Hidden Figures author Shetterly says history ‘cultivates not just young readers, but also the next generation of engaged citizens.’

WASHINGTON, DC, Nov 14 – Award-winning Hidden Figures author Margot Lee Shetterly didn’t start out as a history buff. But her book, a number one New York Times bestseller, revealed an innate passion for history and a knack for telling compelling stories about the events that have shaped our country– and our lives.

Her most recent accolade was the 2017 Grateful American Book Prize for her true tale about the early days of NASA. During the 1950s and 1960s, the Agency hired African American mathematicians to be human “computers” at its facility in Hampton, VA. But they were given menial positions as pencil pushers, a fate they overcame at a time when the inequities of racism was rampant. Hidden Figures shows that the women whose stories Shetterly reveals, proved they were as capable, and maybe even more so–than the next man–for the task of catapulting the first astronauts into outer space.

Hidden Figures is an excellent example of how “humanizing” the facts of history can be whipped into a context that young readers appreciate.

“I’ve always been a big reader, though as a kid I gravitated towards fiction,” Shetterly said. “Over time I came to enjoy epic histories. Working as an investment banker, I spent a lot of time reading financial histories, such as Ron Chernow’s biography, The House of Morgan. I started to read more general histories as a way of filling in the blanks in my knowledge, and doing so helped me to see the links between my own life and the past. Now, history is far and away my favorite genre.”

Shetterly believes history should remain a requirement for young learners. “But, we need to present it as more than just a dusty old broom closet; history is about learning true stories, and reliving the lives of fascinating people.

“And, the Prize has done a lot to resurrect an interest among young learners in the topic,” she said. “Planting the seed of interest in history when kids are young is a way to create a lifelong interest in the topic. And, I think the focus of the Grateful American Prize cultivates not just young readers, but also the next generation of engaged citizens.”

No one can deny that Shetterly has a way with words. As she puts it: “If you give people a choice between castor oil and cupcakes, they’ll probably choose cupcakes. History as taught in the classroom can be dense, dull, and seem irrelevant to students’ lives. What if we decided to teach it as if we were telling stories around a campfire?”

She doesn’t dismiss the importance of discipline in the classroom. She agrees: the study of history should be rigorous and require knowledge about dates, names, and places.

“We only have to look at the ‘Hamilton’ sensation to see how presenting the same information in a different format can have a galvanizing effect. Storytelling is an innately human activity, and remembering the “story” in “history” may be the first step. I also believe telling stories from a variety of points of view brings more readers into the fold, and gives us a broader understanding of America as a country and a culture.”

The Grateful American Book Prize was designed to give kids a way to learn about the events and personalities that figure large in the origins and development of our nation. It was created as an inducement for authors and their publishers to focus on authentic works of historical fiction and nonfiction that capture the imaginations and interests of young learners.

Shetterly asserts that reading a good story is a delight, and it’s “a particularly powerful thing to discover if the story that so captivated your imagination is also true. History is often taught by leading with dry facts and dates, but we need to heed the words of writer David McCullough: history is all about people. I’m encouraged by the early evidence that interest in history degrees increased sharply in the last year.”

Perhaps the 21st Century focus on science and technology can co-exist with the more introspective study of history in our classrooms.

In fact, Shetterly professes that STEM subjects [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] and the humanities are not necessarily diametrically opposed. “The work of the best scientists and engineers is amplified through clear prose, and the ability to communicate their findings and analysis. Writers are well served by having a degree of mathematical literacy, and the abilities to employ rational analysis and critical thinking. We need writers and scholars who have a knowledge of the history of science and technology. We need scientists with an understanding of the ways in which science and technology have provoked change in our society. I think one approach to improving performance and interest might be to teach history as a required component of STEM subject fields.”

A Teachable Moment

By David Bruce Smith co-founder of the Grateful American Book Prize

Another teachable moment for our nation’s young learners is here — Veterans Day. Take a minute to reflect with your children and grandchildren this weekend on the sacrifices that have been made to keep the country safe. Remind them that from the early days of our nation’s existence the citizen soldiers of America have fought for our freedom and independence.

You might also want to present them with an appropriate book or two as part of their Veterans Day-awareness. After all, the Grateful American Book Prize is all about books designed to inspire an interest in history among schoolchildren.

Here are four titles we recommend:

  • The Poppy Lady: Moina Belle Michael and Her Tribute to Veterans by Barbara Walsh
  • H is for Honor: A Military Family Alphabet by Devin Scillian and Victor Juhasz
  • Veterans: Heroes in Our Neighborhood by Valerie Pfundstein
  • Hero Mom by Melinda Hardin and Bryan Langdo

Margot Lee Shetterly, author of Hidden Figures, receives the Grateful American Book Prize

The book was a #1 New York Times Best Seller and a movie that received three Academy Award nominations

WASHINGTON, DC, Oct 12 – The 2017 Grateful American Book Prize will be officially awarded tonight to author Margot Lee Shetterly for her non-fiction book, Hidden Figures, at a ceremony to be held at The National Archives.

David Bruce Smith, co-founder of the Prize, who will make the presentation, said “Hidden Figures is an outstanding work. It chronicles the lives of NASA’s so-called ‘human computers,’– African-American women mathematicians who were hired in the 1950s by the space agency’s Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in Virginia. They overcame great odds and proved to be indispensable. Using primitive tools by today’s standards – pencils and adding machines—they calculated the trajectories that would successfully launch America’s first astronauts into outer space.”

Ms. Shetterly’s book was published in November of 2016 by HarperCollins; the Academy Award nominated film version—also released last year–starred Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monáe, Octavia Spencer and Kevin Costner. The film was nominated for three Academy Awards.

“It’s a highly acclaimed story that engages young learners, giving them an opportunity to learn more about a very important piece of American history. It is the essence of what the Prize is all about—increasing the curiosity of our country’s future voters and leaders about the past, so that they can become better citizens in the future,” according to Smith.

Jennifer Latham’s Dreamland Burning, a work of historical fiction– also about racial injustice—and Edward Cody Huddleston’s The Story of John Quincy Adams 250 Years After His Birth, were selected to receive the Prize’s Honorable Mention Awards for 2017.

Dreamland Burning, published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, with its focus on the Tulsa race riot of 1921, raises important questions about the complex state of US race relations – yesterday and today, according to one reviewer.

 
 

The Story of John Quincy Adams, produced by the Atlantic Publishing Group, examines the life of the sixth president of the United States, whose father, John Adams, was America’s second American president. “This biography is likely to have a special appeal to young readers; despite his burdensome self-doubt, Adams was a constant achiever,” according to Smith.

The Prize, carries an award of $13,000, and a medallion created by American artist, Clarice Smith. Recipients of this year’s Honorable Mentions will also receive the medallion, and $500 each.

The judges for the 2017 Prize were co-founders Smith and Dr. Bruce Cole, author, historian and former Chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities as well Dr. Louise Mirrer, President and CEO, New-York Historical Society, Dr. Peter S. Carmichael, the Robert C. Fluhrer Professor of Civil War Studies & Director of the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College, Dr. Douglas Bradburn, author, historian and Founding Director of the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon, John Danielson, founder of Chartwell Education Group and former Chief of Staff at the U.S. Department of Education and Neme Alperstein, Teacher of Gifted and Talented Students in the New York City Public School system since 1987.

Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures wins the
2017 Grateful American Book Prize

Jennifer Latham’s Dreamland Burning and Edward Cody Huddleston’s The Story of John Quincy Adams receive Honorable Mentions

WASHINGTON, DC, Sep 21 – The winner of the 2017 Grateful American Book Prize is Margot Lee Shetterly, for her non-fiction work, HIDDEN FIGURES, a New York Times number one bestseller, which tells the story of the pioneering African-American women who overcame racial barriers at NASA in the 1960s. They played significant roles in the very early days of America’s space program.

“They were called ‘computers’ where they worked and were largely dismissed until the authorities at the space agency’s Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in Virginia realized that their help was indispensible if the U.S. was to prevail over the Soviet Union in the conquest of space. Despite the rampant racism of the times four mathematicians, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Christine Darden, showed they had the right stuff. Using primitive tools by today’s standards – pencils and adding machines – they calculated the trajectories that would successfully launch America’s first astronauts into outer space,” David Bruce Smith, co-founder of the Prize, said in making the announcement of the 2017 Prize.

Ms. Shetterly’s book was published in November of 2016 by HarperCollins; the Academy Award nominated film version – also released last year – starred Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monáe, Octavia Spencer and Kevin Costner.

Jennifer Latham’s DREAMLAND BURNING, a work of historical fiction – also about racial injustice – and Edward Cody Huddleston’s THE STORY OF JOHN QUINCY ADAMS 250 YEARS AFTER HIS BIRTH were selected to receive the Prize’s Honorable Mention Awards for 2017.

Dreamland Burning, published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, with its focus on the Tulsa race riot of 1921, raises important questions about the complex state of US race relations – yesterday and today, according to one reviewer.

The Story of John Quincy Adams, produced by the Atlantic Publishing Group, examines the life of the sixth president of the United States, whose father, John Adams, was America’s second American president. “This work of historical nonfiction is likely to have a special appeal to young readers; despite his burdensome self-doubt, he was a constant achiever,” according to Smith.

The Prize, which carries an award of $13,000, and a medallion created by American artist, Clarice Smith, will be presented at an October 12th reception at The National Archives in Washington, D.C. Recipients of this year’s Honorable Mentions will also receive the medallion, and $500 each.

Perhaps a good read will help your kids understand the celebration of Constitution Day

WASHINGTON, DC – Here’s a bit of advice for parents and teachers. Next time your kids say history class is boring, tell them they have a right to be bored—it’s guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. Better yet, perhaps you could use the very last weekend of summer to convey the message. After all, we celebrate Constitution Day 2017 on Sunday, the 17th of September.

In 1940 “I am an American Day” was established by Congress to be observed on the third Sunday in May each year.   Meanwhile, a patriotic Ohio woman, Olga T. Weber, was advancing her own notions about how best to disseminate the word about what it means to be an American. By 1952 she was in the midst of a crusade to set aside a day to honor the country’s heritage. A year later, she convinced Congress and President Dwight D. Eisenhower to tag September 17th as Citizenship Day; the document was signed by the Founding Fathers on the same date in 1787.

Later, another patriot, Louise Leigh-–already immersed in the study of the U.S. Constitution—founded a 1997 non-profit organization called Constitution Day Inc. Her aim was to shift the focus of Citizenship Day to the U.S. Constitution.

In an interview with the journal, Education World, soon after President George W. Bush signed a law in 2004 declaring September 17th to be known as Constitution Day, she explained her purpose:

“I became acutely aware of the uniqueness, the greatness, and the miracle of our Constitution. Until the 1800s, every American child could recite all the freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution, which is not done today. We celebrate Independence Day on July 4 with gusto. The Revolutionary War gave us independence from England, but the Constitution is the document that gave us freedom, which has made us the greatest and mightiest nation in history,” Ms. Leigh said.

Dr. Bruce Cole, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, agrees. As he put it: “If the Declaration of Independence is our country’s creed, then the Constitution is its road map. Knowledge of it is essential for an understanding of our history, of our government, of our laws, and of what makes us a free people. The transmission of that knowledge is vital for the survival of our democracy. To make that happen, rising generations must learn, and celebrate, this great bequest of liberty.”

Cole is co-founder of the Grateful American Book Prize, an award dedicated to reigniting broad-based interest in the study of history by encouraging authors and publishers to produce more historically accurate and engaging fiction and non-fiction for school children.

He also serves on the panel of judges for the Prize along with Douglas Bradburn, Ph.D., founding director of the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon, VA. The library is devoted to scholarly research about George Washington and the Founding Era.

Dr. Bradburn believes “every American citizen should take some time to reflect on the grand experiment in Democracy of which we are all stewards. They should celebrate the accomplishment of the creation of the Constitution and recognize that we are part of an ongoing story. Each young American needs to study its creation and its purpose, as they will be the ones governing themselves when they come of age. The celebration of the great achievement of the Constitution is not blind worship, but a mature appreciation of the special responsibility we all have to attempt to build a country where the people are sovereign and enjoy their freedoms under a peaceful system which requires accommodation as well as encouraging dissent.  The Constitution of the United States is both our birthright and our legacy.”

As for those so-called boring history classes our kids must endure, the founders of the Grateful American Book Prize, suggest they read engaging works that tell America’s stories. “Books like these can make them curious, and wanting to know more,” says education advocate David Bruce Smith, who along with Dr. Cole, founded the Book Prize. And, Smith recommends five books suitable for children in elementary, middle, and high school, which might just do the trick for this year’s Constitution Day festivities:

  • If You Were There When They Signed The Constitution by Elizabeth Levy
  • The Founders: The 39 Stories Behind the U.S. Constitution by Dennis Brindell Fradin with illustrations by Michael McCurdy
  • Constitution Translated for Kids by Cathy Travis
  • In Defense of Liberty: The Story of America’s Bill of Rights by Russell Freedman
  • The Constitution of the United States by Sam Fink

The winner of the 2017 Grateful American Book Prize will be revealed at an October 12th reception at The National Archives in Washington, DC .The author will receive $13,000, and a medallion created by American artist, Clarice Smith.

Submissions for 2018 will be accepted January 1st through July 31st.

How to encourage kids to learn history

Award-winning author and educator offers tips for teachers
as America’s young learners go back to school

WASHINGTON, DC – Educator and award-winning author Robyn Gioia encourages the use of historical fiction to stimulate a love of reading and–more important–of learning, says David Bruce Smith, co-founder of the Grateful American Book Prize. In fact, her Web site features a space for teachers looking to find classroom resources that will excite young learners about the genre.

It is “back to school time” and Robyn’s notions of how best to teach a dry subject such as social studies might be a timely topic for first PTA meetings, according to Smith.

In her most recent blog, Gioia writes that “historical fiction … transports you into the past where life and a culture previously existed. You become part of a world where you walk-the-walk alongside characters dealing with the trials and tribulations of an era long gone.” The piece describes how she uses factually accurate books, including fiction, to stimulate discussion among her students.

One reviewer noted that “she has been referred to as Scheherazade because of her character driven, can’t-put-them-down, page turning stories”—the kinds of history books that can inspire kids and leave them wanting more. Her America’s REAL First Thanksgiving, St. Augustine, Florida, Sept.8, 1565, created quite a stir for challenging the idea that the holiday was first celebrated by the Pilgrims.

Gioia’s technique for teaching social studies to her pupils brings results. She reads works of historical fiction out loud to her class in “my best dramatic voice.” It’s her way of bringing the past to life. And, she inspires them to ask questions in order to elicit curiosity. In fact, she says, many actually ask her if they can take notes as she reads—a sure sign that she is getting through to them. “I know that annotating their thoughts helps them to develop a stronger understanding of the material and organize the details.”

Smith, also an author, points out that the Prize he established with Dr. Bruce Cole, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, was created for the express purpose of “rousing authors and publishers to produce more works of engrossing historical fiction and nonfiction so that students in middle and high school could be spared the boredom of textbooks.”

In its three years of existence, the Grateful American Book Prize has established itself as an important award in the publishing field. “It has put a new focus on historically factual books,” says Smith. The 2017 winner will be celebrated at an October 12th reception at The National Archives in Washington, DC.

Gioia had this to say about the Prize: “The forging of America was entering unknown territory, historically speaking. Diverse peoples from many countries vied for a place in the new world, a land that grew to be one of the most powerful in the world. It did not happen without sacrifice, hardship, survival, and forward-thinking vision. Engaging historical fiction, imaginative illustration, and intriguing non-fiction books, transports us back in time. It helps readers internalize the unique events that created our country by breathing life into a subject that would have otherwise been unrelatable to many young minds. The Grateful American Book Prize highlights the importance of our history by encouraging young readers to experience the trials and tribulations of a nation that fought to become America.”

37% of high school grads are deficient in reading

“How can any man judge, unless his mind has been opened and enlarged by reading? …Abraham Lincoln

WASHINGTON, DC – Here’s an alarming statistic: just 63% of high school graduates are proficient in reading. That’s the assessment from the U.S. Department of Education in its most recent Nation’s Report Card. And, thirty-seven percent lack sufficient reading comprehension.

“If a child can’t read, he or she cannot learn, and that can have serious consequences for the future of the country. What kind of citizens will these children be when they grow up? Will he or she be equipped to make responsible choices? Abraham Lincoln put it this way: “how can any man judge, unless his mind has been opened and enlarged by reading?” We need to push to influence the schools into focusing on the importance of the printed word,” says education advocate David Bruce Smith.

Smith’s conclusion is reinforced in a recent Intellectual Takeout article, which suggests that our schools get a failing grade when it comes to instilling a love—or interest in—what a student reads. Most are “taught” it is a chore they must endure.

But, not all teachers downplay its importance. Neme Alperstein is a teacher with an international reputation for excellence, and a member of Smith’s panel of judges for the Grateful American Book Prize. She believes “you can’t force unwanted reading materials on young children. It just doesn’t work if one hopes to develop a love of reading and learning.  Children must have the freedom to select what they read if they are to acquire a love of books in support of learning. That freedom can take a child’s interest in new and exciting directions.

“It is essential to recognize the limitations of prescribed reading lists and their impact on a child’s motivation.  Have you ever given a young child a book he or she didn’t want?  I’ve seen children hand the book back or simply leave it somewhere as they then look for what they really want to read, digitally or in print.  Children usually make better reading choices for themselves that they then actually read.  The key is to foster a joy and enthusiasm for reading, often what prescribed lists from programs in schools cannot achieve,” according to Alperstein.

The report from the Department of Education also revealed that the nation’s children are deficient in their knowledge of who they are, where they come from, and—most of the important lessons of history,” according to Smith.

Smith and Dr. Bruce Cole, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, established the Grateful American Book Prize in 2015 to encourage authors and publishers to produce more works of fiction and nonfiction about American history—that appeal to young readers.

This year’s panel of judges is in the process of selecting the winner; he or she will receive a cash award of $13,000 commemorating the 13 original colonies, and a medallion created by the American artist, Clarice Smith. The October 12th reception will be at the National Archives in Washington, DC. Two writers will also receive “Honorable Mention” acknowledgments of $500 each.

Submissions for 2018 will be accepted January 1st through July 31st.

Book Prize is focused on stimulating interest in American history among young learners

The knowledge deficit among our kids that can have ‘dramatic consequences’ for the nation

WASHINGTON, DC — This sad note comes from a new report by William Dunlap, president of the New Hampshire Historical Society, which conducts history programs for the state’s school children. His account was just published– two days before the Fourth of July– in the New Hampshire Union Leader.

Astonishingly, Dunlap wrote, “most of the school kids we see now lack the requisite baseline knowledge to understand the program. They do not know what the American Revolution was, or even that we fought the British. They cannot list in correct chronological order the American Revolution, the Civil War, and World War II.”

“His observation is just the latest acknowledgement that America’s children are undereducated about American history,” says David Bruce Smith, co-founder of the Grateful American Book Prize. “When Dr. Bruce Cole, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and I established the Prize in 2015, our intent was to encourage authors and publishers to produce more works of historically accurate fiction and nonfiction, books that can make young readers curious about the history of our country.”

Ask history teachers why their pupils can’t learn the subject, and you’ll get a variety of answers. Some would say it’s because schools have been deemphasizing it in favor of so-called practical schooling in the sciences and technology. That may be so, but as education consultant Robert Pondiscio put it: “many Americans have forgotten we have public schools so students can become educated citizens capable of self-government.” And that is pretty important, as well.

Dunlap concluded in his article that the “knowledge deficit has dramatic consequences that go far beyond producing well-rounded students. Kids need an understanding of how our civic institutions work so they can become fully participating citizens and educated voters. They need a basic understanding of American history to be able to contextualize problems and keep them in perspective. In short, a poor understanding of American institutions has alarming implications for American democracy and American civic values.”

