Russell Freedman: Biography & Books

Instructor: Christina Boggs

Chrissy has taught secondary English and history and writes online curriculum. She has an M.S.Ed. in Social Studies Education.

Growing up, you may have read some of Russell Freedman's books, but do you know how he got his start as a children's author? In this lesson, you will learn about Freedman's biography and some of his major works.

Early Life

Have you ever been lucky enough to be surrounded by a community of people involved in something you love? Russell Freedman is just such a person.

Freedman was born in 1929 in San Fransisco and had a love for books a very early age. His dad was a sales manager for the Macmillan publishing company. As a result, young Russell had the chance to meet many famous writers like John Steinbeck, the author of the famous books Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath. While his dad worked in publishing, Freedman's mom worked in a bookstore. You could almost say that reading and books were a part of his DNA!

Freedman was a so-so student, but he really excelled in the classes he liked to study. For him, social studies classes like history were the most fascinating. The first recognition of his work happened when he was only in junior high school. Freedman won an essay contest open to students in San Francisco. This was a big deal, especially because San Francisco is such a large city with a lot of students!

Becoming a Writer

When Freedman graduated from high school, he continued his education at the University of California at Berkeley. During his time there, he studied English literature, but was drafted to fight in the Korean war after graduating.

When he returned from overseas, he accepted a job in his hometown of San Francisco as a reporter and editor for the Associated Press, an international news organization. Shortly after, Freedman decided to leave his native California and head to the Big Apple.

While in New York City, Freedman wrote his first book inspired by an article he read about a teenager who designed a Braille typewriter for blind people. Teenagers Who Made History was published in 1961 as a children's book. Although Freedman's goal was not to be a children's author, he definitely found his calling!

Writing Style

Freedman's passion for social studies as a kid really helped him find his voice as a writer. The majority of Freedman's books are biographies that explain the life and times of famous historical figures. Freedman also enjoys writing about animals.

While most would consider Russell Freedman to be a non-fiction writer, he prefers the title of 'factual author' because it more accurately describes the types of books he writes. For Russell Freedman, historical writing is not about just listing facts and figures. Instead, he actively works to write engaging books that tell history like a story.

To truly capture the spirit of the people he writes about, Freedman does extensive research and often visits the places where the people lived and worked. A true perfectionist, Freedman also reworks each of his books multiple times to make sure that the information is not only correct, but appealing to his young readers. Think about the last paper or story you had to write for school...you probably didn't rewrite it 4 times to make sure it was just right!

One of the hallmarks of Freedman's books is his use of pictures and images. Unlike many writers, Freedman actually takes the time to hand-pick all of the pictures that he uses. Freedman uses these carefully selected images and weaves them together with his words to create truly engaging stories.

Freedman's Books

Russell Freedman published his first book, Teenagers Who Made History in 1961 and has since dedicated over five decades to writing. In total, Freedman has published over 50 children's books and has received countless awards for his work.

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