Lincoln: A Photobiography Essay - Critical Context

Russell Freedman

Critical Context

The major symbol of the critical acclaim for Lincoln: A Photobiography was the granting of the 1988 Newbery Medal for excellence in literature by the Children’s Services Division of the American Library Association. Unlike many of the biogra-phies written for juvenile audiences prior to the mid-1970’s, Freedman’s book does not develop a didactic tone or create a model political leader in order to provide political and social instruction and to suggest emulation. In Freedman’s Newbery acceptance speech, he recognized that hero worship in biographical writing had given way to more realistic approaches that show problems and even weaknesses in major leaders. He stated that his point of view about writing biography for juvenile audiences was that a biography should not be fictionalized. Instead, it should adhere as closely to documented evidence as any other scholarly work. Freedman maintained, however, that the writing style should also be as exciting as any imaginative fictionalization. Freedman also stated that authors of juvenile biographies, just as authors of adult biographies, must conduct original research, visit sites, and read primary source materials. Frank Dempsy, in a 1988 Horn Book essay entitled “Russell Freedman,” verified Freedman’s on-site research in Springfield, Illinois, for this biography of Lincoln.

According to Jean Fritz, another contemporary author of juvenile biography, it has been rare in the past for authors of juvenile biography to conduct original research and to document sources. Freedman’s Lincoln serves as an example to readers of how authors of juvenile biographies can and should document their sources and conduct original research, as well as write in a lively manner.