He told the Grateful American Book Prize that he is delighted that the award was created to inspire a love of reading and of history among our school children. “Those of us who work in the field of history must redouble our efforts to introduce the rising generation to the gratifications of learning history. History is indispensable. It opens hearts and minds; it teaches us how to live. The Grateful American Book Prize is an important way to stimulate renewed interest in history among young people. We applaud it.

The search for this year’s Prize winner is well underway. Authors and publishers can submit entries until July 31. An award of $13,000 and a medallion created by the renowned American artist, Clarice Smith, will be presented to this year’s winner at an October 12th reception at The National Archives in Washington, DC. Two authors will also receive “Honorable Mention” acknowledgments of $500 each.

Summer reads for kids from the Grateful American Book Prize

WASHINGTON, DC – Kids learn how to read in school, but they learn the love of it at home, according to education advocate David Bruce Smith. “In the formative years, it is important that parents and grandparents read to their children. It teaches them to appreciate a good story. In later years, take them to the library and let them pick books that have a special appeal for them,” he suggests.

Smith is co-founder of the Grateful American Book Prize, an award—which those who know him—say reflects his love of good reads and—for history. He partnered with the former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Dr. Bruce Cole, to create the Prize.

“In this digital age, fewer and fewer of our children know the historical origins of the United States. Our aim is to show them how a story can “send” them on fascinating, exciting and adventurous journeys whenever they want. The idea is to encourage young people to learn more—with the hope that they will mature into responsible and productive citizens.” says Smith.

The first two books to win the Prize in 2015 and 2016 – Like a River and The Drum of Destiny – did just that, he says. “And now we are in the midst of a hunt for the 2017 Grateful American Book Prize, which is open for submissions through July 31.”

According to Smith each of those novels was an excellent choice for kids.

When Kathy Cannon Wiechman won for Like a River: A Civil War Novel, Smith said: “it is an exemplar of what the Prize is all about—to encourage authors and publishers to produce fiction and nonfiction that accurately depict the past as a means of engaging young readers in American history. Like a River is a page-turner about the plights of a pair of teens—on the battlefield–caught up in the conflict between the states. To call it riveting is a disservice. The book rouses the emotions of its readers in a way that leaves them wanting to learn more about that critical era in the evolution of the country. It goes beyond the dry retelling of the Civil War that often puts students to sleep at their desks during history class.”

Chris Stevenson’s The Drum of Destiny is the tale of a boy on his way to join the American Revolution’s Continental Army. The author says “by reading Drum of Destiny, young readers can learn about history without realizing they are learning about history. Most history textbooks are written with the idea of teaching kids facts they can memorize so they can then take a test. This method misses the most important aspects of history. The real life stories, the reasons behind the facts, and the character of our country’s founders are where the real learning is discovered.”

Smith also recommends other books that might have summer appeal for boys and girls:

  • Homesick: My Own Story by Jean Fritz
  • A Buss From Lafayette by Dorothea Jensen
  • I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  • The Revelations of Louisa May by Michaela MacColl
  • Night by Elie Wiesel
  • Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes
  • The Wright Brothers by David McCullough
  • Go Ask Alice by Anonymous

Reading fosters empathy and more positive social attitudes

Children who read become more productive, participative citizens

WASHINGTON, DC – “As thankful as we might be for the productive technological innovations of the 21st Century, it is important to recognize that the digital society we’ve created has pitfalls — particularly for our youngest citizens,” says author and publisher David Bruce Smith.

According to Smith, the “new” electronic world fosters apathy instead of empathy and a new study out of the U.K. appears to prove it. “Researchers at London’s Kingston University discovered that kids who spend more time playing with high-tech toys over reading a good book are at risk of becoming disinterested and disassociated. Their data revealed that readers have more positive social attitudes.”

Smith describes himself as an ardent advocate of encouraging young Americans to absorb the history of the U.S—in particular. He urges parents and teachers to provide the kids in their charge with good books — fiction and nonfiction — based on historical fact. “I try to facilitate this task because it’s a way of providing our future generations with the knowledge they need to become productive, participative citizens.”

He cites Thomas Jefferson, the main author of the Declaration of Independence, the third president of the United States and the founder of the University of Virginia who said: “…apprising [students] of the past will enable them to judge the future; it will avail them of the experience of other times and other nations; it will qualify them as judges of the actions and designs of men; it will enable them to know ambition under every disguise it may assume; and knowing it, to defeat its views.”

It’s not just Smith who relies on the words of Thomas Jefferson to make the case for books — page-turners, if you will — as teaching tools.

Annie Holmquist, in a recent article for the Minnesota-based think-tank, Intellectual Takeout, described Jefferson as an early believer in using books to motivate young learners because of the virtuous morals, which they teach the reader.

As Jefferson put it: “everything is useful which contributes to fix in the principles and practices of virtue. When any original act of charity or of gratitude, for instance, is presented either to our sight or imagination, we are deeply impressed with its beauty and feel a strong desire in ourselves of doing charitable and grateful acts also. On the contrary, when we see or read of any atrocious deed, we are disgusted with it’s deformity, and conceive an abhorrence of vice. Now every emotion of this kind is an exercise of our virtuous dispositions, and dispositions of the mind, like limbs of the body acquire strength by exercise.”

The Grateful American Book Prize is accepting entries for its 2017 award. Works of historical fiction and nonfiction for children 11 to 15 years of age published between July 1, 2016 and July 31, 2017 qualify. The Prize is among the most lucrative for literary accomplishment, $13,000 — thirteen for the number of original colonies. In addition, two “Honorable Mention” winners receive $500 each.

Let’s give young dissenters revolutionaries with ideals as role models; it might make them proud to be Americans

WASHINGTON, DC – A new, nationwide survey shows that while the majority of us are still proud to be Americans, there is a growing number of dissenters who feel they are not proud— or not as proud— as they used to be.

“The Gallup Poll did not ask whether the dissenters believed in American exceptionalism, but the odds are they would take exception to that notion. And that would be ironic, because it is dissention – by those seeking to change things for all of the people – that makes America extraordinary,” according to author, publisher and history advocate David Bruce Smith.

Smith says that bullies who would back up their dissent with violence are certainly not welcome here, but history has taught us that America does encourage the out-of-the-box thinkers.

“If you had a good history teacher, you’d know it was dissenters like George Washington, John Adams and the other Founding Fathers who had the dream of American democracy—first. And, it took nonconformists such as Abraham Lincoln, Susan B. Anthony and Martin Luther King to incorporate their visions of a better world to bring about much needed reforms to the American way, and actually influence the world for the better.”

Last year, when Gallup conducted the same survey, it found that 78% of Americans were “extremely” or “very” proud to be Americans. This year, the poll revealed only 67% felt that way—a remarkably sharp drop—and the lowest level since this annual poll was first conducted 17 years ago.

“It is interesting to note that the time span coincides with the nearly two decades since many educators started de-emphasizing history in the classroom—a fact that has been consistently proven by the results of serious investigations. It offers a reason for an intense effort to resurrect an interest in America’s past among young learners,” says Smith.

Smith, along with Dr. Bruce Cole, the former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, co-founded the Grateful American Book Prize in order to “jump start” a new love of history among students. The Prize offers an annual award to authors who produce books of fiction and nonfiction that accurately focus on events and personalities in American history. According to Smith, the aim is to encourage authors and their publishers to get on board with an effort to revitalize an enthusiasm for history among the country’s school children by retelling the way the U.S. came to be, and how it has grown into “a beacon for the world” since then.

“Any parent will tell you that children respond to a good, engaging and exciting story,” says Smith. “They get caught up in the mystery and suspense, which helps them remember what happened. So let’s tell them about the nation’s past in the same way; in a manner that engages their curiosity and desire to learn more. And, perhaps, it will give dissenters a good reason to eschew protests in favor of new ideas, and to make —-revolutionaries with ideals— their role models– people like Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. It just might turn them into better, civically minded citizens who are—proud to be Americans.”

Current political turmoil may be due to a lack of perspective,
say history advocates

NEW YORK, Mar 28, 2017 – It appears that the political turmoil among America’s youth since the November elections could be the result of a lack of perspective, according to Neme Alperstein, a recently retired teacher of gifted and talented students in the New York City Public School system since 1987.

“For those who feel there is a desperation in the air, perhaps it is because many among the younger generations are not familiar with the continuity in our democracy that ensures a peaceful transfer of power no matter which party wins an election. An understanding of our country’s history might provide the perspective and restore the faith that is lacking. That knowledge can also serve as a road map for understanding one’s rights. But, history lessons in classrooms have taken a back seat to other subjects,” she says. “American history has a prominent place in math, science and technology.”

Alperstein is one of the judges for the Grateful American Book Prize, an award designed to embolden new and established authors–and their publishers– to produce more works of fiction and nonfiction based on American history. The Prize seeks to arouse the interests of middle and high school students in exploring why and how the United States came into existence, and to learn more about the events and personalities that shaped them.

“A better knowledge of how the United States conducts its transfer of power following elections can reassure the public of American democracy’s strength. Our democracy’s foundation is grounded in the knowledge of American history.  Familiarity with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are powerful tools to enforce accountability.”

David Bruce Smith, co-founder of the Prize, agrees that by de-emphasizing history in school today’s we hamper the ability of our kids to fulfill their responsibilities as good citizens.

As educator Alperstein puts it: “For meaningful discourse and debate, children need to hear stories rooted in our nation’s history, and while those stories take many forms, all speak to nurturing citizenship that can effectively allow them to engage in the national conversation.  We are indeed fortunate to have so many accessible resources (for example, The Library of Congress, its National Digital Library, and the New-York Historical Society) that tell so many stories. Those can only help our children develop analysis and critical thinking skills, but there is so much joy in the telling. If we are to enhance understanding, a dynamic and exciting American history must convey just why it is a foundation of our democracy.  To capture our children’s imaginations, we need to start telling those stories—early–in a manner that can excite them.”

Numerous studies, polls, and quite a bit of anecdotal evidence exist which corroborates the notion that today’s children often lack knowledge about history, says Smith. Some teachers will say it is because American schools favor the so-called practical schooling in the sciences and technology, not to mention that 21st century kids probably have much too many electronic gadgets that distract them.   Meanwhile, “many Americans have forgotten we have public schools so students can become educated citizens capable of self-government,” according to education consultant Robert Pondiscio.

Smith and Dr. Bruce Cole, the former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, established the Grateful American Book Prize in 2015. In addition to Smith, Cole and Alperstein, Dr. Louise Mirrer, President and CEO, New-York Historical Society, Dr. Peter S. Carmichael, The Robert C. Fluhrer Professor of Civil War Studies & Director of the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College, Dr. Douglas Bradburn, Author, Historian and Founding Director of the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon and John Danielson, Founder of Chartwell Education Group and former Chief of Staff at the U.S. Department of Education also sit on the panel of judges for the Prize.

America’s youth suffer from a ‘historical amnesia’

by David Bruce Smith
Author, publisher and co-founder of the Grateful American Book Prize

The lack of knowledge about the history of our country among students in middle school, high school and even in colleges and universities has been well established and alarming.  Why?  Because-someday, they will become the voters responsible for electing the next generation of leadership in America. And, they will not be prepared to carry it out without a firm grasp of history.

Knowing who, how and why our country was founded determines who we are now, and what our country will look like in the future.  It is the basis for an informed electorate.  Our children and grandchildren need to know these things if they are to mature into engaged citizens.  Yet, there are numerous studies, polls and quite a bit of anecdotal evidence that back up the notion that they suffer from “historical amnesia,” as Dr. Bruce Cole, former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, described it.

It is up to us–their guardians–and their teachers to encourage our youngsters to cultivate an interest in history.  And, it is the one and only reason we established the Grateful American Book Prize.  Dr. Cole partnered with me in creating the Prize to inspire new and established authors–and their publishers– to produce more works of historically accurate fiction and nonfiction that can help arouse an interest in history among America’s students.

Ask history teachers why their pupils can’t learn the subject, and you’ll get a variety of answers.  Some would say it is because American schools have been deemphasizing it in favor of so-called practical schooling in the sciences and technology.  That may be so, but as education consultant Robert Pondiscio put it:  “many Americans have forgotten we have public schools so students can become educated citizens capable of self-government.”  And that is pretty important, as well.

Meanwhile, many teachers would readily acknowledge that history class can be boring; to counter that, they have discovered ways to make the subject more interesting, such as supplementing textbooks with good reads that excite young learners, and arouse curiosity about what really happened in the past.

“I believe that good historical fiction exercises a child’s imagination through a vicarious experience.  It leads children to use themselves and their own lives as comparisons to the characters that lived long ago and often, far away, to reflect on their own experience, to ask their families questions.  It awakens awareness, perks up perception, sparks conversations,” according to author and lecturer Valerie Tripp.  And, that is why the Grateful American Book Prize exists.

The fact is, the Prize has, indeed, renewed interest in historical books for young people among authors and publishers.  But, the recognition and financial incentive it provides are only part of the reason for its success.  The hundreds of authors who have submitted their works for consideration over the past few years seem to unanimously agree that the most important consequence of it is –an opportunity to stir up interest-again– in the study of American history.

Are we settling for ‘dumbed down’ standards in our schools?

WASHINGTON, DC – “Every child in America should be acquainted with his own country. He should read books that furnish him with ideas that will be useful to him in life and practice.” That is the point of the Grateful American Book Prize, although we believe that it is good advice for girls as well as boys. However, it was Noah Webster who first put forth the notion in an essay written in 1788.

Yet, the sad fact is that only a mere 12 percent of U.S. High School Seniors are proficient in U.S. History, according to The National Assessment of Educational Progress.

“We established the Prize in 2015 because Dr. Bruce Cole, former Chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and I were deeply concerned by the lack of knowledge among America’s youth about the history of our country. Time and again authoritative reports were showing that in many cases middle school and high school students alike were unable to recall the simplest facts. Many could not identify the first president of the United States. Some did not know who Abraham Lincoln was, let alone that his Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves,” says David Bruce Smith who co-founded the Grateful American Book Prize with Dr. Cole.

Now comes news that so-called improvements in education and graduation rates across the country may have been “artificially propped up by dumbed down standards,” according to a recent article in a journal published by Intellectual Takeout, a non-profit organization promoting education.

“That suspicion was affirmed over the weekend when Tennessee announced that many of its graduates had not fulfilled a number of the requirements for the diploma they received. And it wasn’t just a handful, either. Fully one-third of Tennessee graduates had not completed all the required course work for a high school degree,” wrote Annie Holmquist, a senior writer at Intellectual Takeout

She pointed out in her article that the deficiencies included, in particular, history. “If Tennessee is a microcosm of what’s happening in the other 49 states, then perhaps this explains why only 12 percent of seniors are proficient in U.S. history and only 24 percent are proficient in civics. If school administrators are turning a blind eye and passing students through school without requiring them to take these subjects, then it’s no wonder students know so little about their nation and how it works.”

Smith agrees. He notes that “numerous scholars over the years have proved that in order to be a good citizen, a knowledge of history is required. In other words, we learn how to fulfill our responsibilities as citizens from the events and personalities who shaped our nation.”

Conceding that history class can be boring at times, he says the rationale for the Prize was to encourage new and established authors and their publishers to produce works of historically accurate fiction and nonfiction that make history come to life for young learners.

“We encourage parents and grandparents to actively encourage children to become lovers of history by providing them with such books. Many educators will tell you that giving your kids good reads that capture their imaginations is a smart way to learn their history lessons.”

Presidents Day was not created to boost sales for America’s retailers

‘The sad fact is that too many of our children don’t know who Abraham Lincoln and George Washington were’

WASHINGTON, DC – Contrary to what may be popular opinion, Presidents Day was not established to generate sales for America’s retailers. But, the fact of the matter is that many of our schoolchildren can only identify Abraham Lincoln and George Washington from either TV or Presidents Day commercials. They are more likely to know that Lady Gaga headlined the half-time show at this year’s Super Bowl than to appreciate what the holiday commemorates.

David Bruce Smith, an author and publisher, says “there are some who believe the reason is that there is a movement afoot to deemphasize American culture in the schools that favors a worldview. They put the blame on the emphasis placed on STEM education, which prioritizes science, technology, engineering and mathematics as a means of accomplishing that goal. After all, it leaves little room for teaching history.”

Smith co-founded the Grateful American Book Prize in an effort to rejuvenate the love of history– American history in particular. The award is presented each year to authors who seek to encourage curiosity in young learners about the events and personalities that shaped our country over the past 240 years.

As one teacher told New York Post Opinion writer Karol Markowicz: “All the pressure in lower grades is in math and English Language Arts because of the state tests and the weight that they carry.”

Markowicz cites a 2014 report by the National Assessment of Educational Progress that showed “an abysmal 18 percent of American high school kids were proficient in US history.” She also notes that “a 2012 story in Perspectives on History magazine by University of North Carolina professor Bruce VanSledright revealed that 88 percent of elementary school teachers considered teaching history a low priority.”

But the blame cannot be placed entirely on the teachers, says Smith. “While many of our children don’t know who Lincoln and Washington were, we live in the age of technology. And so it is not surprising that our schools want to prepare students for a workplace that relies on employees with math-based comprehension. However, we ignore history at a peril to our nation because knowledge of our past is the key component of good, responsible citizenship.”

Writer Markowicz points out there is a national debate focused on how America is in danger of becoming “fractured.” She concludes that the less our children know about “our shared history” the more divided we become.

As we prepare to celebrate Presidents Day, only nine percent of the nation’s fourth graders are able to pick out a picture of Lincoln, and just 23 percent know that Washington was our first President, according to NAEP reports.

“It is interesting to note that the first two winners of the Grateful American Book Prize were Kathy Cannon Wiechman for her Civil War novel, Like a River, in 2015, and Chris Stevenson in 2016 for his novel, The Drum of Destiny. These selections are gripping accounts of the key events over which President Lincoln and President Washington presided, respectively. Their books presented those events in a way that can inspire young readers to learn to love history. The mission of our Prize is to provide an incentive for authors and publishers to produce more books like these—works that encourage our children to explore the past and become knowledgeable, productive—and proud– citizens,” says Smith.

Award-winning author shares advice with new writers

Her focus is on works of historical fiction:
how to create believable characters and do the research

WASHINGTON, DC – After winning the first Grateful American Book Prize in 2015 for her Civil War novel, Like a River, Kathy Cannon Wiechman wrote another called Empty Places, based on the Great Depression. She has now turned her attention to helping new writers reach young readers through works of historical fiction and nonfiction.

“I believe that the real winners of the Grateful American Book Prize are young learners who are bored in history class, but whose interest in the events and personalities that shaped our nation can be encouraged by a good read. And, that is one of the aims of the Prize: to inspire new writers to produce such works.”

Wiechman is completing her next opus, Not On Fifth Street, to be published in the fall. It is about the record-breaking Ohio River flood of 1937.

In the meantime, she says, she always has time for extra-curricular activities such as mingling with her readers at school visits, and participating in writers’ workshops, including an upcoming stint as a lecturer on historical fiction for the Highlights Foundation in May.

“Before I wrote my first novel, Like a River, I attended a number of workshops offered by the Highlights Foundation. These workshops taught me about creating believable characters, doing research, and even how to load and fire a muzzleloader as part of my research.”

Wiechman is always eager to share what she has learned with other writers, and the Highlights Foundation’s Whole Novel Workshop is a particularly ideal way of doing it.

“The workshop is for writers who have written a complete novel and want to get professional feedback, and help to make it publishable. It offers an opportunity to work with new writers one-on-one.”

