A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
FEBRUARY 21:

  • Happy birthday Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve (The Trickster and the Troll), Patricia Hermes (Emma Dilemma and the Soccer Nanny), and Ruthanne Lum McCunn (Moon Pearl, Pie-Biter).
  • It’s the birth date of poet W.H. Auden (1907–1973)
  • In 1878 the first telephone book (remember those?) was issued in New Haven, CT.
  • Happy birthday to The New Yorker. The first issue was published on this day in 1925. Cartoons by Roz Chast appear frequently in this notable magazine. Read The Alphabet from A to Y with Bonus Letter Z by Steve Martin and Roz Chast and Too Busy Marco by Roz Chast.

Today I feel sorry for George Washington. He is, after all, the father of the country, yet he has to share a birthday celebration with Abraham Lincoln on President’s Day. Of the two, Lincoln has received the best treatment in children’s books, so today we’ll celebrate his accomplishments. Of all the hundreds and thousands of books about Lincoln, Russell Freedman’s Lincoln: A Photobiography remains the standard bearer not only for Lincoln biographies, but all biographies for ages ten through fourteen.

Born in San Francisco, Russell grew up in an ideal household for a future writer. His parents met in a bookstore and his father worked for years as the West Coast sales representative for Macmillan. This meant that at Russell’s house, John Steinbeck and Margaret Mitchell actually came to dinner. Their presence did not impress the young boy as much as it might have. He would have been happier if his favorite children’s book authors, Howard Pease or Hendrik van Loon, had visited instead.

Russell created thirty-three books, many of them about science, before he began work on Lincoln. At the urging of his editor, Ann Troy, he decided to tackle his boyhood hero as the subject for his next book. When he came upon a sentence describing Lincoln as “the most secretive—reticent—shut-mouthed man that ever lived,” he realized this hero might be a bit more complicated than he had ever imagined.

Freedman describes his passionate portrayal of Lincoln this way: “My biography of Abraham Lincoln tells the story of an ambitious, self-educated man who goes from a log cabin to the White House, but at the same time it’s also a story about slavery, racism, class privilege, and economic and political forces.” Freedman deftly portrays Lincoln, his time, and his place. Since children need heroes and heroines, Lincoln emerges in this book as one they can emulate.

The first time I read this book, I was flying to Washington, D.C., to give a speech. When I came to the end, I was sobbing, and the attendant came to me and said, “Miss, is anything wrong?” “Oh yes,” I blurted out, “ Lincoln has been shot!” Russell made me care so much about this figure that I could cry over his death, even though it had happened around 150 years ago.

When Lincoln won the Newbery Medal in 1988, something an information book had not done for thirty-two years, the book brought Russell great acclaim and a chance to write other spectacular nonfiction books. But he remained modest and has kept a sense of humor about his accomplishments. Russell’s favorite letter about Lincoln came from a child who wrote, “Did you take the photographs yourself?”

Here’s a page from Lincoln: A Photobiography:

Share

Originally posted February 21, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Award Winning, Civil War, History, Holidays, Newbery, President's Day
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Lincoln: A Photobiography
Share

COMMENTS

  1. Danni says:

    Russell Freedman writes wonderful biographies for children, including books about Eleanor Roosevelt and Marian Anderson. Lincoln, A Photobiography is no exception. Freedman has mastered the art of making the reader become so invested in the subjects of his books.

  2. Erica S. says:

    To me, Russell Freedman is the absolute gold standard in children’s and YA nonfiction. I think his books make both for phenomenal reading and for great teaching, and I only wish his name were as well-known among children as such fiction favorites as Roald Dahl and J.K. Rowling.

  3. Jory says:

    Perhaps the most telling aspect of Freedman’s talent is that his book on Lincoln was a “photobiography” and he still won the Newbery for it! Even without the photographs (which are totally incredible) Freedman’s biographical writing won him an award. I’ve learned so much from Russell Freedman, so I thank him (as well as all of our nation’s leaders!) on this President’s Day.

  4. Sandy D. says:

    I had the same sobbing response to the ending of Freedman’s book – even though I knew it was coming. Luckily I was at home and not on an airplane.

  5. Rodney says:

    I agree with Jory, Freedman’s facility with biography is commendable, but even more impressive is his ability with that rare skill of telling story with photographs, to make the pictures themselves speak if you will. I also have learned a lot from Russell Freedman and this was a perfect President’s Day book!!

  6. Karen Boss says:

    As a child, I didn’t read a lot of nonfiction. I wish someone had intervened just a tiny bit in my life to hand me a Freedman book at some point. It would likely have turned me into a nonfiction reader far sooner!

Leave a Comment

Daily children’s book recommendations and events from Anita Silvey.

Discover the stories behind the children’s book classics . . .

The new books on their way to becoming classics . . .

And events from the world of children’s books—and the world at large.