Cowboys of the Wild West Critical Context - Essay

Russell Freedman

Critical Context

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Russell Freedman, a former journalist, has written dozens of books on topics ranging from animal behavior to the daily lives of various cultural groups and prominent Americans. He is considered one of the foremost contributors to children’s and young adult nonfiction writing.

Cowboys of the Wild West is a solid contribution to historical nonfiction and fills an important niche that is of interest to young adults. Although it did not receive the critical acclaim of many of Freedman’s previous and subsequent efforts, reviews of the book were strong, and it stills enjoys a wide readership and considerable play in school book clubs and other forums.

Freedman’s book Children of the Wild West (1983) won the Western Heritage Award and was selected as an American Library Association (ALA) Notable Book for Children. Cowboys of the Wild West is a sequel that takes a look at a topic of more general interest. Freedman’s subsequent writings continued to be highly distinguished, and he won a Newbery Medal for Lincoln: A Photobiography (1987). His book An Indian Winter (1992), which chronicles the Mandèan experience in the winter of 1833, was cited as an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, an ALA Notable Book for Children, an IRA Teachers Choice, and a notable trade book in the field of social studies. In 1993, Eleanor Roosevelt: A Life of Discovery won these same awards and was also a Booklist Editors’ Choice and was listed among the School Library Journal Best Books. With Kids at Work: Lewis Hine and the Crusade Against Child Labor (1994), Freedman continued his use of photography and first-person excerpts to create a powerful depiction of the life of child laborers. Cowboys of the Wild West, like the body of Freedman’s nonfiction work, demonstrates that rigorous historical documentaries can be written that are engaging and informative for young adults and that make a significant contribution to an understanding of past eras and ways of life.