Authors interested in attending the workshop should visit Highlights Foundation to learn more/expedite an application. The deadline is February 5th.

“The cost of the workshop includes all meals, accommodations, transportation from the airport, if necessary, and lots of personal attention from the faculty. Scholarships are available. I have benefited from these workshops and highly recommend them to anyone writing for young readers.”

As for the 2017 Grateful American Book Prize: judges began accepting entries on January 1st for appropriate books published between July 1, 2016 and July 31, 2017.

 

Americans still prefer to read printed books versus e-books and audio books

'There's nothing like the comfort of curling up with a good book'

WASHINGTON, DC – Good news!  Americans are avid readers according to a new Gallup Poll.  The better news is that the great majority prefer printed books over e-books and audio books.  And, nearly three quarters of respondents in the study said they favored printed books to e-books and audio books.

That is also the opinion of David Bruce Smith, co-founder of the Grateful American book Prize-an award that seeks to encourage authors and publishers to produce more printed works of fiction and non-fiction for kids-that focus on American history.

“There’s nothing like the comfort of curling up with a good book, and turning paper pages at your own pace so that you can truly appreciate the content.  It’s particularly important for young learners because it allows them to ‘experience’ the moment, so when they read about the people, places and events that shaped our nation they can achieve an understanding of history that they can’t get by merely memorizing names and dates.  It’s the reason Dr. Bruce Cole, the former Chair of the National Foundation for the Humanities, and I decided to make the investment in creating the Prize,” says Smith who is an author and publisher.

The Gallup survey found that 53% of young adults read between one and 10 books in the past year.  The Gallup report concluded, “with the advent of e-readers and tablets in the past decade, some futurists predicted the imminent extinction of printed books.  It was said that the ability to download, read and store thousands of digital books on these devices would quickly reduce demand for the paper versions.  However, this prophecy appears to be far from true — so far.”

The Prize was established in 2015 and almost instantly became a much-coveted award, says Smith.  “We got 140 entries in less than six months.  In 2016, more than a hundred submissions were received and reviewed by our distinguished panel of Judges.”

The judges for the 2017 Prize include Smith and Dr. Cole as well as Dr. Louise Mirrer, President and CEO, New-York Historical Society, Dr. Peter Carmichael, the Robert C. Fluhrer Professor of Civil War Studies & Director of the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College, Dr. Douglas Bradburn, author, historian and Founding Director of the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon, John Danielson, Chairman of the Board of Directors at Education Management Corporation and Neme Alperstein, a teacher of Gifted and Talented Students in the New York City Public School system since 1987.

The award comes with a cash Prize of $13,000 to commemorate the original 13 Colonies and a medallion created by noted American artist, Clarice Smith.  In addition, every year two authors receive Honorable Mention citations and, as of 2017, they will also receive cash prizes of $500 each.

“We started accepting eligible books published between July 1, 2016 and July 31, 2017 for the 2017 Prize on January 1st,” says Smith.

The Gilmer Mirror, January 2017

Americans still prefer to read printed books versus e-books and audio books

‘There’s nothing like the comfort of curling up with a good book’

WASHINGTON, DC – Good news! Americans are avid readers according to a new Gallup Poll. The better news is that the great majority prefer printed books over e-books and audio books. And, nearly three quarters of respondents in the study said they favored printed books to e-books and audio books.

That is also the opinion of David Bruce Smith, co-founder of the Grateful American Book Prize—an award that seeks to encourage authors and publishers to produce more printed works of fiction and non-fiction for kids—that focus on American history.

“There’s nothing like the comfort of curling up with a good book, and turning paper pages at your own pace so that you can truly appreciate the content. It’s particularly important for young learners because it allows them to ‘experience’ the moment, so when they read about the people, places and events that shaped our nation they can achieve an understanding of history that they can’t get by merely memorizing names and dates. It’s the reason Dr. Bruce Cole, the former Chair of the National Foundation for the Humanities, and I decided to make the investment in creating the Prize,” says Smith who is an author and publisher.

The Gallup survey found that 53% of young adults read between one and 10 books in the past year. The Gallup report concluded, “with the advent of e-readers and tablets in the past decade, some futurists predicted the imminent extinction of printed books. It was said that the ability to download, read and store thousands of digital books on these devices would quickly reduce demand for the paper versions. However, this prophecy appears to be far from true — so far.”

The Prize was established in 2015 and almost instantly became a much-coveted award, says Smith. “We got 140 entries in less than six months. In 2016, more than a hundred submissions were received and reviewed by our distinguished panel of Judges.”

The judges for the 2017 Prize include Smith and Dr. Cole as well as Dr. Louise Mirrer, President and CEO, New-York Historical Society, Dr. Peter Carmichael, the Robert C. Fluhrer Professor of Civil War Studies & Director of the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College, Dr. Douglas Bradburn, author, historian and Founding Director of the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon, John Danielson, Chairman of the Board of Directors at Education Management Corporation and Neme Alperstein, a teacher of Gifted and Talented Students in the New York City Public School system since 1987.

The award comes with a cash Prize of $13,000 to commemorate the original 13 Colonies and a medallion created by noted American artist, Clarice Smith. In addition, every year two authors receive Honorable Mention citations and, as of 2017, they will also receive cash prizes of $500 each.

“We started accepting eligible books published between July 1, 2016 and July 31, 2017 for the 2017 Prize on January 1st,” says Smith.

Resolve to encourage your children to read in 2017

‘To succeed in school, students must read on their own’

WASHINGTON, DC – Here’s a suggestion for a New Year resolution that will have a positive impact on your family: make it your mission in 2017 to inspire the love of reading in the young learners of your family, says David Bruce Smith, co-founder of the Grateful American Book Prize.

Smith points to “studies exposing the sadly disturbing fact that as many as 66% of American teenagers are ‘below proficient’ in reading, which is perhaps the most fundamental element of a child’s educational experience.”

Smith is on a crusade to encourage authors and publishers to produce more works of fiction and non-fiction that can capture the interests of young readers. His purpose in creating the Prize was to galvanize young learners into reading books– preferably about American history—and to transform the ritual into an experience, he says.

One English teacher in Minnesota was so despondent over her students’ inability to read, that she wrote a letter to the editor of her local paper. She put it this way: “We are in the midst of one of the greatest literacy crises ever encountered, and we are fighting an uphill battle. Every day I experience first hand what it means to be illiterate in a high school classroom. At best it means sleeping away a unit; at worst it means depression or aggression. Average students with average abilities can fervently text away [on their mobile phones], but they cannot read.”

Parents and grandparents can and should take action if they want the children in their lives to succeed. It’s particularly important in the digital age in which we live, according to Smith.

“iPhones, tablets and other electronic devices might be great technological developments, but they can’t replace the human experience of turning the pages of a book. And, when combined with the impact a father or mother can have by reading with their children, it can encourage a life-long desire to learn.”

Kim Dallas, the English teacher who wrote to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, concluded her letter with a plaintive plea to parents of school age children: “What can you do? Model reading in the home. Visit the library. Go to the bookstore. Share your reading experiences with them. Encourage them to read their assigned work. Offer your help with comprehension. If you struggle with reading, please share how you faced this difficult challenge—and succeeded. They need your help. I need your help. To succeed in school, students must read on their own. Our future depends on it,” she said.

Give the gift of history to the children in your family

America’s youth suffer from a ‘history deficit’

WASHINGTON, DC, Dec 14 – Those “gotcha” moments on TV when young passersby are asked to name the first president of the U.S. and respond with quizzical looks may be funny. But, they expose the fact that American youngsters suffer from a history deficit.

“It’s the reason the Grateful American Book Prize was created,” says David Bruce Smith, co-founder of the award. “The Prize encourages authors and publishers to produce more works of historically accurate fiction and non-fiction for young learners and we feel compelled to encourage parents and grandparents to give the gift of history to the children in their lives this holiday season.

Numerous studies have shown school children have a discouraging lack of knowledge of American history. Too many of them don’t know even the basic facts about our nation’s past, about the events that shaped America, the people who founded the country and those who built it, creating the world’s first superpower. One survey of elementary school children revealed that 25% believed Columbus sailed to America sometime after 1750–not 1492.

Author and publisher Smith teamed up with Dr. Bruce Cole, former Chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities, to establish the Grateful American Book Prize. It’s the first award of its kind that offers an incentive for new writers and established authors to focus on historically accurate books for children, novels and biographies that can bring history to life for kids.

“Our children are not stupid so there must be another reason for the widespread and appalling lack of the basic knowledge of who, why and how the nation was founded. If you ask the students, they are apt to tell you that history class is boring, that they don’t get the connection between what happened then and what is happening now and that history books are dull. But maybe the real reason is that many schools don’t even have history classes anymore; they cover that base nowadays with Social Studies and/or Civics classes using texts that provide the facts but do little to spark an interest in history,” according to Smith.

Perhaps since we live in an age when the focus of education is on science, technology, engineering and mathematics—the so-called STEM subjects—history takes a back seat in the classroom, he says. “Some say it’s critical that we teach young learners “practical” subjects so they’ll be competitive in the Global Economy of the 21st Century. That may be so, but as education consultant Robert Pondiscio put it: ‘Many Americans have forgotten we have public schools so students can become educated citizens capable of self-government’.”

Smith notes that the odd thing is that as kids grow older, particularly when they are out of school, many develop a hankering for the past. They seek out history-based films and, more important, books about historical places, figures and accomplishments.

Here’s what one young woman who was “bored” in history class said: “Since I left school I have become pretty good at reading lots of historical novels. It’s because they are more interesting. If I had done this while still at school, I think that my marks would have been heaps better.”

It makes sense, Smith remarks. “The books she read were engaging; they roused her curiosity and dusted up her desire to learn more about the historical characters and places in those novels. Her regret is that she didn’t start reading while she was in school. And, that shows us that there is a way of encouraging students to embrace history class: give them a good read. So, when you go shopping for holiday gifts this year, don’t just go to the toy store; make a stop at your local book store while you are at it.”

 

Submissions for the 2017 Grateful American Book Prize will be accepted beginning the first of January

WASHINGTON, DC, Dec 6 – The Grateful American Book Prize will begin accepting submissions for its 2017 award on January 1. The Prize is given each year to authors for outstanding works of fiction and non-fiction based on historical fact, and written to inspire 11 to 15 year old students. Books published between July 1, 2016 and July 31, 2017 are eligible.

“The enthusiasm with which authors and their publishers have greeted the award since its 2015 inception has been gratifying. Our aim in creating it was to encourage more writers to produce works of historical non-fiction and fiction about the events and personalities that have shaped the United States since the country’s founding. And, in fact, the two winners—so far– were debut authors,” according to David Bruce Smith, co-founder of the Grateful American Book Prize.

This year’s awardee was Chris Stevenson, for his excellent work of fiction, The Drum of Destiny, which is based on actual events. The novel describes the adventures of a boy who joins the Continental Army to fight for America’s independence. The recipient of the 2015 Prize was Kathy Cannon Wiechman for her Like a River: A Civil War Novel. It was about a pair of teenagers caught up in the conflict between the states.

Along with a distinctive medallion created by American artist Clarice Smith, the Prize comes with a $13,000 cash award in commemoration of the 13 original Colonies. As of 2017, “Honorable Mention” winners will get a cash prize of $500 each.

In addition to David Bruce Smith, the 2016 panel of judges for the Prize included co-founder Dr. Bruce Cole, the former chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Dr. Louise Mirrer, President and CEO of the New-York Historical Society, Dr. Peter Carmichael, the Robert C. Fluhrer Professor of Civil War Studies & Director of the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College, John Gray, the Elizabeth MacMillan Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, Dr. Douglas Bradburn, author, historian and Founding Director of the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon, John Danielson, Chairman of the Board of Directors at Education Management Corporation, and Neme Alperstein, a teacher of Gifted and Talented Students in the New York City Public School system since 1987.

Click for the Submission Form and additional information about submitting a book.

 

America is a very grateful nation and being grateful makes us better citizens

WASHINGTON, DC – As Thanksgiving Day approaches, it is interesting to note that America is a very grateful nation. In fact, the majority of Americans are particularly thankful for their families and the freedom they have living in the U.S., according to a recent survey sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation.

Meanwhile, studies by the Pew Research Center rank America as perhaps the most optimistic of nations. One report notes that: “When asked, on a scale of 0 to 10, about how important working hard is to getting ahead in life, 73% of Americans said it is was a ‘10’ or ‘very important,’ compared with a global median of 50% among the 44 nations.”

It is that work ethic that caused the 19th century philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville to describe the United States as “exceptional.” de Tocqueville wrote and published the book, Democracy in America, in 1835 after an extended trip to America during which he met and had discussions with city and country folks. He wanted to know what made our country so different in a world ruled by aristocracies.

Perhaps it was our nation’s diversity, our long-held belief that an educated nation is a strong nation, and a “tradition that nourished a spirit of liberty,” as one student of de Tocqueville’s opus described it. Indeed, the Templeton poll acknowledged that at the top of the list of things for which we are grateful, is family. But respondents in the poll ranked freedom a pretty close second, says David Bruce Smith, co-founder of the Grateful American Book Prize.

Smith believes that gratitude makes us better citizens and it’s why he and former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Bruce Cole, founded the Prize to begin with.

“It’s not enough to be optimistic if we are to be better citizens. We need to be enthusiastic as well. Nothing makes us as exhilarated about our future as knowledge about our past. Our aim with the Prize is to encourage authors and publishers to produce more works of historically accurate fiction and nonfiction, books that can engage our children in stories about how our nation came to be. We want the history teachers in our schools to have all the tools they can use to get their students to understand that the origins of America—its history— tell a unique story that textbooks cannot describe. If our nation’s history could inspire de Tocqueville, it certainly can inspire young learners,” says Smith.

Thanksgiving day is upon us, which means the Christmas shopping season is about to begin. Smith believes there is no better gift you can give your children than a good, appealing read such as those submitted each year by authors seeking the Prize. He particularly recommends the books that have won the Grateful American Book Prize —so far. Kathy Cannon Wiechman’s, Like a River (2015), and Chris Stevenson’s, The Drum of Destiny (2016).

“Like a River is a page-turner about the plight of a pair of teens caught up in the conflict between the states. Stevenson drew directly from the published memoir of John Greenwood who, in 1775, volunteered to fight for his country at the age of 16,” says Smith.

New Book Prize Designed to Shift the Way Students Learn History

and encourage the publication of more history-based works of fiction and nonfiction

WASHINGTON, DC – The Grateful American Book Prize was established—in part—to incite a shift in the way students learn history, and the notion seems to be catching on, says David Bruce Smith, an author, publisher and co-founder of the Prize.

“If we, as a nation, lose our passion for the past we will ultimately lose our passion for who we are and what we are capable of doing with our lives. The study of history teaches us how to become better citizens,” he says.

Inspiration for the new award which made its debut last year, came from co-founder Dr. Bruce Cole, the former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, who has described the U.S. as “a country of historical amnesiacs.”

Cole cites surveys and statistics which reveal how little America’s school children know about the fundamentals of U.S. history. Many don’t know the roles George Washington, Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Jefferson played in the founding of America, he notes.

The Prize is awarded for historically accurate children’s books of fiction and nonfiction. It is designed to encourage established—and new–authors to produce good, readable books about American history. And, says Smith, “our efforts seem to be paying off. We’ve noticed that authors and publishers are turning out more historical fiction and nonfiction for young readers.”

The 2016 Grateful American Book Prize was awarded last month to Chris Stevenson, a first time novelist, for his book about the War of Independence, The Drum of Destiny. In 2015, the first year the Prize was awarded, the winner was Kathy Cannon Wiechman for her Like a River: A Civil War Novel.

“It is interesting to note that both were the authors’ first works to be published, and each is now working on new books for young learners that will engage them.” says Smith.

The Prize comes with a cash award of $13,000 representing the original 13 colonies. In addition, winners receive a medal created for the occasion by Mr. Smith’s mother, the noted artist, Clarice Smith.

The Grateful American Book Prize will begin accepting qualifying submissions, books published between July 1, 2016 and July 31, 2017, on January 1 for its 2017 competition.

Chris Stevenson lives a busy life as a pilot, farmer, lawyer and author

His historical novel, The Drum of Destiny, won the 2016 Grateful American Book Prize

drum-of-destinyOctober 25, 2016 — First time novelist Chris Stevenson is busy researching and planning a sequel to his historical work of fiction The Drum of Destiny, which won the prestigious Grateful American Book Prize earlier this month.

In fact, he has four more books in mind for his character Gabriel Cooper, a young boy on his way to join the Continental Army during the American Revolution. It’s an ambitious undertaking considering the fact that he vows to keep his stories as accurate as possible, a task that will require a massive amount of research. It will not be easy for this Indiana attorney, a former air transport pilot, who lives on a 40 acre working farm in the small town of Clarks Hill and manages a ninety minute round trip commute to his Indianapolis office.

“Here’s a man who, like many of us, was bored to distraction in history class when he was in school but got hooked on the events and personalities that shaped the founding of our country,” says David Bruce Smith, who teamed up with Dr. Bruce Cole, the former Chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities to create the Prize last year.

“Ever notice how so many adults can’t pass up an opportunity to read a book or watch a movie set in the past? Something overcomes us as we grow older— we’re no longer bored, we develop an interest in the past,” according to Smith, an author and publisher. “It’s our aim to encourage students to embrace that passion earlier in life. We seek to encourage authors and publishers to produce more works of historical fiction and non-fiction that can make history come alive for young learners.”

Stevenson says he was motivated by that same intention. “By reading Drum of Destiny, young readers can learn about history without realizing they are learning about history. Most history textbooks are written with the idea of teaching kids facts they can memorize so they can then take a test. This method misses the most important aspects of history. The real life stories, the reasons behind the facts, and the character of our country’s founders are where the real learning is discovered.”

So intent was the author to use his book as a teaching tool, he developed a teacher’s guide available for download on his website: www.chrisstevensonauthor.com. He says it provides common core standards that help give teacher’s some guidance on how to use the novel in the classroom.

“Why did we decide to fight the most powerful empire in the world? What would have happened if we lost? What made George Washington such an amazing leader? What kind of hardships did these soldiers endure for freedom? These are just some of the questions that most children, and many adults, have no idea how to answer. Learning about our past always helps us live more meaningful lives in the present.”

Bored in the classroom, it was the boredom of his daily commute that ironically kindled Stevenson’s love of history. “I started listening to non-fiction history audio books on the American Revolution during my commute to and from work and I began to realize just how interesting history really was and how much I had missed growing up. I read the book 1776 by Pulitzer Prize winner David McCullough, which sparked my interest even more. From there I read and listened to many other books on the period. Ronald Chernow, Joseph Ellis, Gordon Wood, and David Stewart are among my favorite authors.”

So how did he come up with his protagonist, Gabriel Cooper? He says that he drew directly upon the published memoir of John Greenwood to create the character. Greenwood volunteered to fight for his country in 1775 at the age of 16,. “He is mentioned in McCullough’s best seller, 1776. After reading more about John, I began to model Gabriel after this real-life character. John Greenwood’s story of walking alone from Falmouth to Boston captured my imagination and helped to create Gabriel’s story.”

gabp-logo Winning the Grateful American Book Prize has caused quite a stir in Stevenson’s life. Media coverage of the award has created opportunities for him to do some author visits at schools in and around his community. “The reaction about the Prize has all been very positive. It truly is an amazing award and I’m honored that this distinguished panel of judges picked The Drum of Destiny as this year’s winner,” he says.

