens us, allows us to glimpse worlds so different from our own—the way an understanding of history extends our own feelings and compassion, enlarges our ability to recognize everyone’s humanity.

Isn’t that what all literature—novels, poetry, history, biography—wants to convey: a shared sense of humanity, a sense of the mysterious connections that link each one of us here today to all those who have come before?
Amen to that. So, happy birthday Mr. Freedman. I salute you and thank you for all the wonderful works you have given the world of children's literature, and anxiously await those yet to come.


  1. How did you come up with the number of Russell freedman's books as over 110? I'm preparing a presentation on him and found about 55 titles listed at the library of Congress.

  2. Hi Eilene,
    I used several services that aggregated data, but what I didn't realize was that they listed hardcover, paperback and audio versions of the titles. Thanks for catching this for me. My recent LOC search found 54 titles. That's the number I have now listed.