• In 1864 slavery is abolished in Maryland. Read Frederick Douglas: The Last Day of Slavery by William Miller, illustrated by Cedric Lucas, and Stealing Freedom by Elise Carbone.
  • If you can prove you’re a descendant of someone who helped achieve United States Independence and you happen to be female, you can apply to become a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) formed on this day in 1890. Read Independent Dames by Laurie Halse Anderson.
  • In 1922, Alaska Davidson becomes the first woman appointed to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as a “special investigator.” Read The History of the FBI by Sabrina Crewe.
  • Well, it’s about time! In 1984, Dr. Kathryn D. Sullivan becomes the first woman to take a space walk. Read Almost Astronauts by Tanya Lee Stone.
  • National School Lunch Week begins. Read the Lunch Lady series by Jarrett Krosoczka, especially Lunch Lady and the League of Librarians and Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute.
  • It’s Take Your Teddy Bear to Work Day. Read Corduory by Don Freeman and Paddington at Work by Michael Bond, illustrated by Peggy Fortnum.

Today marks the birthday of both Russell Freedman and Eleanor Roosevelt. Originally a West Coaster, Russell was born in San Francisco and studied at the University of California at Berkeley. Russell’s long-time editor Dorothy Briley once said that he made the most perfect dinner guest she had ever encountered. He could make intelligent conversation about any topic with anyone she brought to the table. Indeed, he has often been called a Renaissance man, because of the range and depth of his knowledge in a variety of topics.

Russell began writing books for young readers in the science and social studies area—books like How Animals Learn and Sharks. But when his editor Ann Troy asked him to write a biography, something he had never done, he turned to his childhood hero Abraham Lincoln and wrote Lincoln: A Photobiography. He won the Newbery Award for this book and found a new direction and purpose: writing quality, narrative nonfiction for young readers.

As Russell wrote in The Essential Guide to Children’s Books and Their Creators: “Nonfiction is supposed to be utilitarian. It’s expected to do its duty—to inform, instruct, enlighten. And yet a hard-working, nose-to-the grindstone nonfiction book should be just as absorbing as any imaginary story, because it is, in fact, a story, too.”

Of all of Russell’s biographies, I have always loved his Eleanor Roosevelt the best. Perfect for ten- to fourteen-year-olds—I needed this book as a child myself. I once made a fool of myself in class because I thought that “FDR” was a swear word—so vehemently was it used at home. Imagine my surprise to find out these initials acknowledged a president of the United States. Russell has always admitted that he loved FDR’s wife a bit more than he loved the president, and the resulting tribute to her certainly shows his enthusiasm.

A shy child, with absent parents, Eleanor only began to bloom when she was sent away to London for schooling. She married her distant cousin and was given away as a bride by her uncle Theodore, the president of the United States. “Well, Franklin, there’s nothing like keeping the name in the family,” the president quipped.

But as Eleanor Roosevelt began to find the causes of her life—the plight of minorities, the poverty of the disadvantaged—she turned from a shy person into a firebrand, the conscience of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Russell captures this complex marriage—its betrayals and its strength. He shows the final years of Eleanor Roosevelt as she worked in the United Nations and became, as President Harry Truman called her, “the First Lady of the World.”

Happy birthday, Russell. You have been just as much a crusader as Eleanor Roosevelt. You have believed in the intelligence of young readers, their ability to handle complex issues, and, like Eleanor, you have not shied away from controversy. Wherever you are going to celebrate, you will be the best conversationalist at the table—just as Dorothy always said.

Here’s a page from Eleanor Roosevelt: A Life of Discovery:


Originally posted October 11, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Great Depression, History, Social Conscience, World War I, World War II
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Eleanor Roosevelt: A Life of Discovery


  1. suzi w. says:

    I remember the year the Lincoln book won. I have always liked Russell Freedman’s works, though I haven’t read many b/c there are so many good fiction books, I don’t often read kids non-fiction. I’ll have to see if this one is on the shelf at work today.

    I have always loved reading about Eleanor R. I have a signed poster for Barbara Cooney’s book that came out in the mid 90s hanging in my front room.

  2. Bobbi Miller says:

    Russell Freedman is one of my favorites, too. I think I’ve collected most of them through the years. He, and Jim Murphy, are astounding at bringing history to life.

  3. Anita says:

    Bobbi and Suzi: Yes, Freedman is one of those rare writers who can communicate with children — but also has a lot to say to adults.

  4. Vicki Solomon says:

    Russell Freedman is a hero of mine. His biography of modern dancer Martha Graham, called Martha Graham, a dancer’s life, is an excellent and engaging book. Another favorite is Kids at Work; Lewis Hine and the crusade against child labor. Neither topic is the usual children’s fare, and yet Freedman makes them work on many levels. Thank you, Anita, for his birthday tribute.

  5. Jennifer Kelley Reed says:

    Thank you for highlighting this book Anita. I am always putting it into the hands of a few students each year. I woud also recommend the audio book. It is very well read and a great listen!

  6. G. Perry says:

    You know, I grew up in an institution with 120 kids and I saw and fought evil, but one thing I never saw was an attitude that women were not equal. I think that’s one of two good things that I escaped from all that with. The other was a love of nature.

    I’ve lived long enough to understand that many women are often a serious stabilizing force for men. I will never forget the images I saw from a science video where two groups of chimps are aggressively approaching each other for war. Some are carrying sticks, some rocks. As they go nose to nose, a female walks up to the guy with the rock in his hand and gently pulls his fingers apart until he drops the rock.

    Yes, I’ll be reading about this lady more.

  7. Sylvia Frezzolini Severance says:

    So good to see you taking note of one of my favorite books—one of the many of Russell’s books that I had the honor of designing. His books are still as vibrant and essential as when they were originally published. And Happy Birthday to dear Russell!

  8. Anita says:

    Sylvia — your superb design and a great Wendell Minor cover. Not to mention Russell’s elegant writing.

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