 


The Drum of Destiny by Chris Stevenson

  • Age Range: 9 – 12 years
  • Grade Level: 4 – 7
  • Paperback: 224 pages, $8.99
  • Publisher: Stone Arch Books (February 1, 2016)
  • ISBN-13: 978-1496526748

Indianapolis lawyer wins national book prize

by Dave Stafford for The Indiana Lawyer

drum-of-destinyOctober 10, 2016 — An Indianapolis attorney has won a prestigious national book award for his debut novel “The Drum of Destiny,” a work of historical fiction for young readers set around the American Revolution.

Wilson Kehoe Winingham attorney Chris Stevenson was presented the 2016 Grateful American Book Prize on Oct. 6 at the Library of Congress in Washington. His tale of an orphaned 12-year-old patriot who escapes a house of loyalists to join the fight for the nation’s independence is written primarily for children in grades 4-7.

“It’s not every day you get a dinner in your honor at the Library of Congress,” Stevenson said Monday. “It’s pretty amazing to be selected.”

Founded by author and publisher David Bruce Smith and former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities Bruce Cole, the Grateful American Book Prize was established in 2015 to recognize outstanding works of historical fiction for young readers and to promote history education. The prize includes a $13,000 cash award in honor of the 13 original American colonies.

Grateful American Book Prize 2016 Author Chris StevensonStevenson said he was inspired to write the book by his five sons and because he felt there was little storytelling aimed at young readers about the time period around the nation’s founding. Years ago, he began telling his boys bedtime stories from the Revolutionary period about a boy named Gabriel Cooper, which became the inspiration for “The Drum of Destiny.”

“For me, it’s one of the most transformative periods of time not just for our nation but for the entire world,” Stevenson said. “These were relatively untrained soldiers who decided to stand up to the most powerful empire in the world. … It’s one of those things I wanted my kids and hopefully other kids to learn about the freedom that we have, and why did we want to do it.”

An associate whose practice focuses on aviation and product liability litigation, Stevenson said he worked late at night on the book for about a year, but getting his first book published proved a daunting task. He hired an agent and said it took three or four years and many rejections before publisher Capstone Young Readers was sold on the project.

He said young readers can learn much from historical fiction that doesn’t always come through in fact-bound history textbooks. “It’s not only able to give you facts but also help you understand why things happened, how they happened and the personal stories behind the facts they’re reading about.”

While the book is targeted for readers primarily in grades 4-7, Stevenson said he also envisioned this as a book that adults also would read, either for themselves or to their children.

Stevenson said “The Drum of Destiny” is the opening salvo in a series of five novels that will trace the colonial-era adventures of young Gabriel as he grows during the quest for independence. He said the second volume in the series has been completed but a release date has not been set.

Published in The Indiana Lawyer by Dave Stafford, October 2016.

Author Chris Stevenson receives the Grateful American Book Prize

‘Chris epitomizes the spirit of this award’

WASHINGTON, DC, Oct 6 – The 2016 Grateful American Book Prize will be awarded tonight to author Chris Stevenson, for his first novel, The Drum of Destiny, a work of fact-based historical fiction.

David Bruce Smith, education advocate and co-founder of the Prize, will make the presentation at a reception starting at 7:00 PM at the Library of Congress.  He said that “Chris epitomizes the spirit of this award.  His passion for history came to him later in life, but it made him realize how much he had missed while in school and that is the whole point of the Prize.

When he was notified that his novel had been selected for this year’s award, Stevenson said: “My goal in writing The Drum of Destiny was to make history interesting for kids.  I’m so pleased that those associated with the Grateful American Book Prize share this same vision of getting our youth hooked on history.  It is truly an honor to have my first book recognized by such an amazing group of judges.  I love sharing the story of our country’s foundations and the men who fought and led us into freedom.  I want today’s youth to understand what the American Revolution means to them and to know that the freedoms we enjoy must never be taken for granted.”

Stevenson lives with his wife, Debbie, and their five sons on a 40 acre working farm along with goats, sheep, horses, and chickens in the town of Clarks Hill, IN.  He has a love of flying and he is also a successful attorney at the Indianapolis law firm of Wilson Kehoe Winingham.

As a young learner, Stevenson said he was bored in history class, but years later on his daily hour and a half commute to and from his office in Indianapolis, he got into the habit of listening to audio books about the American Revolution.  He soon developed a passion for the War of Independence that he wanted to pass on to his sons.  He wanted to share his love of that period in American history with his boys and so he began making up bedtime stories about a fictitious 12-year-old orphan by the name of Gabriel Cooper who ultimately became the inspiration for and the protagonist of The Drum of Destiny.

Stevenson says he drew directly from the published memoir of John Greenwood who, in 1775, volunteered to fight for his country at the age of 16, to create the character of Gabriel Cooper.  Greenwood’s extraordinary account of his services during the Revolutionary War is contained in a book edited and published by his grandson Isaac J. Greenwood, The Revolutionary services of John Greenwood of Boston and New York, 1775-1783.

Ashley Andersen Zantop, Chief Content Officer at Capstone, Stevenson’s publisher, added: “We’re honored Drum of Destiny is being recognized for its excellence in storytelling by the Grateful American Book Prize.  Author Chris Stevenson has crafted a rich tale of historical detail and adventure.   Readers follow a young protagonist on his journey through war during a pivotal time in American history.”

Dr. Bruce Cole, the former chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities, inspired Smith to pursue the establishment of the Prize.  Cole, who is also co-founder of the award, has described the U.S. as “a country of historical amnesiacs.”  He believes that the Prize will give publishers, established authors and those just getting started an important focus on readable books about American history.  “History can use the help of a ‘good read’ to generate enthusiasm among young people.”

Three additional authors and their books will also be acknowledged at the event with Honorable Mention Certificates, Michaela MacColl and Rosemary Nichols for their novel, Freedom’s Price, and Laura Amy Schlitz for her work of historical fiction, The Hired Girl.  It is the second year in a row that Ms. MacColl has been recognized for her authorship.  She won Honorable Mention in 2015 for The Revelation of Louisa May.

The Prize comes with a cash award of $13,000 representing the original 13 colonies.  In addition, the winner receives a medal created for the occasion by Mr. Smith’s mother, the noted artist Clarice Smith.

In addition to Cole and Smith, the 2016 Panel of Judges for the Prize includes Dr. Louise Mirrer, President and CEO, New-York Historical Society; Dr. Peter S. Carmichael, Robert C. Fluhrer Professor of Civil War Studies & Director of the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College; John Gray, the Elizabeth MacMillan Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History; Neme Alperstein, a teacher of Gifted and Talented Students in the New York City Public School system since 1987; Dr. Douglas Bradburn, author, historian and Founding Director of the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon; and John Danielson, Chairman of the Board of Directors at Education Management Corporation.

 

Grateful American Book Prize will be awarded to author Chris Stevenson for his Revolutionary War novel The Drum of Destiny

drum-of-destinyWASHINGTON, DC, Sep 22 – Chris Stevenson, a lawyer from Tippecanoe County, IN, is the winner of the 2016 Grateful American Book Prize for his first novel, The Drum of Destiny, a work of fact-based historical fiction published by Capstone.

“Chris epitomizes the spirit of this award,” Prize co-founder David Bruce Smith said. “His newfound passion for history as an adult made him realize how much he had missed while in school and that is the whole point of the Prize.”

Smith an author and publisher, teamed up with Dr. Bruce Cole, the former Chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities to create the Grateful American Book Prize last year. Their purpose was to encourage authors and publishers to produce more works of historical fiction and non-fiction for young readers– books that engage and leave them wanting to learn more about America’s past. “It’s a way to help them grow up to become responsible and knowledgeable citizens,” noted Smith.

freedoms-priceThree additional authors and their books will also be acknowledged at the event with Honorable the-hired-girlMention Certificates, Michaela MacColl and Rosemary Nichols for their novel, Freedom’s Price, and Laura Amy Schlitz for her work of historical fiction, The Hired Girl. It is the second year in a row that Ms. MacColl has been recognized for her authorship. She won Honorable Mention in 2015 for The Revelation of Louisa May.

Prize winner Stevenson has a diversity of interests. He lives with his wife, Debbie, and their five boys on a 40 acre working farm complete with goats, sheep, horses, and chickens in the town of Clarks Hill, IN. He has a love of flying his own plane and he is a successful attorney at the Indianapolis law firm of Wilson Kehoe Winingham.

As a young learner, Stevenson was bored in history class, but years later on his daily hour and a half commute to and from his office in the city, he got into the habit of listening to audio books about the American Revolution.  He soon developed a passion for the War of Independence that he wanted to pass on to his sons.

He wanted to share his love of that period in American history with his boys and so he began making up bedtime stories about a fictitious 12-year-old orphan by the name of Gabriel Cooper who, ultimately became the inspiration for and the protagonist of The Drum of Destiny.

He says that he drew directly upon the published memoir of John Greenwood who, in 1775, volunteered to fight for his country at the age of 16, to create the character of Gabriel Cooper.  Greenwood’s extraordinary account of his services during the Revolutionary War is contained in a memoir edited and published by his grandson Isaac J. Greenwood, The Revolutionary services of John Greenwood of Boston and New York, 1775-1783.

“My goal in writing The Drum of Destiny was to make history interesting for kids.  I’m so pleased that those associated with the Grateful American Book Prize share this same vision of getting our youth hooked on history.  It is truly an honor to have my first book recognized by such an amazing group of judges.  I love sharing the story of our country’s foundations and the men who fought and led us into freedom.  I want today’s youth to understand what the American Revolution means to them and to know that the freedoms we enjoy must never be taken for granted.  The Grateful American Book Prize is a wonderful way to show the world that history still matters. I’m honored to be this year’s recipient.”

The Prize, which will be presented to Stevenson at a ceremony to be held at the Library of Congress on October 6, comes with a cash award of $13,000 representing the original 13 colonies.  In addition, the winner receives a medal created for the occasion by Mr. Smith’s mother, the noted artist Clarice Smith.

In addition to Cole and Smith, the 2016 Panel of Judges for the Prize includes Dr. Louise Mirrer, President and CEO, New-York Historical Society; Dr. Peter S. Carmichael, Robert C. Fluhrer Professor of Civil War Studies & Director of the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College; John Gray, the Elizabeth MacMillan Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History; Neme Alperstein, a teacher of Gifted and Talented Students in the New York City Public School system since 1987; Dr. Douglas Bradburn, author, historian and Founding Director of the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon; and John Danielson, Chairman of the Board of Directors at Education Management Corporation.

“We’re honored Drum of Destiny is being recognized for its excellence in storytelling by the Grateful American Book Prize.  Author Chris Stevenson has crafted a rich tale of historical detail and adventure.  Readers follow a young protagonist on his journey through war during a pivotal time in American history,” said Ashley Andersen Zantop, Capstone Chief Content Officer.

Putting a new focus on the humanities in the age of technology

Humanities majors fare as well as tech majors in getting jobs

WASHINGTON, DC, Sep 14 – The study of humanities in the nation’s colleges and universities is on the decline. These days, the focus is on technology and the sciences as more students set their sights on what they think will be higher paying jobs when they graduate. But it may not be good for the nation to pay short shrift to those who advocate renewed attention to subjects such as history. And many supporters of liberal arts contend that there are jobs out there for those who seek non-science degrees.

In an effort to encourage more students to opt for the study of humanities– particularly the study of history– a new literary award was created last year to entice authors and publishers to produce more books based on historical events, works of fiction, and nonfiction that accurately portray past/present events and personalities in a way that engages young learners.

The goal of the Grateful American Book Prize “is to create an allure for the study of history among kids early on in their education,” according to education advocate David Bruce Smith. “If we, as a nation, lose our passion for the past we will ultimately lose our passion for who we are, and what we are capable of doing with our lives. The study of history teaches us how to become better citizens,” he says.

Steven Pearlstein is the Robinson Professor of Public Affairs at George Mason University. He also writes for the Washington Post, which recently published his article headlined “Meet the parents who won’t let their children study literature.”

It seems that more and more parents are concerned about what kinds of jobs might or might not be available for their degree-seeking children as they apply for entry into an institution of higher learning. “I certainly got that sense when I buttonholed students and parents at an information session this spring for high school seniors who had been accepted to Mason,” Pearlstein wrote.

Professor Pearlstein concluded in his article that “in the wake of the Great Recession, the number of degrees in the core humanities disciplines — English, history, philosophy – has fallen sharply. In the mid-1960s, they represented as much as 17 percent of degrees conferred; now that figure is just over 6 percent.”

Smith noted what he called an important statistic that Pearlstein cited in his article from a study conducted at Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. The Georgetown researchers found that students who graduated with humanities and liberal arts degrees in 2011 and 2012 fared equally well as those with degrees in computer science and math when it came to finding a job. The unemployment rate for the humanities majors was 8.4 percent; for the technology majors, it stood at 8.3 percent.

As Pearlstein put it in his article: “So here’s what I’d say to parents who, despite all the evidence, still believe that liberal arts majors waste four years contemplating the meaning of life: At least those passionate kids won’t make the mistake of confusing the meaning of life with maximizing lifetime income.”

Federation of State Humanities Councils Cites Grateful American Book Prize

The Grateful American Book Prize was cited in the Federation of State Humanities Councils newsletter.

screen-shot-2016-09-06-at-8-57-51-pm

 

Published in Federation of State Humanities Councils newsletter, September 2016.

History can be a yawn-inducing bore in the classroom

Most adults, however, have ‘a craving’ for the past

WASHINGTON, DC, Aug 31 – “It’s amazing how history can be a bore in the classroom, but when young learners become adults they develop a desire to learn more about the past, as evidenced by the popularity of historical novels and films,” according to author and education advocate David Bruce Smith.

He says the traditional use of text books as an exclusive source for students may be to blame.

“The assigned books used in most history classes are a necessary source for names and dates, and for describing the events that shaped the past in a factual manner.  But they do little to inspire a passion for the subject.  Most teachers know that and so they use extracurricular activities as a means of engaging their students.  For example, one of the most popular methods of stirring young learners is to have them read historically accurate works of fiction and nonfiction– particularly  whose that tell stories with which they can identify.  It might be a tale of adventure or a relevant biography.”

Smith is so ardent about the use of engaging books as a means of generating interest among young students to learn about the founding and evolution of America, that he established the Grateful American Book Prize.  It’s an annual award for authors who focus on the genre.  “We want to give writers and their publishers another reason to produce more books that can help evoke curiosity in students about their country.  We want to give American history an appeal for students.  We want students to relate to the people and events that created the nation in which we live and its place in the global community.”

John Gray is the Elizabeth MacMillan Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.  He is also one of the judges for the 2016 Prize and had this to say about the use of novels as a tool for teaching history:  “Historical fiction, particularly if history is presented in an engaging and truthful manner, opens the door to young people with key moments primarily through characters that are age appropriate and who face relatable challenges even though the stories might be set in the 18th or 19th centuries. Historical fiction also makes complicated and distressing topics such as slavery, the Holocaust and even September 11, easier to introduce to a pre-teen audience.”

A variety of surveys and studies in recent years show how deficient students are in their knowledge of history.  And, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence which proves they are not absorbing their classroom history lessons, particularly in view of the 21st Century focus on STEM education which emphasizes science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

How important is it for our kids to understand the past?  An Associated Press analysis concluded that history teaches us “how to become better citizens.”  It reinforces the notion that students, especially those in grade school, need to know why historical events and the people who helped build the country are so important to us today and in the future.

“Learning history means the development of critical thinking skills.  Recently, we have seen school curriculum that puts an emphasis on original source documents and nonfiction, including biography.  Biography can provide a richness and help energize children about the past.  In our Smithsonian museum stores, we carry the series of “Who was?” biographies aimed at kids.  Seeing that extraordinary figures such as Benjamin Franklin, Amelia Earhart and Harriet Tubman were once children like themselves helps young people navigate their way in the real world and understand that they too, are makers of history.  History is complicated, exciting and ever-changing.  So much remains to be written to thrill students with new concepts and understanding of American history,” according to Gray.

The panel of judges will select this year’s Grateful American Prize honoree in time for the October 6th presentation ceremony at the Library of Congress. In 2015 Kathy Cannon Wiechman won for her civil war novel, Like a River, which one history teacher said was as important a work as the classic, The Red Badge of Courage.

Submission Dates for the 2017 Grateful American Book Prize

Submissions will be accepted from January 1, 2017 through July 31, 2017.

Books published between July 1, 2016 and July 31, 2017 qualify.

Stay tuned for more details about submission criteria for the 2017 Grateful American Book Prize.

The Love of Reading

There is much more than literacy at stake for young learners

WASHINGTON, DC, Aug 16 – Getting your kids ready for school goes beyond outfitting them with pencils, pens and new clothes,” says author and publisher David Bruce Smith.  “The most important ‘gift’ you can give your child is a love for reading.”

He says that reading is elemental to the education process but, he adds, there is much more than literacy at stake for young learners.  “To paraphrase a character in a movie I once saw, the key to all knowledge comes in words.”

Smith, who co-founded the Grateful American Book Prize for authors who write and publish historically accurate works of fiction/nonfiction– especially for kids– points out that a well-read child becomes a productive citizen.  Reading also promotes curiosity, which is a cornerstone of success in later life.

He has suggestions for parents who want to motivate their children as they prepare for this coming semester:
  • Don’t censor them.  Let them read what they want. Parental rebellion causes young adult defiance.  Even internationally acclaimed author Neil Gaiman writes:   “You don’t discourage children from reading because you feel they are reading the wrong thing.  Fiction you do not like is the gateway drug to other books you may prefer them to read.  And not everyone has the same taste as you.
  • Stoke an interest in reading.  For example, if a child favors science fiction, introduce him/her to the great Isaac Asimov or Arthur C. Clark.
  • For kids who hate the conventional ways of reading, there are now electronic alternatives such as audio books and Whispersync, a technology which enable users to switch back and forth between a Kindle book and an audio narration.
  • Finally, take your children to the local library, and, literally, show them the world in which they live.  “Libraries are about Freedom.  Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication.  They are about education (which is not a process that finishes the day we leave school or university), about entertainment, about making safe spaces, and about access to information,” says Gaiman.
One last thing, says Smith.  There’s proof now that reading is good for the mind-and the body. A new study in the journal of Social Science & Medicine, reveals that people who read live longer than those who never engaged.

As for the 2016 Grateful American Book Prize, the judges are poring through more than 100 books that were submitted for consideration and will be ready to announce a winner on October 6 at a ceremony to be held at the Library of Congress.

Bridging the learning gap

‘Over the summer months, some students experience a slide in learning that can contribute to gaps in achievement’

WASHINGTON, DC, Aug 2 – The summer break from school gives young learners a chance to catch their breath, but mind the learning gap, says David Bruce Smith.

Smith, who is co-founder of the Grateful American Book Prize, notes that there is plenty of research to show that “our kids can forget as much as three months’ worth of learning, unless parents take measures to keep their minds active during the summer vacation.”

The Department of Education is now referring to summertime as a potential danger zone for young learners. “That’s because many young people lose ground over the summer in terms of reading and other things learned in school. Educators call this summer learning loss.”

The fact is that education researchers have found that “over the summer months, some students experience a slide in learning that can contribute to gaps in achievement, employment, college, and career success. This is particularly true for low-income students who lose access to critical supports that keep them safe, healthy, and engaged during the school year.”

And, they say, students who fall into the learning gap rarely catch up with their reading skills when they return to school in the fall.

Smith says his Grateful American Book Prize was created to offer “a particularly important way to keep kids engaged in reading and, at the same time, in learning the history of our country. History is critical to the development of a well-rounded education, but the emphasis on so-called math-based practical subjects in schools these days has obscured the importance of history classwork, particularly among middle and high schoolers. The ‘tween and teen years are critical in the process of learning and, while reading is fundamental, as they say, learning who we are as citizens of the United States is as important.”

