Critics, young adults, middle school readers, and adults praised Russell Freedman’s well-researched text illustrated with photographs taken by the subjects themselves. Nominated for the Texas Bluebonnet Award in 1993 and named a Newbery Honor Book for 1992, The Wright Brothers: How They Invented the Airplane continued in the tradition of Freedman’s Newbery Medal-winning, Lincoln: A Photobiography (1987). The concept of text and illustration working together has long been reserved for picture books, but Freedman presents biographies for young adults in which the illustrations are an integral part of the work. The impact of his books is greater because of this marriage of illustration and text.
In The Wright Brothers, Freedman presents a real picture of these men. When the brothers built their first experimental kite in 1899, humans in flight seemed no more real than a fairy tale. Ten years later, flight was a reality. The Wright brothers introduced modern flight to the world, yet they were ordinary bicycle mechanics from the Midwest who showed hard work, dedication, and spirit. No attempt is made in the book to make them more heroic; their lives are not fictionalized or reduced to one accomplishment. Freedman takes a balanced approach to his subject, portraying the Wright brothers as two men who had a dream that became an invention that changed the world.