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