The concept for the Prize is focused on motivating authors and publishers to produce more appealing works of accurately portrayed historical fiction and nonfiction that achieve two things: engage students in the love of reading, and encourage them to learn more about their heritage. Smith believes these kinds of books can capture a child’s imagination and generate curiosity about history.

“It’s a way to promote good citizenship as they grow older—and truncate– the summer learning gap,” says Smith.

He offers, what he calls a reading list designed to add value to the lazy days of summer without interfering with the need youngsters have to participate in healthy, active pursuits:

  • Esther Forbes’s JOHNNY TREMAIN
  • Jean Craighead George’s, MY SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN
  • Anonymous’s GO ASK ALICE
  • Mark Twain’s HUCKLEBERRY FINN
  • Kathy Cannon Wiechman’s LIKE A RIVER: A CIVIL WAR NOVEL
  • Madeleine L’Engle’s AND BOTH WERE YOUNG
  • Elie Wiesel’s NIGHT
  • Markus Zusak’s THE BOOK THIEF
  • E. Hinton’s THE OUTSIDERS
  • Harper Lee’s TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD
  • D. Salinger’s THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

 

Is a Focus on STEM Causing the U.S. to Abandon Teaching History?

by Nicole Gorman, Senior Education World Contributor

Originally Published in Education World, July 19, 2016 – According to David Bruce Smith, co-founder of the Grateful American Book Prize, increased focused and dedication to cultivating interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) subjects has significantly diminished the country’s ability to appropriately teach history.

“It’s not that our teachers are doing a poor job; it’s that lesson plans and textbooks simply do not provide the kinds of details that engage young learners,” Smith said in a statement.

While Smith doesn’t argue against the importance of learning STEM, he does argue for the importance of a well-rounded education that includes history.

In order to make a difference, Smith co-founded the Grateful American Book Prize.

For those unfamiliar, the Grateful American Book Prize “is the only award for excellence in writing, storytelling and illustration for children’s historical non-fiction and fiction focused on the events and personalities that have shaped the United States since the country’s founding.”

“It is an effort to make students curious about history and to give them the power they need to realize that the past is prologue to the future. While textbooks may provide the details, works of fiction and nonfiction based on fact provide the context of history. A good page-turner does for an early learner what dry recitations of dates and events cannot do– namely to leave them wanting for more information,” Smith said.

Certainly, Smith is not alone as many advocates agree civic education needs a major re-boot in K-12. Some experts even argue that citizenship should be the “Third C” after college and career readiness standards.

The 2016 selections for the Grateful American Book Prize will be announced in October at the Library of Congress.

Originally Published in Education World by Nicole Gorman, Senior Education World Contributor on July 19, 2016

 

U.S. students need a history lesson

'It doesn't make you a better person to know history, but it makes you a better citizen'

WASHINGTON, DC, July 19 – The lack of knowledge that American kids-from elementary school through college-have about U.S. history is alarming,” says David Bruce Smith, co-founder of the Grateful American Book Prize.

“Particularly disturbing is the volume of authoritative reports showing that too many of our kids don’t know the basics of America’s founding and its development.  For example, the Department of Education’s National Assessment of Educational Progress [NAEP], which keeps track of how well our students are doing in a variety of subjects, revealed last year that fewer than half of our country’s twelfth-grade students have only a rudimentary proficiency in U.S. history.”

There are a variety of reasons why our schools are not teaching history today at the levels that existed throughout the last century.  “Chief among them is, perhaps, the 21st Century focus on STEM education with its emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.  As a result we’ve all but abandoned the teaching of history.  And, that’s not a good thing for our nation,” Smith notes.  “It’s not that our teachers are doing a poor job; it’s that lesson plans and textbooks simply do not provide the kinds of details that engage young learners.”

Smith cites NYU professor of education, Diane Ravitch, who had this to say about the importance of learning about our past: “History keeps people from being ignorant.  A nation that forgets its history can be manipulated.  It doesn’t make you a better person to know history, but it makes you a better citizen.”

That’s why Smith co-founded the Grateful American Book Prize. “It is an effort to make students curious about history and to give them the power they need to realize that the past is prologue to the future.  While textbooks may provide the details, works of fiction and nonfiction based on fact provide the context of history.  A good page-turner does for an early learner what dry recitations of dates and events cannot do– namely to leave them wanting for more information.”

The Prize was designed as an incentive for authors and publishers to produce more works of historical fiction and nonfiction that appeal to young readers.

Educator Tarry Lindquist is a believer in the use of appealing books to initiate a student’s interest.  “It puts people back into history.  Social studies texts are often devoted to coverage rather than depth.  Too often, individuals, no matter how famous or important, are reduced to a few sentences.  Children have difficulty converting cryptic descriptions and snapshots into complex individuals who often had difficult choices to make, so myths and stereotypes flourish.  Good historical fiction presents individuals as they are, neither all good nor all bad.”

Kathy Cannon Wiechman won the 2015 Grateful American Book Prize for her Like a River: A Civil War Novel. The judges’ 2016 selection will be announced at the Library of Congress on October 6th.

Interview with 2015 ‪Grateful American Book Prize‬ Winner Kathy Cannon Wiechman

Originally Published in Scribblitt's Celebrity Corner

AN INTERVIEW WITH KATHY CANNON WIECHMAN

You are a newly celebrated author. How did you get your first book, Like A River, published?
KCW: LIKE A RIVER was my first published novel, but it was not the first I wrote. It was the eleventh novel I completed. After many years of not being published, I began attending the Highlights Foundation workshops, where I met editor Carolyn Yoder. She read the early chapters of LIKE A RIVER and helped me to make them better. She asked me to submit the manuscript to her when I finished it. I did, and that’s what led to getting the book published.

What inspired you to write Like A River and Empty Places?
KCW: Like A River began when I first heard about the Sultana disaster, a steamboat explosion on the Mississippi River that killed more people than died on the Titanic! I was stunned I had never heard of it, even though I had studied the Civil War for decades. The more I learned about the disaster, the more I felt the need to share the story. Even though the disaster is only a small part of Like A River, it was the incident that led me to write it.
Most of what I write is inspired by events, but Empty Places was inspired by a place: Harlan County, Kentucky. I had read and heard a lot about the Great Depression, which affected nearly everyone in the nation. I wanted to do a story about how it affected those who were already poor before the depression. The people of that region are tough and resilient, and I wanted to show that spirit.

What do you hope kids will learn from Like A River and Empty Places?
KCW: I mostly want readers to be entertained by the stories. If they get caught up with my characters, perhaps shed a tear or smile, I feel I have accomplished my goal. If they also learn a little about our nation’s history (the Sultana disaster, for example), I have exceeded my goal.

Are your characters based on real people?
KCW: Not really, but a few of them are inspired by real people. Raynelle in Empty Places was inspired by my husband’s sister, who was integral to his upbringing. And her mama, who is talked about in Empty Places but never “seen,” was influenced by my husband’s mother, who died when he was an infant.

What is the hardest thing about writing historical fiction?
KCW: The hardest thing about writing the subjects I have chosen to write about is telling accurate stories that do justice to the people who lived through those experiences without making the book depressing. Andersonville Prison (in Like A River) was a horrible place, and I had to show it for the grim place it was. The Great Depression (in Empty Places) was a tremendously difficult time. It was a struggle to balance the hard reality with the hope and triumph that some people managed to maintain.

You talk about “playing with words”. Is that the best thing about writing? Why?
KCW: I do love to play with words and often spend a great deal of time looking for just the right word or phrase to show what I want the reader to see. But my favorite part of writing comes from creating and getting to know characters who become alive for me. My hope is they will also live for the readers.

I too believe that everyone has a story to tell. I love this quote of yours: “The stories have been lodged in my brain crying, “Tell me, tell me.”  What is your favorite quote?
KCW: I have many favorite quotes by very eloquent people. Some of them are tacked on my bulletin board above the desk where I work, and I would have a hard time picking a favorite. The quote I wish I had heard earlier in my writing career was told to me by Kent Brown of the Highlights Foundation. When I told him it had taken me 39 years of rejection before I was offered a contract for a novel, he told me, “Don’t think of it as rejection; think of it as just not being chosen yet.”

What is the best advice you have for aspiring young writers?
KCW: Read a lot, write every day, love the process, and never give up.

Originally Published in Scribblitt’s Celebrity Corner July 2016

2015 winner of the Grateful American Book Prize is receiving new recognition

Like a River: A Civil War Novel up for three new awards

WASHINGTON, DC, June 16 – The winner of the 2015 Grateful American Book Prize, Like a River: A Civil War Novel, is garnering new acclaim. The book and its author, Kathy Cannon Wiechman, are finalists for the Ohioana Book Award, the Maine Student Book Award, and it has been nominated for the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award in Vermont.

Ms. Wiechman said that she is a proud daughter of Ohio to have been chosen as a finalist for the Ohioana award. She added that the Dorothy Canfield Fisher and Maine Student Book awards put an emphasis on the study of history among America’s young readers. “The Grateful American Book Prize was a huge honor for me, and now having Like a River acknowledged by others allows me to believe that an interest in history in our schools and libraries does exist. I sincerely hope it continues and grows.”

The Grateful American Book Prize is the first of its kind competition for historically accurate books of fiction and non-fiction for young readers focused on the events and personalities that have shaped the United States. Prize judges are in the midst of evaluating entries for the 2016 Prize. Submissions for this year’s award are being accepted through July 31, 2016.

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Historical Imagination

Grateful American Book Prize Featured in Philanthropy Roundtable

The founding of the Grateful American Book Prize was featured in the April 2016 Issue of Philanthropy Roundtable Magazine.

Historical Imagination

David Bruce Smith was listening to a radio story about a group hoping to build a Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia. (His ears perked up because the group was a tenant of ­the company his late father Robert Smith built into one of the major real-estate developers in D.C.) A national survey conducted by the museum backers found that 83 percent of Americans failed a basic test of knowledge on the Revolution and America’s founding documents.

Smith was surprised that an American ­Revolution museum didn’t already exist. (The campaign then launching was eventually successful, and the museum will open in 2017.) And he was irked that so many citizens were ­ignorant of their national story.

Smith had been drawn to history since childhood, prompted in part by his father’s keen interest in preserving and restoring properties like ­Washington’s Mount Vernon, Madison’s ­Montpelier, the Benjamin Franklin House in London, and Abraham Lincoln’s summer cottage. “My father always referred to himself as a grateful American,” explains Smith. So in 2013 “I started the Grateful American Foundation with the purpose of restoring enthusiasm for ­American history among kids and adults.”

He began with a series of podcasts featuring historical experts, curators, and educators. Former chairman of the National Endowment of the Arts Bruce Cole encouraged Smith to add a book prize to his efforts. He now offers a cash reward of $13,000 (to represent the 13 colonies) to authors who write compelling books bringing America’s story (in fiction or non-fiction form) to middle-schoolers. “Of the 85 prizes given to children’s literature,” notes Smith, “it is the only one on that topic.”

The prize was first offered in 2015, and Smith was told that if he received 30 to 50 submissions to launch, it would be a success. He received 140. The winner, Like a River, follows two teenage Union soldiers through the Civil War in detailed historical fiction, including photography. The foundation is now seeking submissions for the 2016 prize. “I’ve committed to five years,” says Smith, “but really and truly I would say the prize will be available indefinitely, because it’s important.”

Learn more in the April Issue of Philanthropy Roundtable.

History expert focused on ‘huge’ history deficit

Schools appear to have decided that history is unimportant

WASHINGTON, DC, Mar 22, 2016 – Louise Mirrer, President and CEO of the New-York Historical Society, is focused on the history deficit among American students.

“American history is no longer required in many high schools throughout the country. This means that large numbers of Americans graduate without even the most basic sense of what it means to be an American. That is a huge deficit.”

Many of our schools appear to have decided that history is unimportant, according to Mirrer. Sometimes, this is an effect of the sense that science and technology are more practical areas of knowledge, especially in the 21st century, and that a focus on STEM education [Science, Technology, Engineering and Math] can only come at the expense of other disciplines.

According to a recent survey by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, fewer than 200 liberal arts colleges and universities require students to take a course in American history or government. “Over a long period of time, colleges and universities have increasingly emphasized skills-based education over knowledge of the humanities. These institutions fail to see the importance to their students of knowing–and being touched by–the history of their country. Americans who understand this country’s long tradition of openness to newcomers, its tradition of providing opportunity to all, its long struggle for freedom, equality and civil rights will be better equipped to act as responsible citizens, especially in today’s dangerous global environment that fosters anti-Western and anti-democratic movements.”

Mirrer says that U.S. history is not only important in terms of developing a sense of civic-mindedness for future years, but also for developing a life-long sense of American values that will thwart extremist views and anti-democratic thinking and ideas that we hear so much about today.

“Learning U.S. history also makes for interesting and thought-provoking content as young people learn to read, write, and think critically. If you have nothing to think or write about, how can you ever learn?”

Younger Americans who lack an understanding of America’s founding principles will not succeed in understanding or internalizing the importance of civic duty–such as voting, serving on juries, serving in the military, and so on, Mirrer stresses. “They will not know how hard-won American privileges have been, and they will not reflect on how easy it is to lose them.They will not recognize the shortcomings of those whose values have strayed from our tradition of equality and human rights.”

Mirrer is also on the panel of judges for the Grateful American Book Prize, an award designed to recognize authors and publishers who produce works of fiction and non-fiction that can engage young learners in the eras, events and personalities that have shaped the U.S.  It is an attempt to inspire students to learn about America’s heritage and traditions.

“Such private sector initiatives as the Prize are important if we are to revitalize an interest in the history of our country,” she says. “Meanwhile, teacher education programs should ensure the best-quality programs.  Government and private support for excellence in history teaching should be revived.  Leadership at colleges and universities as well as elected officials should stress the struggles our nation has endured, and the successes it has achieved.”

Individual teachers can take measures, as well. For example, they can partner with local museums that can provide visual, documentary, and hands-on opportunities to enhance history lessons, Mirrer suggests. How young is too young to begin encouraging an interest in U.S. history? “At the New-York Historical Society, we teach ‘history habits of the mind’ to toddlers.  It is never too young to learn our nation’s history.”

Out-of-the-classroom ways to engage young learners

and leave them wanting to learn more

WASHINGTON, DC, Feb 10 – The new Broadway show, Hamilton, is a history lesson put to music and a “perfect example” of how teachers can use out-of-the-classroom resources to engage their students in school, according to award-winning educator Neme Alperstein.

Alperstein has nearly 30 years of teaching experience, and numerous honors for her work with gifted and talented students in New York City’s Public School system. She is also a staunch advocate of using extra-curricular activities to “fire up” young learners, particularly when it comes to putting history lessons into an absorbing context.

“What better example is there than the new Broadway show, Hamilton, written in rap and hip hop style? The story alone is compelling, and teachers who find an interesting story in any historical period can make history enchanting,” she says.

Few will dispute the notion that history lessons can be boring, particularly for middle school students. Nor will they disagree that history lessons are important.

“For young learners, history class should make them curious as to why an event or a personality from the past impacts their lives. A story of the past offers a context in which to place events of the present and future that illuminate and further understanding.”

Alperstein says a musical such as Hamilton is not the only means of motivating youngsters; teachers have numerous opportunities as well.

“The Library of Congress has a huge online presence with resources to support research with the touch of keyboard. The Teaching With Primary Sources Teachers Network is another excellent and free resource. In addition, art museums and local historical societies are also wonderful sources of historical context.”

One of the simplest and most immediate ways of getting the attention of students might be to assign the class to read “a good page-turner of a book,” a work of historically accurate fiction or nonfiction that can absorb him or her, according to Alperstein. She was recently selected to sit on the Panel of Judges for the 2016 Grateful American Book Prize, which encourages authors and publishers to produce such works for young learners.

“The Prize,” she explains, “is a powerful invitation for new and established authors to step back in time and relate with historical accuracy an adventure. Aspiring authors can reimagine the impact of events on characters through fictional accounts, or reveal new interpretations of history in nonfictional accounts. Meanwhile, historically accurate books can transport, enchant and uplift the reader— young learners in particular.”

The 2015 winner was Kathy Cannon Wiechman for Like a River: A Civil War Novel. It was described by Prize co-founder David Bruce Smith, who is also an author and publisher, as “an exemplar of what the award is all about, riveting books that rouse the emotions of young readers in a way that leaves them wanting to learn more about a critical era in the evolution of the country. It goes beyond the dry retelling of the Civil War that often puts students to sleep at their desks during history class.”

Grateful American Book Prize 2016 Update

Get Involved in the Awards Process Early

The exciting success of the inaugural 2015 Grateful American Book Prize prompts us to reach out to you in an effort to engage your early support for the 2016 Prize competition.  Last year’s winner, Kathy Cannon Wiechman’s book – Like a River: A Civil War Novel – is enjoying renewed acclaim and newfound sales.

She put it this way: “I meet many writers who write fantasy or dystopian novels.  I think—and hope—the Grateful American Book Prize can entice more of them to tackle historical subjects. It can also push writers who want to write historical books to buckle down and put in the work.  If more good history is written, maybe publishing houses will become more interested in adding historical titles to their lists.”

The purpose of the Prize is to promote the authorship and publication of historically accurate works of fiction and nonfiction aimed at young readers—books that will engage them in a way that invokes a desire to learn more about the events and personalities that configured our nation. The benefits it provides for teachers and their students are matched only by the opportunities for new writers, seasoned authors, their representatives and their publishers.

We urge you to get involved in the awards process early – and often — this year, and to contact our coordinator John Grimaldi (917-846-8485  or  ) if you have questions or need additional information.

Sincerely,
David Bruce Smith
Co-founder
The Grateful American Book Prize

National Endowment for the Humanities celebrates its 50th Anniversary

Inspiring a ‘Passion’ for American history

WASHINGTON, DC, Jan 13 – A truly historic two-year celebration is underway in the nation’s capital: it is the Golden Anniversary of the National Endowment for the Humanities.  During the past five decades the NEH has endeavored to inspire a focus on all aspects of American culture, including the study of U.S. history.

“It is essential that rising generations know what President Lincoln called ‘the mystic chords of memory,’ the tenets and ideals that bind the nation together, sustain our national spirit, and ensure the nation’s survival,” said Bruce Cole, the longest serving Chairman of the NEH (2001-2009) Cole was driven by his passion for the culture and history of the U.S. during his tenure at the NEH, a passion that gave him the idea of creating the Grateful American Book Prize, said David Bruce Smith, co-founder of the Prize.  “He’s the one who came up with the notion for the Prize and together we implemented the project with great success last year,” Smith added.

Over the past several decades schools have gradually deemphasized history in the classroom in favor of so-called STEM education: the study of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.  The Prize is aimed at offering school children a new pivot on history by offering authors and publishers good reason to produce works of historically accurate fiction and non-fiction for young learners.

“There’s nothing like a page-turner of a book to help tap the innate desire in each of us to know about our past and Bruce Cole knew that.  Children, in particular, are curious and interested in how they got here and what it means to be an American.  But often their textbooks fail to catch their attention and they can become bored and uninterested.

But, give them a good read—a book they can understand and with which they can relate – and it stirs their interest for details and context,” said Smith.

The first Grateful American Book Prize, $13,000 and a commemorate medallion created by the American artist, Clarice Smith, was presented in October to Kathy Cannon Wiechman for her Civil War novel, Like a River.

“Wiechman’s novel is an exemplar of what the Prize is all about—to encourage authors and publishers to produce fiction and nonfiction that accurately depict the past as a means of engaging young readers in American history.”

The 2016 Prize, which was launched on New Year’s Day, is already attracting much attention in the publishing world.

2016 Grateful American Book Prize competition kicks off on New Year’s Day

Authors and publishers may begin submitting books on January 1

WASHINGTON, DC, Dec 29 – The Grateful American Book Prize will begin accepting submissions on January 1 for its 2016 award.

The Prize was created last year and received nearly 150 entries as authors and publishers vied for top honors in the first of its kind competition for historically accurate books of fiction and non-fiction for young readers focused on the events and personalities that have shaped the United States.

The 2015 winner was Kathy Cannon Wiechman for Like a River: A Civil War Novel published by Calkins Creek, an imprint of Highlights Press.  Although Like a River is her first published novel, Wiechman is a prolific writer with a total of 11 completed novels, dozens of short stories and hundreds of poems.  She has a second novel, Empty Places, scheduled for publication in 2016.  It is aimed at young readers nine years of age and up.

“It’s a different time period from Like a River, but both books are about surviving difficult circumstances.  In addition to learning more about the Great Depression, a reader can see life in an impoverished, rural setting that might be very different from their own experience,” according to Wiechman.

Author and publisher David Bruce Smith and Dr. Bruce Cole, the former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities are co-founders of the award.  Their purpose was to encourage authors and publishers to produce “good, readable books about American history.”

The Prize comes with a cash award of $13,000 representing the original 13 colonies.  In addition, the winner receives a medal created for the occasion by Mr. Smith’s mother, the noted artist Clarice Smith.

In addition to Cole and Smith, the 2016 Panel of Judges for the Prize includes Dr. Louise Mirrer, President and CEO, New-York Historical Society; Dr. Peter S. Carmichael, Robert C. Fluhrer Professor of Civil War Studies & Director of the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College; John Gray, the Elizabeth MacMillan Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History; Neme Alperstein, a teacher of Gifted and Talented Students in the New York City Public School system since 1987; Dr. Douglas Bradburn, author, historian and Founding Director of the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon; and John Danielson, Chairman of the Board of Directors at Education Management Corporation.

EDITORS NOTE: The Prize will be awarded to the authors of books for children in grades seven through nine about important moments and people in America’s history.

They can be works of fiction or non-fiction and may include illustrations to enhance the author’s words.  We are looking for excellence in writing, storytelling and illustration.

– Books published between June 2015 through July 2016 are eligible

– Books cannot be self-published

– The plot of the book must focus on historic American events and/or personalities

– Writing style needs to appeal to young learners in grades seven through nine (ages 11-15)

– Works of fiction and non-fiction are eligible

– They may include illustrations that appeal to children in the seventh through ninth grades and reflect the highest standards of artistic creativity

– Historic accuracy is very important. Non-fiction works must describe events and individuals in a manner that is well researched and documented. Fictional stories must accurately convey the times in which they are meant to occur.

Historic events of 2015 are ‘grist’ for future authors

The events that made history in 2015 could fill a tome, including the establishment of the first book award for authors focused on historically accurate works of fiction and non-fiction.

The Grateful American Book Prize announced the creation of its new award in March.  It generated a flurry of attention among authors and publishers.  The first Prize – a $13,000 check that commemorates the original 13 colonies, and a one-of-a-kind medallion created by the American artist Clarice Smith – was presented at President Lincoln’s Cottage on the outskirts of the nation’s capital in October.  The winner of the inaugural award was Kathy Cannon Wiechman for her book Like a River.

David Bruce Smith said Wiechman’s civil war novel is “a page-turner of a book” that met all of the requirements for the Prize and that unanimously captured the attention of the award’s panel of judges.  “It is an exemplar of what the Prize is all about-to encourage authors and publishers to produce fiction and nonfiction that accurately depict the past as a means of engaging young readers in American history.”

Author Wiechman said she was a very grateful American.  “When I write, my goal is to make history live and breathe for today’s readers the way it does for me.  Having Like a River honored by this inaugural award gives me hope that I can accomplish that goal.”

The historic events of 2015 are numerous and many of them are book-worthy, Smith added.  He cited the onset of the 2016 Presidential Election campaigns; the achievements of Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver who became the first female Army Rangers; American Pharoah, was the first Triple Crown champ 37 years, with firsts in the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes.

“There were good things that happened this past year and there were bad things, as well.  It’s all creative odds and ends for future authors to consider as a means of engaging young readers and helping them to become productive citizens,” Smith said.

It seems as if the 2016 Prize is widely anticipated–as evidenced by the numerous inquiries we have been receiving from authors and publishers. We hope for an even greater number of submissions in the New Year than we received in 2015.”

The Grateful American Book Prize will begin accepting entries for the second annual Prize after January 1.

Gift suggestions for the holidays

Give the gift of history to the kids on your holiday gift lists

Holiday gift giving can be a truly onerous task, particularly when you are shopping for suitable presents for children and grandchildren.

“Checks, cash and gift cards are easy ways out for some parents and grandparents.  Electronic gadgets and geegaws might also be top-of-the-list to ensure hero/ heroine status in the eyes of cherished children.  But, if you want to give a gift that entertains, creates excitement, edifies and enlightens, buy them engaging books that touch off a yearning for learning,” suggests David Bruce Smith.

Smith is an author, publisher and co-founder of the Grateful American Book Prize that rewards authors of factually accurate historical fiction and non-fiction so he is biased, of course.  But his message resonates with almost every adult who endured middle school and high school history classes and their mechanical, rote-based, name-and-date lesson plans.

“But after graduation the great majority of us began seeking historical novels and movies because they put history into a context that was exciting and engaging.”

Kathy Cannon Wiechman was awarded the 2015 Book Prize this fall for her book Like A River, A Civil War Novel.  It’s an exciting “page-turner” for children of all ages, particularly for youngsters who can relate to the novel’s teen-age protagonists.

In a recent interview, author Wiechman agreed with the notion that a good read goes a long way toward the goal of engaging our kids in the study of history.  While science and math train our youngsters for the 21st Century world, history provides important life lessons that put their young lives in context, she said.

 

“I rarely liked history class.  Memorizing lists of generals, battles, and causes bored me, but when history read like a story, I was hooked.  I fell in love with history through biographies of Lincoln, Washington, and Lee, and I relished stories that transported me into the past.  Well-developed fictional characters took me on marvelous adventures and I always eagerly read the Author’s Note at the end of a story that separated fact from fiction.  It never seemed like a history lesson because I learned so much.  When I hear from readers of Like A River, my favorite compliment is ‘I felt I was there with Leander and Polly.’  If I can transport a reader into the past, the lesson will stay with him longer than any history class, because he has ‘been there’.”

Like A River is a top holiday gift recommendation from Book Prize co-founder Smith.  So are two novels that won Honorable Mentions in this year’s competition: Wheels of Change by Darlene Beck Jacobson and The Revelation of Louisa May by Michaela MacColl.  Wheels of Change confronts Washington DC’s racial turbulence during Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency.  The Revelation of Louisa May is a deftly appealing combination of actual events and history culled from the life of Louisa May Alcott.

Smith had additional title recommendations for young readers.  “They probably will find these stories so interesting that they won’t even know they are learning how to be good citizens who will enthusiastically participate in the democratic process as they grow older.”

Here are some of additional books recommended by the Grateful American Book Prize.  Google them to see which ones will be appealing for the kids on your holiday gift lists:

Judy Blume’s, FOREVER
Charlotte Bronte’s, JANE EYRE
Esther Forbes’s, JOHNNY TREMAIN
Kathryn Forbes’s, MAMA’S BANK ACCOUNT
Anne Frank: THE DIARY OF A YOUNG GIRL
Frank B. Gilbreth’s and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey’s, CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN
Frank B. Gilbreth’s and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey’s, BELLES ON THEIR TOES
Kirby Larson’s, DASH
Madeleine L’Engle’s, A WRINKLE IN TIME
Madeleine L’Engle’s, CAMILLA
Gayle Rosengren’s, WHAT THE MOON SAW
Kathy Cannon Wiechman’s, LIKE A RIVER: A CIVIL WAR NOVEL
Elie Wiesel’s, NIGHT
Carolyn Meyer’s, DIARY OF A WAITRESS: THE NOT-SO GLAMOROUS LIFE OF A HARVEY GIRL

Q&A with Author Kathy Cannon Wiechman

Winner of the Grateful American Book Prize 2015

The historical novel, Like A River by Kathy Cannon Wiechman, is the 2015 recipient of the Grateful American Book Prize. Kathy is a prolific writer but her civil war novel is the first to be published, but not the last. She is hard at work producing new works with the goal of engaging in the study of American history. In an interview shortly after receiving her Prize she said: “I attempt to slip in historical details in a way that doesn’t shout, “History lesson here!” If a reader is engaged with a character and a story, lessons will be learned, though inadvertently.” Here is the interview.

The plot of Like A River is so specifically aimed at engaging young readers. What was your inspiration for writing it?
Everything I write begins with what I call a “spark.” The spark for Like A River was the Sultana disaster. When I first learned of this incident on the Mississippi River that killed more people than died on the Titanic, I wanted to know why I had never heard of it before, why it was never mentioned in history class when I was a student. Every school kid has heard of the Titanic, and I wanted them to know about the Sultana as well.

Your background in creative writing and language arts indicates a passion for prose; yet Like A River is your first novel. Can you describe your motivation and the process you used for developing this project from conception to publication? Like A River is my first published novel, but it is not the first I wrote. It is actually my eleventh completed novel. I have also written dozens of short stories and hundreds of poems. Writing has been my passion since I was a child, and that passion has always been my motivation. I eventually merged that passion with my other passion, that for history. But it took nearly forty years of submitting novels to editors before I was offered a contract for Like A River. During those years, I attended workshops and conferences to learn more about the publishing industry and writing for young readers. I refused to give up. We often hear of the role of inspiration and perspiration, but it also takes determination.

In 2008, I took an early rough idea for the novel that became Like A River to a Highlights Foundation workshop. In that early synopsis, Leander was the only protagonist and all the events would happen to him. At the workshop, author Rich Wallace advised me to add a new love interest for Leander. That advice led to my completely rethinking the novel. I added the character of Polly, and decided to make her a main character and tell half the story from her Point of View. I felt recharged and began again. It is amazing how one suggestion can turn a story in a different direction. It is hard for me to imagine the story without Polly.

You were quoted as saying that your passion for US History came not from history class, but from reading biographies and historical fiction. While you were conceiving, researching and writing Like A River, was it one of your intentions to make “history come alive” for new generations of early learners? Definitely. I rarely liked history class. Memorizing lists of generals, battles, and causes bored me, but when history read like a story, I was hooked. I fell in love with history through biographies of Lincoln, Washington, and Lee, and I relished stories that transported me into the past. Well-developed fictional characters took me on marvelous adventures and I always eagerly read the Author’s Note at the end of a story that separated fact from fiction. It never seemed like a history lesson, but I learned so much. When I hear from readers of Like A River, my favorite compliment is “I felt I was there with Leander and Polly.” If I can transport a reader into the past, the lesson will stay with him longer than any history class, because he has “been there.”

What lessons can young readers learn from Like A River? How does it enhance their classroom study of history? My main goal was to tell an interesting story that gripped readers by their emotions and made them want to turn each page. I attempt to slip in historical details in a way that doesn’t shout, “History lesson here!” If a reader is engaged with a character and a story, lessons will be learned, though inadvertently. A reader sees that the Civil War was a war between two halves of our country, and learns where that war fits into our nation’s timeline. They learn that Lincoln was president at the time and that West Virginia was part of Virginia and became a state as a result of the war. They see the differences in gender roles between today and 150 years ago. In the classroom, they would typically learn about battles and generals. Like A River shows them a Civil War hospital, Andersonville Prison, and the Sultana disaster, but also lets them see how average people lived and thought. They can witness ordinary people living through extraordinary circumstances and see many ways in which those people are like themselves. I hope that will make them crave to learn more.

Is your second novel, Empty Places, also intended for young readers? What message or messages for youngsters is contained in this book? Yes, Empty Places is for young readers (ages 9 and up). It is a first-person narrative told by a thirteen-year-old girl, and takes place in 1932 in Harlan County, Kentucky. It’s a book about a coal miner’s family struggling through the Great Depression. It’s a different time period from Like A River, but both books are about surviving difficult circumstances. In addition to learning more about the Great Depression, a reader can see life in an impoverished, rural setting that might be very different from their own experience. Empty Places is also a book about Family.

Your parents obviously played a major role in your love of country and love of reading and writing. We gather that they told you a lot of stories about their lives. Can you tell us what your childhood was like and how it inspired your adult life/career? My father served in the US Army Air Corps, and it would take a whole book to tell his experiences during World War II. Several members of his flight crew spent much of the war in a POW camp. They are part of the reason I included a tribute to Prisoners of War on the dedication page of Like A River. Dad also lost friends in the war, and he flew the American flag in the front yard every day as a sign of respect for our nation and admiration for those who fought to protect it.

My mother told me often about her early childhood in Marburg, Germany. It wasn’t an easy childhood. When, as a child, she was sent to the US to live with an aunt, becoming an American and being accepted as one were important to her. She even changed the pronunciation of her name to make it sound more American. Mom was a teacher and a poet—and my first writing teacher. During my earliest years, Mom ran a nursery school in our home, so books, puzzles, and Story Time were part of every day. I had an early fascination with words and storytelling.

When I began first grade, Mom gave up the nursery school and went back to traditional teaching. I am the third of seven siblings, so I always had other kids around, even without the nursery school. Family has always been important to me.

As an adult, I did some part-time teaching, but writing was my true passion, and I believed a book could reach more classrooms than I could.

The process of researching your novels to ensure historical accuracy must be an arduous undertaking. How did you go about it? Because I find history so interesting, I never consider research as “arduous,” though it does take considerable work and dedication to accuracy. With Like A River, I worked backward. Since I wanted to tell the story of the Sultana, I read everything I could about the disaster in particular and steamboats in general. I even participated in a steamboat race. When I learned that most of the men aboard the Sultana were released from two Confederate prison camps, I read about them both and decided to focus on Andersonville. I went to Andersonville (both the town and the site of the prison). I visited museums and walked the grounds that had once been a prison. I saw Providence Spring, that saved many lives after August, 1864. When I visited the cemetery, the final resting place for many of those who died there, I knew I had to tell a story that did justice to those prisoners, to let readers know what their experience had been. In the POW museum there, staff members pointed me to books on the prison to do more research.

My next stop was Vicksburg, where the prisoners boarded the Sultana. The Mississippi has changed course in the last 150 years, so I had to look at pictures and use my imagination to try to visualize it as it was then.

I also went to Rome, Georgia, where I visited the Shorter mansion. It was a school when I was there, but it had been Colonel Shorter’s home before the Civil War and was used as a hospital during the war, first for Confederate wounded and later by Union wounded. It was the perfect inspiration for the hospital where Leander and Polly meet.

I went to Memphis, the Sultana’s last port before her demise, and I visited graves of Sultana victims there. I stood on the riverbank and tried to put myself into the minds of those long-ago passengers. My husband and I drove across the bridge to West Memphis. The Mississippi spread into the Arkansas flood plain, much as it did that fateful day in 1865, so I was able to get a clear picture in my mind.

I also read diaries and letters written during the Civil War, to find tidbits of life during those days, as well as to “hear” voices from that time. I talked to medical experts and military experts to make sure I portrayed those things accurately.

I visited the Ohio area that I chose for Leander’s home and the West Virginia one I chose for Polly. Those visits helped to make the characters become real for me. If I want a character to feel real for a reader, that character must first feel real for me.

Some may consider all that “arduous.” I found it exciting and inspiring.

Have you any new projects under development? Can you tell us about your likely next work? I am currently reworking a novel I first wrote seventeen years ago. It is set against the backdrop of the fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. I am also working on a new novel about the 1937 Flood in the Ohio River Valley. That one is based on my father’s stories about living during that record-breaking flood. In addition, I am always researching interesting historical facts that I hope will become novels or short stories some time in the future. By doing that, I am never at a loss for something to do when I finish a novel. There is always a “new beginning” to latch on to. After all, that is how both Like A River and Empty Places began.

What role do you think the Grateful American Book Prize can play in rejuvenating an earlier—and greater—interest in history among young people? I meet many writers who write fantasy or dystopian novels. I think—and hope—the Grateful American Book Prize can entice more of them to tackle historical subjects. It can also push writers who want to write historical books to buckle down and put in the work. If more good history is written, maybe publishing houses will become more interested in adding historical titles to their lists. The Prize can also make teachers more aware of a title to use in the classroom. If students are drawn into a story and find the read a compelling one, word will spread among teachers and readers both. And readers eager to read more history and learn more about our past would be the ultimate prize.

Grateful American Book Prize names new panel of judges for 2016

The panel will begin accepting author/publisher submissions
for the Book Prize beginning January 1, 2016

WASHINGTON, DC, Nov 3 – Co-founders of the Grateful American Book Prize, Dr. Bruce Cole, the former chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and author and publisher David Bruce Smith today announced the appointment of three new judges for the 2016 Prize.

The new judges are Dr. Peter S. Carmichael, Robert C. Fluhrer Professor of Civil War Studies & Director of the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College, John Gray, the Elizabeth MacMillan Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and Neme Alperstein, a teacher of Gifted and Talented Students in the New York City Public School system since 1987.

Carmichael commented that the Grateful American Book Prize was established at a time when “the love of history is rarely cultivated among young people. And so I am excited to serve on the panel of judges for this distinguished award and to know that I will be exposed to the very best works of talented writers who wield incredible influence over how young minds remember the past as well as how they look to the future as American citizens.”

Gray added that “Learning and understanding our shared histories as Americans are vital to living in and developing the American experience.” And, Alperstein had this to say: “I am so excited to see a competition that fosters authors’ enthusiasm and creativity in support of American history. Given the tremendous response from last year’s authors, we can anticipate many more entries from new authors.”

In addition to Cole, Smith, Carmichael, Gray and Alperstein, the 2016 Panel of Judges for the Prize will include Dr. Louise Mirrer, President and CEO, New-York Historical Society, Dr. Douglas Bradburn, author, historian and Founding Director of the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon and John Danielson, Chairman of the Board of Directors at Education Management Corporation.

The Prize is awarded to the authors of books for children in grades seven through nine about important events and people in America’s history. They can be works of fiction or non-fiction. The 2016 Prize will be awarded to a book that was published between June 30, 2015 and June 30, 2016. Self-published books are not eligible for the award.

The panel will begin accepting author/publisher submissions on January 1, 2016. The forms can be downloaded from the Great American Book Prize web site. The deadline for submissions is July 31, 2016.

The Prize consists of a $13,000 cash award in commemoration of the 13 original Colonies. It is believed to be among the highest cash awards among book prizes in general. In addition, the winner will receive a one-of-a-kind medallion created by Smith’s mother, the artist Clarice Smith.

 

 

Author Kathy Cannon Wiechman receives the Grateful American Book Prize

‘History can use the help of a ‘good read’ to generate enthusiasm among young people’

WASHINGTON, DC, Oct 22 – The first annual Grateful American Book Prize will be officially awarded tonight to author Kathy Cannon Wiechman for her work of historical fiction, Like a River: A Civil War Novel, at a ceremony to be held at President Lincoln’s Cottage here.

David Bruce Smith, co-founder of the Prize, has called the work “a page-turner about the plight of a pair of teens caught up in the conflict between the states. It brings home the essence of what the war was all about and is bound to quickly engage readers, particularly young readers. It’s an exemplar of what the Prize is all about—to encourage authors and publishers to produce fiction and nonfiction that accurately depict the past as a means of showing young readers that history is not quite as boring as they may have thought.”

Dr. Bruce Cole, the former chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities, inspired Smith to pursue the establishment of the Prize. Cole, who is also co-founder of the award, has described the U.S. as “a country of historical amnesiacs.” He believes that the Prize will give publishers, established authors and those just getting started an important focus on readable books about American history. “History can use the help of a ‘good read’ to generate enthusiasm among young people.”

Author Wiechman agreed. “My passion for US History came during my school years, not from history class, but from reading biographies and historical fiction, books that made history come alive. When I write, my goal is to make history live and breathe for today’s readers the way it does for me. Having Like a River honored by this inaugural award gives me hope that I can accomplish that goal,”

Weichman’s Prize comes with a cash award of $13,000 representing the original 13 colonies. Wiechman will also receive a medallion created for the occasion by Smith’s mother, artist Clarice Smith.

Two additional authors were also acknowledged by the panel with Honorable Mention certificates at the event with Honorable Mention Certificates, Darlene Beck Jacobson’s novel, Wheels of Change, which confronts Washington DC’s racial turbulence during Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency, and Michaela MacColl’s, The Revelation of Louisa.

Teachers engage students in history lessons with the use of historical novels and biographies

WASHINGTON, Oct 8 – Teachers are using historical fiction and nonfiction to enhance their classroom lessons. “It illuminates time periods, helps me integrate the curriculum, and enriches social studies,” according to one teacher who has embraced the use of appropriate non-textbook reading materials to engage young learners.

The teacher’s comments were posted on the Web site of the Scholastic publishing company. “I have students balance fiction with fact, validate historical hypotheses with research. Historical fiction is the spice.”

David Bruce Smith, co-founder of the Grateful American Book Prize, says the teacher’s remarks underscore the purpose of the Prize, the first of which will be awarded to author Kathy Cannon Wiechman for her book, Like a River: A Civil War Novel, at a ceremony on October 22nd at President Lincoln’s Cottage in D.C.

Smith, an author and publisher, is also an education advocate with a special focus on the teaching of American history. “The award was the brainchild of the former chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Dr. Bruce Cole. When he described his idea to me, I immediately surrounded myself with people who could help make it a reality.”

Cole, who has described the U.S. as “a country of historical amnesiacs,” and Smith have long shared a concern that history has taken a back seat to math and science in education, especially in early education. “Over the past several decades schools have gradually deemphasized history. The result is: now, many kids do not even know the basic facts such as who George Washington and Benjamin Franklin were,” Smith says.

The Prize was designed to stimulate authors and publishers to produce well-researched works of fiction and nonfiction that engage students in the events and personalities that have shaped American history, he says. “Teachers such as the one quoted on the Scholastic Web site are able to use such books to make history class less boring.”

Wiechman’s Like a River, which tells the story of a pair of teenage Union soldiers, was chosen as the winner because it is a compelling tale based on fact which leaves readers—especially young ones—with a sense of understanding about a major part of the past.

Two additional books will also be cited at the ceremony with Honorable Mention Certificates: Darlene Beck Jacobson’s novel, Wheels of Change, which confronts Washington DC’s racial turbulence during Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency, and Michaela MacColl’s, The Revelation of Louisa May, a deftly appealing combination of actual events and history culled from the life of Louisa May Alcott.

Lisa Cucciniello, a teacher and an author, is also a strong proponent of using historical novels and biographies as a supplemental tool of learning. “Students often have a difficult time connecting the past to the present. If a teacher cannot even get the events of the past across to the students, the connection with the present is impossible. One way to engage young adults is to have them read works of historical fiction.”

Grateful American Book Prize will be awarded to author Kathy Cannon Wiechman for Like a River: A Civil War Novel

WASHINGTON, DC, Sep 24 – Like a River: A Civil War Novel, a work of historical fiction by Kathy Cannon Wiechman, has been selected to receive the 2015 Grateful American Book Prize, it was announced here today.

David Bruce Smith, co-founder of the Prize, said that the Civil War novel was chosen by the award’s panel of judges because “it is an exemplar of what the Prize is all about—to encourage authors and publishers to produce fiction and nonfiction that accurately depict the past as a means of engaging young readers in American history. Like a River is a page-turner about the plights of a pair of teens—on the battlefield—caught up in the conflict between the states. To call it riveting is a disservice. The book rouses the emotions of its readers in a way that leaves them wanting to learn more about that critical era in the evolution of the country. It goes beyond the dry retelling of the Civil War that often puts students to sleep at their desks during history class.”

Author Wiechman promptly responded to the news, noting that it was her love – and her family’s love – of their American heritage that piqued her interest to write about American history.

“My passion for US History came during my school years, not from history class, but from reading biographies and historical fiction, books that made history come alive. When I write, my goal is to make history live and breathe for today’s readers the way it does for me. Having Like a River honored by this inaugural award gives me hope that I can accomplish that goal,” she said.

Wiechman pointed out that her “love of country was instilled in me at a young age by my parents. My father, who proudly served in the US Army Air Corps, flew the American flag in the front yard every day. My immigrant mother reminded me often that I was fortunate to have been born an American, and daily news adds exclamation points to her words. My parents would be enormously proud.”

The Prize, which will be presented to the author at an October 22 reception at President Lincoln’s Cottage in Washington, comes with a cash award of $13,000 representing the original 13 colonies. In addition, Wiechman will receive a medal created for the occasion by Mr. Smith’s mother, the noted artist Clarice Smith.

Two additional authors and their books will also be acknowledged at the event with Honorable Mention Certificates, Darlene Beck Jacobson’s novel, Wheels of Change, which confronts Washington DC’s racial turbulence during Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency, and Michaela MacColl’s, The Revelation of Louisa May, a deftly appealing combination of actual events and history culled from the life of Louisa May Alcott.

Carolyn Yoder, Wiechman’s editor at Calkins Creek, an imprint of Highlights, had this to say about Like a River: “(Kathy’s) words have the power to transport—taking readers deep inside nineteenth-century America when the country was torn apart by civil war. With a distinct southern voice that can move swiftly and slowly, like a river, Kathy is dedicated and passionate about creating an accurate and emotional—and most important, relatable—portrait of the past for young readers. Leander and Paul are real teenagers with joys and pains and desires. The world of Like of River is not dry and distant but vividly alive.”

In addition to David Bruce Smith, the panel of judges for the Prize included co-founder Dr. Bruce Cole, the former chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Dr. Rod Paige, former U.S. Secretary of Education, Dr. Louise Mirrer, President and CEO, New-York Historical Society, Dr. Douglas Bradburn, author, historian and Founding Director of the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon, and John Danielson, founder of Chartwell Education Group and former Chief of Staff at the U.S. Department of Education.

Movement seeks to engage students in history

Kids tend to do a lot of yawning in history class; a good read can inspire them

Westchester_Guardian_Sept2015

WASHINGTON, DC, Sep 9 – A new movement to engage America’s students in the study of history is underway. It’s led by a dedicated education advocate, David Bruce Smith, who admits that he and his team have a daunting task.

“Kids tend to do a lot of yawning in history class. Just look at the findings of the Department of Education’s National Assessment of Educational Progress [NAEP]. Their newest study revealed that fewer than half of our twelfth-grade students have a basic proficiency in U.S. history. Among fourth-graders, it’s less than a third,” said Smith, who is also an established author and publisher.

NAEP surveys have been administered since 1969 and have consistently revealed an “alarming” deficiency among students in their knowledge of U.S. history. Smith said that without an understanding of how and why America came to be and who were the important personalities who shaped the past, they won’t fully grasp what is required to become civically responsible citizens.

“That’s why I co-founded the Grateful American Book Prize. It is an effort to get kids curious about history and to give them the power they need to realize that the past is prologue to the future. While textbooks may provide the details, works of fiction and nonfiction based on fact provide the context of history. A good page-turner does for an early learner what dry recitations of dates and events cannot do— namely to leave them wanting for more information.”

The Prize is designed to encourage authors who are just getting started to write good, readable books about American history. The winner of this year’s award will be announced at a reception in Washington on October 22.

Dr. Louise Mirrer, President and CEO of the New York Historical Society, is on the panel of judges for the Prize. She says textbooks and hand-outs are dull and kids simply don’t see the connection with their lives today. But an amazing thing happens after they leave school and get out into the world. Many of them develop a hankering for the past. And what do they read if they want to get absorbed in a novel? The answer, as often as not, is historical fiction. Just look at the current best-seller list: All the Light We Cannot See, The Nightingale, Four Nights with the Duke and Outlander.”

These historical novels work hard to be engaging, she says. The authors’ livelihoods depend on it—and so the curiosity of readers is aroused, their capacity to imagine the past is awakened, their store of information is enriched.

“Our question is: Why wait for kids to turn into grown-ups? One way that we could help get students hooked on history today is to put historical novels into their hands—ones that are both entertaining and faithful to the experience of the past.”

Back to school time awakens old classroom controversies

Education advocate makes the case for the importance of history lessons

WASHINGTON, DC, Sep 1 – It’s back to school for America’s children and their teachers who can look forward to a new wave of controversies as parents and politicians once again vie for the right to set classroom priorities, according to education advocate David Bruce Smith.

“No doubt the issues of the Common Core curriculum and STEM education [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] will be the focus of much debate. My concern is that all of the political positioning—and arguing—will obscure the greater goal: providing students with a well-rounded education and preparing them for their ultimate responsibilities as citizens,” he said. “We need to give our children everything they will need to live productive, fulfilling lives and that means teaching them the new ways of life that come with the 21st Century. It also means providing them with a relevant perspective that will satisfy their needs and—the needs of the country.”

Smith said numerous surveys show that “perspective” is what has gone missing in the classroom as teachers have increasingly been forced to deemphasize history lessons in favor of more “practical” subjects.

“Schools have an obligation to offer their students an accurate, verifiable account of our country’s past. To do otherwise is a disservice to them and to the future of the nation. It is true that history repeats itself and that if we don’t learn the lessons of history we are bound to the mistakes of the past. Right now our children are not learning how America achieved its successes; nor are they learning the slips that were made along the way.”

Smith, who is an author and publisher, is also the co-founder of the Grateful American Book Prize. The Prize is a dedicated effort to help with the task ensuring that the teaching of history does not, itself, become history, he said. It is intended to encourage authors and publishers to produce more historically accurate books of fiction and nonfiction that can restore enthusiasm about classroom history lessons.

The 2015 The National Assessment of Educational Progress [NAEP] assessment, which has earned the nickname, the Nation’s Report Card, recently tested approximately 29,000 eighth graders. The results: only 18 percent of the children were proficient in history.

“Computers and the Internet are exciting and give our children a productive way to use their nimble fingers. But enlightening them about the future potential of technology should not come at the cost of teaching them the lessons of history. History class can be boring but it doesn’t have to be. Give kids a good, factually engrossing read about the events and personalities that got the country this far and they get it—and they get an informed look into the future.”

Protests against ‘misleading’ history test revisions grow

History education advocate joins the academic protest

WASHINGTON, DC, Aug 12 – The College Board, the company that sets the standards for college entry testing, has come under fire for a controversial new history exam framework that treats the subject as “a fungible description of America’s past.”

Teachers, professors, college presidents and other educators have voiced their objections by signing an open letter that severely criticizes the Board. The letter states that the new “Advanced Placement Examination shortchanges students by imposing on
them an arid, fragmentary, and misleading account of American history.”

History advocate David Bruce Smith, co-founder of the Grateful American Book Prize, was quick to add his name to the prestigious list of individuals who signed the letter. “History is not theoretical; it is unchallengeable and unassailable. It is all about events and personalities that are real and that shaped our national heritage. And, it is our duty to describe those events and those individuals in an accurate, factual and unbiased manner,” he said.

Smith noted that the country’s “historical literacy” is at a low point. The Nation’s Report Card, recently issued by the Education Department’s National Assessment of Educational Progress, showed how lacking in knowledge of America’s history is among today’s students. “The College Board is not helping to remedy the situation by creating the criteria for a history exam that is misleading, inaccurate and flat,” he said.

The academic protest against the Board’s new testing standard is an objection to what the educators described as a “new framework so populated with examples of American history as the conflict between social groups, and so inattentive to the sources of national unity and cohesion, that it is hard to see how students will gain any coherent idea of what those sources might be. This does them, and us, an immense disservice.”

America’s ‘mathletes’ need a history lesson

WASHINGTON, DC, July 30 — The nation’s schools have been quick to adopt STEM focused education, “but the study of science, technology, engineering and math in a vacuum stymies innovation and invention. It is the knowledge of history that puts America’s innovative and inventive spirit into context and encourages even greater achievements,” according to history advocate David Bruce Smith.

STEM education is creating a student body of so-called “mathletes,” says Smith. “They graduate with the tools and knowledge needed for the jobs of the future as intended by President Obama when he announced his Educate to Innovate initiative in 2013. But that’s not what a well-rounded education is all about.”

The arts and the humanities, and history in particular, are critical components of a well-developed mind, he says.

One of the nation’s most innovative and successful champions of the computer age, Steve Jobs, put it this way: “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough — it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing.”

Smith, who is co-founder of the Grateful American Book Prize, says he is a proponent of the new educational emphasis on technical skills, as long as we don’t forget that students need to understand the world in which we live. “And the only way to teach students that part of the equation is to ensure they know how and why the events and personalities of the past shaped our society and its future.”

The Prize is Smith’s way of making sure that the “mathletes” understand America’s success as a nation is the result of efforts to provide our children with a comprehensive education over nearly two and a half centuries. The award is meant to encourage authors and publishers to produce works of fiction and non-fiction that are focused on history, and can capture the imaginations of young learners—particularly those in middle school. The books are not intended to replace the history texts that students find so boring, but to inspire them to learn more about who we are and how we got here.

“There are those who rely on the results of international testing to show how lacking is our system of education. But the fact remains: the U.S. has consistently dominated technology and science. Founding Father Benjamin Franklin’s scientific discoveries and advancements give proof to that, as do the inventions of Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell. America gave birth to the Industrial Revolution with the help of people like Henry Ford and Andrew Carnegie. We harnessed the atom. And, we produced the minds of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates—arguably the brains behind the computer age.”

A history lesson from a former Education Secretary

Dr. Rod Paige says young learners need a new focus on American history

Houston, July 16 — Former Education Secretary Rod Paige says STEM education [science, technology, engineering and math] is an important focus in schools today, but teachers also need to re-engage their students in the study of American history.

“History is an important and integral part of the foundation upon which our education system is built. It provides a logical context for our lives as Americans. It offers an understanding of how to overcome adversity and how to learn from our mistakes. These are life lessons that are just as important as preparing students for jobs in the 21st Century world of bits, bytes and Boolean algebra,” he says.

Paige has always been a proponent of history as part of a well-rounded education. He also understands how “boring” it can be for students to study names, dates and timelines. He also recognizes the need to give students the tools they need to live and work in an environment that requires knowledge of science and math. “But these should not be deterrents for educators. Rather they should challenge teachers to breathe new life into their history lessons by using new tactics such as assigning their students to find and read historical works of fiction and non-fiction.”

Paige, who is on the Panel of Judges for the Grateful American Book Prize, is a firm believer in the tactic of hooking young learners via books that bring history to life. He notes that publishers long ignored Young Adult themes, particularly those with an historical context. “But now the YA genre is in vogue and the Prize was created to ensure a steady flow of new titles that can help teachers entice their charges to learn about the events and personalities that shaped our country from the nation’s founding right up to the present.”

Writer and educator Krista Raye put it this way: “Teaching history can sometimes be a tedious task. Students find it boring and cannot relate it to their own lives. They voice their frustrations by asking why they have to learn it. Using historical fiction in the classroom is one way to curb these complaints. History told in story form reaches students on a level that notes and text-reading simply cannot.”

As for STEM educators, Paige believes they can help by using their pedagogic skills to put technology into the context of American history. After all, it was Benjamin Franklin who helped establish the science of electricity way back in the 18th Century and it was the engineer and inventor Robert Fulton who, in the early part of the 19th Century, built the first commercially viable steamboat. In fact, the former slave-turned-botanist-and-inventor, George Washington Carver, may have been one of the first STEM educators when he taught at the Tuskegee Institute in the latter half of the 19th Century.

“History teaches us about ourselves—who we are, how the U.S. came to be a model for democracy in the world and why our melting-pot population has played and continues to play such an important role in the country’s development and success. If we don’t teach our children these things, they will be doomed to a lifetime of doubt and struggle,” Paige says.

United States is ‘a country of historical amnesiacs’

Washington, DC – A pair of education experts warn that today’s schoolchildren will be hard-pressed to fulfill their duties as American citizens due to their lackluster performance as students of history and civics.

Bruce Cole and Roger Beckett argue that schools “neglect” these subjects.  Cole is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and the former chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities.  Beckett is Executive Director of the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University.   Commenting on the newest report from the U.S. Department of Education’s latest National Assessment of Educational Progress, they wrote in a recent opinion article that the report shows “we are raising another generation of historical and civic amnesiacs.”

The 2015 NAEP assessment, which has earned the nickname, the Nation’s Report Card, tested approximately 29,000 eighth graders, finding that only 18 percent were proficient in history.  Just 23 percent of them showed skills in civics.

“Unless we as a society make rediscovering America a priority, we risk more than a few lousy test scores. We risk losing our understanding of who we are and why America is uniquely important in the long history of the world,” Cole and Beckett concluded.

Cole, who is co-founder of the Grateful American Book Prize, an award for authors of kid-friendly books based on factual events and people in American history, said the Prize is a means of encouraging young readers to take an interest in who and what we are as a nation.

“Tests and polls and studies have shown that our citizens, but especially our young people, don’t know enough about where we’ve come from and how the past informs the present and has some bearing for the future.”

The Op-Ed he co-authored with Beckett stresses that “students who are strangers to the basic facts about their government lack the tools they need to become fully functioning citizens of our republic.  When citizens don’t understand their rights, or the powers and limits of their government, they’re at a long-term disadvantage in asserting and defending those rights and in holding their leaders accountable.”

The federal government has cut back on its support of history and civics in the classroom in recent years, they said.  Cole and Beckett propose that the private sector step up to the plate as it did to solve the problem of STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] education.  “Dedicated and focused nonprofit organizations across the country can, in fact, help parents and teachers educate the next generation about what it means to be an American.”

Source: http://imperialvalleynews.com/index.php/news/national-news/3601-united-states-is-a-country-of-historical-amnesiacs.html

Also appeared in The Spectrum – Kids failing in history, civics

Source: http://www.thespectrum.com/story/life/features/mesquite/2015/06/04/kids-failing-history-civics/28477029/

How Much U.S. History Do Americans Actually Know? Less Than You Think.

We ask David Bruce Smith, founder of the Grateful American Foundation,
how we can fix this problem

Last year, PoliTech, a student group at Texas Tech University went around campus and asked three questions: “Who won the Civil War?”, “Who is our vice president?” and “Who did we gain our independence from?” Students’ answers ranged from “the South?” for the first question to “I have no idea” for all three of them. However, when asked about the show Snookie starred in (“Jersey Shore”) or Brad Pitt’s marriage history, they answered correctly.

This lack of knowledge in American history is not limited to college students. Studies over the years show Americans of all ages fail to answer the most simple of questions. A 2008 study by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, which surveyed more than 2,500 Americans, found that only half of adults in the country could name the three branches of government. The 2014 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) report found that only 18 percent of 8th graders were proficient or above in U.S. History and only 23 percent in Civics.

To help address this problem, David Bruce Smith, an American author and editor, founded the Grateful American Foundation in 2014. The interactive educational series aims to restore a passion for history in kids and adults. We interviewed Smith over e-mail about his program and his thoughts on how teachers can make American history enjoyable to learn.

How did you develop a passion for American History?

I was born loving history. When I was a little boy, my grandfather said I should read biographies—especially about the great people like Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin; he believed that knowledge would flow into my young mind, and pool into a reservoir of wisdom that I would be able to tap in the future. It was good advice. My mother was also a bibliophile. She kept me “supplied” with the books: about everyone from Madame Curie and Winston Churchill to Catherine the Great and Joseph Lister.

You started the Grateful American Foundation in 2014 and the Grateful American Book Prize in 2015. What was your inspiration for these and what do you hope to achieve through the projects?

The Grateful American Book Prize for authors of kid-friendly books based on factual events and people in American history was created partially because I was becoming more aware of the multi-generational historical illiteracy in our country. The prize, and our Grateful American Foundation, also honors my father. He always referred to himself as a “Grateful American.” We are a fortunate family, and because of that, he felt very strongly about “giving back.” During the last 20 years of his life, he devoted himself to education, and nothing excited him more than to see a child excited about learning—particularly history.

So, I have taken his sentiment and converted it to a noun. Hopefully, the prize and the foundation will move kids—and adults—to become more enthusiastic about it via videos, games, and interactive activities.

What can schools and/or parents do to foster interest in history for their kids? What are some innovative techniques you suggest?

The onus of making an appreciable shift is—unfortunately—on the teachers, because often, parents have as little historical “literacy” as their kids. Most importantly: the teacher has to be interesting, imaginative, and he/she should have an educational credential. Class materials should be fun and exciting; all history is after all—is telling stories. Primary and secondary sources should also be included; they would give “immediacy” to whatever is being studied. And, because funds are scarce almost everywhere, why hasn’t business pitched in with resources? The students are their future employees. Better to have an informed workplace than not.

Do you see this lack of interest in history among kids as a problem in just the U.S. or is it a problem worldwide?

I don’t know if history—malaise is a worldwide problem. Though it is a prickly issue, it is solvable. It might take 25 years to fix, but slow progress is better than none.

What books do you recomend for teachers to help kids learn about American history?

Here are some books that I recommend: Esther Forbes’s Johnny Tremain (Revolutionary War); Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (Civil War); The Diary of Anne Frank (World War ll); Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind (Civil War); Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn (Civil War); Leon Uris’s Exodus (World War ll); And Irving Stone’s Those Who Love (Abigail and John Adams); Love is Eternal (Mary Lincoln and Abraham Lincoln), and The President’s Lady (Rachel and Andrew Jackson).

What period of American history is most intriguing to you?

My favorite period is the Civil War. A troubled time, but also a “Second” Declaration of Independence. I believe it was the formal beginning of Civil Rights, and for the disenfranchised—the eventual Emancipation Proclamation—was the first concrete document to push for freedom and equal protection under the laws of the Constitution. Out of all the bad, some good came—-a 150-year search, so far, of questioning, questioning, questioning, and trying for the most part to make a better country. Even if the way forward has been more of a zig-zag than a straight line.

Source: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/how-much-us-history-do-americans-actually-know-less-you-think-180955431

Interview With Author David Bruce Smith

Sunday, May 24, 2015

What is the Grateful American Book Prize and why did you create it?
This is the inaugural year of The Grateful American Prize. The purpose is to recognize the single best children’s book in the genres of historical fiction/non-fiction that is written for the 7th-9th grade levels. Interestingly this is the only prize of its kind at the moment. Usually, prizes such as this weigh only the quality of the prose, and ignore the illustrations. This prize will consider both—if possible. That ideal “marriage” will depend on the submissions, because I have discovered older fiction has less or no illustrations. There will only be one winner.

What books need to be published about history that haven’t already been written?
I can’t really think of something in history that hasn’t been written. The important thing for kids is to make it INTERESTING. History is really about telling stories, but too often the way in which it is presented is boring.

What are some books you would recommend for 14-year-olds so that they come to appreciate history?
Recommendations: Esther Forbes’s, Johnny Tremain; Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind, The Diary of Anne Frank; Stephen Crane’s, The Red Badge of Courage. I would also put in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn; most people don’t recognize it as “historical fiction”, but it is.

I Are you surprised at how little adults know about history?
I am not surprised how little adults know about history. This problem we have is multi-generational. Unfortunately, financial resources for education have been on the decline; teachers are often unqualified or uninterested in history—but told they must teach it—and big business has not absorbed the deficiencies—nor recognized that today’s students are their future employees. Better to have informed workplace than not. The American Revolution Center which is building a museum in Philadelphia, totally dedicated to the Revolution did a 2011 survey about historical “literacy.” The results were, for example: 89% of the respondents said the Civil War occurred before the Revolutionary War. That in part prompted me to start the Grateful American Series (videos, newsletter) and the Grateful American Prize.

What challenges do you find yourself overcoming in order to get applicants for the prize?
We have not had any problems in getting applicants. So far, the response has been enthusiastic, which tells me lots of people are interested, but getting people informed historically will take time, and a lot of people. I love books because they allow you to “escape” into another time and place. When I was a little boy, my grandfather used to encourage me to read books about great people. He felt learning about the Franklin’s, Lincoln’s, Jefferson’s and Washington’s of the world would provide me with wisdom that—maybe—I could “call up”. It was good advice.

What do you love about books?
What advice do you have for writers of history books? History writers must create—or recreate stories that are fun, readable, and imaginative. And…if there illustrations, sloppy pen and ink renderings or clip art is unacceptable. Illustrations tell the story—if they’re for very young kids, and they guide the narrative if they’re for older one. The prose and the art should be of the highest quality, and they should have a symbiotic relationship

Source: http://bookmarketingbuzzblog.blogspot.com/2015/05/interview-with-author-david-bruce-smith.html

Common Core debate puts a focus on history for young learners

Why not excise the edginess of 'business' from the education model

WASHINGTON, DC, May 19 – The national debate about Common Core State Standards is so controversial that it has become an issue in the 2016 Presidential Election. The program has also restored the focus on the importance of history for young learners, and on the way in which it is taught.

Eric Mace, a teacher at a Junior High School in Queens, NY, describes his students as “common core kids, inundated with common core, but they do not know the history of the United States.” Katherine Suyeyasu, a 7th- and 8th-grade teacher in Oakland, CA, says “As a student, what I did not yet know about history is that there always has been and always will be historical meaning to be made and arguments to be constructed. The Common Core Standards offer an exciting expectation that our students can and will engage in the rigors of this historical discourse.”

Who is right? These are two teachers, one on the east coast and the other on the west, with two different views of the impact of Common Core. Or are they both right?

Author and publisher David Bruce Smith is co-founder of the Grateful American Book Prize. The award seeks to encourage authors and publishers to produce more children’s books of fiction and non-fiction that feature the events and people that shaped the U.S. History can use the help of a “good read” to generate enthusiasm among young people, he says.

Smith believes that “the rationale for the Common Core initiative is honorable. Every teacher and parent wants their students and children to flourish in school, and succeed in life, but the architecture of the program is too complex. Forty-three states have approved the Standards in principle, but no one knows exactly what they are.”

He thinks there is a way to achieve agreement on each side of the Common Core argument. “Why not excise the edginess of ‘business’ from the education model, and soften it with a return to the traditional methods which coalesced the qualities of the teacher with the curriculum, rather than concentrating on standardized tests and hold-the-date learning expectations? A dynamic teacher influences the extent of student interest and participation—an absolute necessity—that isn’t referenced.”

Ms. Suyeyasu is perhaps the ‘dynamic teacher’ to which Smith refers. She explains that “students need to analyze historical arguments that allow them to identify and evaluate authors’ claims and the evidence used to support them. Additionally, our students need multiple opportunities to try their own hand at making meaning through historical thinking and writing.”

She appears to agree with Smith that students can use a “good read.” “Teachers need access to a wide range of historical writing models beyond those offered in history textbooks,” she said.

A Novel Solution to America’s ‘History Deficit’

2015-05-11-1431370604-2183801-NYHSLipmanLibrary.jpg

The New-York Historical Society and its partners have created many programs to promote historical literacy among young readers and their families. Many of these programs are hosted on site at the Barbara K. Lipman Children’s History Library

We’ve all seen those “gotcha” TV segments. A man or woman, waylaid on the street, takes an impromptu quiz about American history and fails spectacularly. Who was the first president of the United States? (George III?) Who won the Civil War? (Notre Dame?) These wildly off-the-mark responses can be hilarious — especially when the question is only slightly more challenging than, “Who’s buried in Grant’s Tomb?”

But when you go beyond such video anecdotes and learn how much or how little Americans generally know about our own past, you’ll probably stop laughing. According to the ongoing National Assessment of Educational Progress, conducted by the U.S. Department of Education, fewer than half of our 12th-grade students have a basic proficiency in U.S. history. Among fourth-graders, it’s fewer than a third.

So why do our young people suffer from this history deficit? And what can we do about it?

No doubt one cause of the history deficit is the increasing push for STEM education: training in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Of course we all want our students to have a solid foundation in these subjects, but that doesn’t mean the social sciences should be sacrificed. But what happens when STEM instruction, considered necessary to make students qualified candidates in today’s competitive job market, forces out the teaching of subjects judged to be less “practical” — such as U.S. history?

Robert Pondiscio, the executive director of CitizenshipFirst, a Harlem-based education organization, summed up what’s being lost when he wrote, “Many Americans have forgotten we have public schools so students can become educated citizens capable of self-government.”

Fortunately, this mission has not withered away completely. Even though the place of U.S. history is shrinking, our schools continue to teach social studies and civics. But it’s arguable civics classes that are sacrificed — their content flattened out, their urgency drained away — when students lack knowledge about the people, events, and institutions forming the foundation of our society. Maybe the low voter turnout in American elections reflects this emptying out of our concept of civics.

And maybe, when U.S. history is taught, we’re not doing a good enough job. Ask students about history class, and you’re likely to hear one word, over and over: boring. The textbooks and handouts are dull, you’ll be told, and the kids simply don’t see the connection with their lives today.

So how can we change this?

There have to be many answers — and one of them might begin with the recognition that an odd thing can happen to kids after they leave school and get out into the world. Many of them develop an interest in history.

Kids can go to the movies to watch Lincoln and Selma. They can go to the theater and see Hamilton. They can turn on the TV and tune in to Wolf Hall.

And what do they read if they want to get absorbed in a novel? The answer, as often as not, is historical fiction. Just look at the current best-seller list: All the Light We Cannot See, The Nightingale, Four Nights with the Duke, and Outlander.

It makes sense. However high or low their literary aspirations, these historical novels work hard to be engaging. The authors’ livelihoods depend on it — and so the curiosity of readers is aroused, their capacity to imagine the past is awakened, their store of information is enriched.

Our question is: Why wait for kids to turn into grown-ups? One way that we could help get students hooked on history today is to put historical novels into their hands — ones that are both entertaining and faithful to the experience of the past.

And yet, if you turn from the adult best-seller list to the one for children’s books, you’ll see that the historical titles all but disappear. That’s not the kids’ fault. To a large extent, the books on this list aren’t chosen by the kids but for them, by the grown-ups.

So why don’t we adults use our power to choose, and steer early learners and young adults toward high-quality books that can make history come alive to them — and help them come alive to history? This is the principle behind the Grateful American Book Prize, a new prize created by David Bruce Smith, an author, editor, publisher, and business executive based in Washington, DC. This first-of-its-kind award for children’s history books, both fiction and nonfiction, places new emphasis for authors and publishers on the importance of engaging early learners in the enjoyment of history. It may not be a complete remedy for America’s history deficit — but it is a novel solution.

Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/louise-mirrer/a-novel-solution-to-americas-history-deficit_b_7259234.html

Grateful American Book Prize unveils award art work

The design reflects a focus on authorship and history

prize-sketch

The Grateful American Book Prize medal was designed by acclaimed American artist Clarice Smith. It is part of an award for authors dedicated to the accurate retelling of history.

The winner of the Grateful American Book Prize will receive a cash award and a first-of-its-kind work of art that was unveiled today—a medal created by one of America’s foremost contemporary artists, Clarice Smith. It features a specially conceived “pen in hand” design.

The Prize is intended to be a singular honor, according to co-founder, author and publisher David Bruce Smith. “It is the only book award that honors children’s books of fiction and non-fiction that portray the events and the people that shaped the history of the U.S. It also confers $13,000 in commemoration of the original 13 colonies. And, it honors the creativity of the artist, whose acclaimed works have been widely exhibited in the U.S. and Europe.

Smith has been described as an artist who produces “immensely fulfilling paintings that gratify the eye and also stimulate reflection.”

The Grateful American Book Prize for children’s books about history “will make a significant contribution to fulfilling the need for young learners to understand their past, present and future,” according to Dr. Bruce Cole, the former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. And, he said, “it will also encourage established authors and writers who are just getting started to write good, readable books about American history.”

Teachers want to restore the importance
of history in their classrooms

They are seeking new ways to engage their students

WASHINGTON, DC, Apr 8 – History is positioned to make a comeback in the classroom, if teachers have their way, according to former Secretary of Education, Rod Paige.

Paige says the need to stress math and science cannot be denied at a time when national and global economies are dependent on knowledge of technology, “however, students – particularly those in middle and high school – also need to understand the context of the world in which we live.”

In recent years so-called STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – have been the focus of many educators and the humanities, including history, have been deemphasized. The result has been a disappointing lack of understanding about American history.

Teachers understand the importance of learning about the past, and they are going after new ways to engage their students. Many advocate reinstating history in the primary curriculum—especially in middle schools. And, they are investigating ways in which to present it, so it is more interesting. Some are supplementing classwork with independent reading that features actual events and personalities.

Author and National Elementary Teacher of the Year Tarry Lindquist is a leading proponent of using novels, biographies and other such reading materials as a means of bringing history to life for students. She puts it this way: “It hammers home everyday details. Picture books today provide visual and contextual clues to how people lived, what their speech was like, how they dressed, and so on. When accurately portrayed, these details are like a savings account that students can draw on and supplement. Each deposit of information provides a richer understanding of the period.”

The former education secretary, who is a judge for a new award for authors of historically accurate non-fiction and fiction books that engage early learners, is quick to point out that such books provide a powerful incentive. And, Paige says, the Grateful American Book Prize is designed galvanize authors and publishers to produce more such books. “The Prize will also hopefully inspire teachers, parents and guardians to motivate youngsters to read good books that reinforce their history lessons.”

There are plenty of studies that dramatically show how deficient school children are in the awareness of America’s past. Most of them don’t know who the first president was, why we fought for our independence, what the Declaration of Independence provides or how the U.S. became such an influential nation in such a short time.

Paige says that “History is an important and integral part of the foundation upon which our education system is built. It provides a logical context for our lives as Americans. It offers an understanding of how to overcome adversity and how to learn from our mistakes. It teaches us about ourselves—who we are, how the U.S. came to be a model for democracy in the world and why our melting-pot population has played and continues to play such an important role in the country’s development and success. If we don’t teach our children these things, they will be doomed to a lifetime of doubt and struggle.”

New Award for Historical Middle-Grade Fiction or Nonfiction

Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators

March 20, 2015 – A new book award, the Grateful American Book Prize, has been established to honor children’s books of fiction and nonfiction that feature the events and the people that shaped the history of the U.S.

The Prize was co-founded by author and publisher David Bruce Smith who said, “Of the more than five dozen literary awards for children’s books in the U.S., the Grateful American Book Prize is the only one awarded for excellence in writing, storytelling and illustration in the category of historically accurate works for children. Our aim is to restore the role of history in the education of America’s children at a time when the focus in the classroom is on math and science.”

The Prize consists of a $13,000 cash award and a not-yet-revealed work to be created by Smith’s mother, the renowned artist Clarice Smith.

Books submitted must be published in 2014 through June 2015. The Prize is open to any and all works of nonfiction and fiction that portray events and people in an historically accurate manner and that appeal to youngsters in the 7th through 9th grades.

A panel of judges will begin reviewing submissions now until August 31, 2015.

The judges include: Co-founders David Bruce Smith and Dr. Bruce Cole, the former Chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Dr. Rod Paige, former U.S. Secretary of Education, Dr. Louise Mirrer, President and CEO, New York Historical Society, Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist and author, Nick Kotz, Dr. Douglas Bradburn, author, historian and Founding Director of the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon and John Danielson, Founder of Chartwell Education Group and former Chief of Staff at the U.S. Department of Education.

New Prize Honors Children’s Books on American History

Publisher's Weekly

March 17, 2015 – A new award, the first of its kind, aims to honor children’s books, both fiction and nonfiction that feature “events and people that shaped the history of the U.S.,” the founders said in a release. Author and publisher David Bruce Smith, co-founder and a judge of the Prize, added, “Of the more than five dozen literary awards for children’s books in the U.S., the Grateful American Book Prize is the only one awarded for excellence in writing, storytelling and illustration in the category of historically accurate works for children. Our aim is to restore the role of history in the education of America’s children at a time when the focus in the classroom is on math and science.”

Recipients will receive a $13,000 cash award, to commemorate the 13 original colonies. In addition, the winner will receive a not-yet-revealed work to be created by Smith’s mother, artist Clarice Smith.

The prize will be overseen by the following judges: co-founder of the award and former chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Dr. Bruce Cole; Rod Paige, former U.S. Secretary of Education; Louise Mirrer, president and CEO, New-York Historical Society; Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist and author Nick Kotz; Douglas Bradburn, author, historian and founding director of the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon; and John Danielson, founder of the Chartwell Education Group and former chief of staff at the U.S. Department of Education.

The panel is ready to begin reviewing submissions for the prize from authors and publishers. The deadline for submissions is August 31, 2015.

The new Grateful American Book Prize
honors children’s books on American history

The only award of its kind in this category

WASHINGTON, DC, Mar 17 – A new, one-of-a-kind book award, The Grateful American Book Prize, has been established to honor children’s books of fiction and non-fiction that feature the events and the people that shaped the history of the U.S.

“Of the more than five dozen literary awards for children’s books in the U.S., the Grateful American Book Prize is the only one awarded for excellence in writing, storytelling and illustration in the category of historically accurate works for children. Our aim is to restore the role of history in the education of America’s children at a time when the focus in the classroom is on math and science,” according to author and publisher David Bruce Smith, co-founder and a judge of the Prize..

The Prize consists of a $13,000 cash award in commemoration of the 13 original Colonies. It is believed to be among the highest cash awards among book prizes in general. In addition, the winner will receive a not-yet-revealed work to be created by Smith’s mother, the renowned artist Clarice Smith.

Smith said that it was Dr. Bruce Cole, the former chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities, who inspired the award. Knowledge of our history among young people is essential for them to function as good citizens. Cole and Smith believe that well-written, well-produced story books can engage youngsters between the ages of 9 and 14, and stimulate a lifelong interest in the history of their country.

“The Prize is designed to help tap the innate desire in each of us to know about our past. Children, in particular, are curious and interested in how they got here and what it means to be an American. But often their textbooks fail to catch their attention and they can become bored and uninterested. But, give them a good read—a book they can understand and to which they can relate – and it stirs their interest and a craving for details and context.”

Smith said that a distinguished coterie of judges has been assembled to oversee the Prize initiative. In addition to Cole and Smith, the panel includes: Dr. Rod Paige, former U.S. Secretary of Education, Dr. Louise Mirrer, President and CEO, New-York Historical Society, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author, Nick Kotz, Dr. Douglas Bradburn, author, historian and Founding Director of the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon and John Danielson, founder of Chartwell Education Group and former Chief of Staff at the U.S. Department of Education.

Smith said the panel is ready to begin reviewing author/publisher submissions for the Prize immediately. Forms can be downloaded from the Great American Book Prize web site www.historybookprize.com. Deadline for submissions is August 31, 2015. In addition, a broad-based outreach to publishers of children’s books will be under way in the coming days. They’ll be receiving submission packages directly.

Contact

Inquiries from authors, publishers and the media should be directed to:

John Grimaldi      917.846.8485